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BWAP 2023: Deep Roots ~ Aurora Kuelbs

The first day we arrived at the work site, Margarette gave us a short tour of the facility that we would be involved with for the next few days. Techos Pa’ Mi Gente had their main facility set up in a set of repurposed senior living apartments. Behind these apartments, they had planted a garden full of mostly produce like sweet potatoes, beans, and a root vegetable called yuca. When we inquired about the gardens, Margarette told us that they were growing these crops because people in Puerto Rico could not depend on their local government, nor the federal government to provide aid during a disaster. The gardens were meant to teach people how to raise their own crops so that they would have some insurance during a disaster. They even had some raised beds in progress so that elderly people could take part. She told us that just after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, all the ports were closed for three weeks and any food shipments were stopped in their tracks. What hit me the hardest was that when Lydia asked how they got food if the ports were closed, she said, “We didn’t. We starved.”

During a later discussion, Lydia said something I think all of us were thinking, “How did I not know that?” We were stunned. None of us had known. Sure, I knew about Hurricane Maria and about the lack of aid that Puerto Rico had faced, but I don’t think I’d ever thought about how that affected people on an individual basis. It never occurred to me that widespread starvation was happening right next door in a place our government was responsible for and I was none the wiser. I didn’t know because I’d never asked. This, for me, was the moment I realized how important it was for us to ask hard questions on this trip.

Later in the week, three others and I were working in those same gardens, and we had the chance to put this into practice. At the time we were digging up yuca roots and had the chance to talk to an agriculture major working for Techos Pa’ Mi Gente about her work. We learned that the yuca tree has thick, edible roots that are a staple food in many countries and has a place in many traditional Puerto Rican dishes. Most importantly, even if the top of the tree snaps off during a storm, the edible roots will be fine. The same goes for the sweet potatoes that they were growing. We learned that almost every crop we harvested was hardy and resilient to harsh weather conditions, and most would grow year-round in Puerto Rico. The motivations behind her choice of crops became clear as we asked more questions. These plants were meant to weather a storm and prevent people from starving.

This reinforced what Margarette had said earlier in the week and changed how I viewed food in Puerto Rico. I found myself wondering whether the banana trees I saw in someone’s backyard had helped someone through starvation or whether the coconuts on the beach had ever been a precious resource. By getting to know the people we were working with and the challenges they faced, my perspective changed and the place that we were in gained new depth and substance. Everything felt more real.

Aurora Kuelbs is a freshman planning to study biochemistry. 

Read the rest of the BWAP 2023 reflections:

Laura Hyde ~ “Unexpected Connections”
Lauren Pettis ~ “From Learning to Living”
Lydia Larsen ~ “The Cost of Paradise”
Aurora Kuelbs ~ “Deep Roots”
Mei Hippe ~ “Deep Love”
Kevin Lee ~ “What the Great Commission Didn’t Tell Me”
Madelyn Peppard ~ “Three Kings Day, a Four-Day Celebration”

Learn more about our partners for BWAP 2023:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance – Puerto Rico
Techos Pa’ Mi Gente

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