Puerto Rico Mission Trip: Building a Community Garden
After 15 hours of traveling, including a white-knuckled drive up mountainous roads, we finally arrived at Campamento El Guacio. Guacio has been described to us as “Puerto Rico’s Montreat” (or for the Texans, Puerto Rico’s Mo-Ranch). Guacio’s summer programs for youth and young adults are in full swing, welcoming Presbyterians from around the island for worship, recreation, and fellowship in a lush setting. Our PHPC Mission Team, along with a team from Northminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, have filled up bunk houses located a steep walk up from the camp’s main buildings. These facilities were restored specifically to host team like ours to support nonprofits and churches serving those still recovering from Hurricane María, a Category 5 storm that devastated the entire island back in September of 2017.
Our task this week as been to help redesign a community garden here at the camp. After María, one of the many ways Campamento El Guacio reached out to the surrounding community was through this garden. Through a new partnership with a local farm, the community garden is being redesigned to include hydroponic plant beds. One unique aspect of this farm’s model is how it was created as a way to provide work, income, and a source of community for older adults who are often isolated in these mountain villages and living in financial insecurity. The hope is for the garden at Guacio to do the same.
If you can’t tell, I am no master gardener (or amateur gardener). My muscles are sore and I have bug bites I’ve never seen before. I’ve swung a pickaxe and used a hand saw, tools I’ve never touched before this week. It feels like the sun is hotter here and the humidity is at 250%. The only place we have a bit of A/C is from the noisy window unit in the one room all 6 of us are sharing. Still, I think I can speak for all of us in saying how grateful we are to be here — to be entrusted to labor alongside actual knowledgeable farmers, to hear the stories and experiences of people who have lived through incredible loss and grief, to witness the resilience and strength of individuals and communities who reach out to one another even in their most difficult moments, and to live into our faith that God delights when we join together in service and in love.
César Oliver and his wife, Lourdes, are the founders of this hydroponic farm, and they are having to completely rebuild their farm after María. Still César greets us with joy and sees the world through God’s eyes, with compassion and grace. During one of his many moments of sharing his wisdom with us, César encouraged us by comparing our time on this mission trip to seeds from a flower that are scattered across the earth. He told us that in serving, we are creating new life.
Our time and presence here has certainly been life-giving to me, and I pray that it will be for so many others as well.
To read more about César and how Presbyterian Disaster Assistance came to be involved, check our this article: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/couple-struggles-to-revive-their-puerto-rico-farm/