During the six-week long winter break, you will find most college students curled up on the couch, catching up on sleep, or binging their favorite Netflix series; anything to help recover from a stressful semester. For one selfless Blugold, however, winter break was anything but conventional. Carlie Rau, a junior marketing and sales major, spent her winter break performing service-learning 2,000 miles from home on the storm torn island of Puerto Rico.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, the territory was still in the midst of recovering from the wrath of Hurricane Irma that hit just a few weeks prior. The territory was in ruins; demolished homes, millions of civilians left without power, a death toll in the thousands, and not nearly enough resources to repair the damage.
Noticing the urgency of the situation and wanting to help by any means possible, Carlie and her family left for Puerto Rico just two weeks after Christmas. “We just decided that we had the means to help so we should,” Carlie stated. On behalf of the family business, Century 21 Dairyland Realty, Carlie noted, “As a family, we decided we wanted to do everything we could to help the people who were affected by the hurricane.”
While there, Carlie’s family was able to team up with an organization called RBC Maria Relief, whose mission is, “focusing on reaching families that have been affected by Maria; with the objective to provide people with food, water, and meds along with helping repair damages done by the hurricane.”
When asked about the most notable experience she had while in Puerto Rico, Carlie recalled an experience she had with Carmen, an elderly woman whose home flooded to the ceiling three separate times following the hurricane. “She lost a lot of her belongings, had no electricity, no running water, and lived on her own,” Carlie noted. With a flooded home and nowhere else to go, Carmen was forced to stay on her roof during the storm in hopes that help would find her.
Wanting to do anything in their power to help Carmen, Carlie and her family helped restore her home. “We scraped the walls and ceilings of the house...we were also able to restore running water into her house, and gave her some solar lights, so she wouldn’t be in the dark at night. Carmen was so thankful and cried when we gave her light. It was an amazing thing to be able to give someone hope again,” Carlie reflected.
In the end, no matter how unconventional her winter break was, Carlie wouldn’t change it for the world. “This project has impacted me in so many ways, it opened my eyes to the poor living conditions that Puerto Rico has been living in since Maria hit. It made me extremely grateful to live where I do because we have the resources to rebuild faster than a place like Puerto Rico. The hospitality of people you’ve never met before was unreal. It was such a loving community and they made you feel like family.”