Like many Boston College students, Fernando Lujan, CSOM ’20, was looking forward to a fun Spring Break in a warm place with friends. His spring break trip to Puerto Rico, however, turned out to be much more than a carefree getaway.
During “The Puerto Rico Crisis is Not Over: A Post Trip Testimony,” Lujan shared some of his experiences in Puerto Rico. He is the executive director of communications for the Latin American Business Club, the president and co-founder of the Mexican Association of Students, and the executive director of the Organization of Latin American Affairs Culture Show. He is also currently leading a fundraising campaign to support the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and considers the country to be his second home.
“My aim is to empower and inspire people to help a place that I love so much,” Lujan said.
While perusing the streets of Puerto Rico with friends, Lujan met a man who told him about a local opportunity for community service. The next morning at 7:30 a.m., Lujan was driven by a veteran who fought in Afghanistan to the work site. Lujan really didn’t know what he was getting into with this unexpected turn in his trip, but he remained open to embracing this new opportunity. He was immediately received with so much love from the community, especially from a woman named Maria, who he worked closely with throughout his service on the trip. Despite her own personal challenges, she was consistently intentional in her desire to help other people.
“When you think of love and hope, think of Maria,” Lujan said.
Their first job on the site was to make food to be delivered to people in need. Along with Maria, Lujan also worked with a Vietnam War veteran named Dick who, despite his old age, was always willing to do more, a woman named Anita, a man named Carlos, and another woman named Eva.
March 19th marks the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the country and cost many people their homes, loved ones, and personal mementos, such as their children’s favorite toys. Although six months have passed, Puerto Rico is still in the process of recovering.
In light of the destruction he witnessed, he remembered that his group’s purpose was to disseminate hope by showing the world what was happening in Puerto Rico and revealing the people behind the pain.
At one point in the trip, the group visited they found an 85-year-old man named Mario, who was dying of leptospirosis, a disease contracted from infected rat urine. While extremely rare in the United States, the disease had spread to Puerto Rico due to the horrific conditions following the hurricane. Mario was barely visible on the shabby mattress under a crumple of blankets, but his spirit filled the room. Lujan was amazed by the way in which he held onto little moments of positivity. When asked how he was doing, Mario would say, “I’m feeling better than yesterday.”
Mario’s sister, Sylvia, was also facing significant struggles, trying to grapple with the ruins of the house her father had built. Hoping to cheer her up, Lujan, Maria, and the rest of the team talked to Sylvia to mitigate her personal insecurities and help her build self confidence about the way she looks. Lujan also encouraged her to imagine what the house would look like in the future when rebuilt. Such little acts of kindness brought a smile to her face that had been missing for a while.
“A smile can change a life,” Lujan said.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Photo Editor