Published April 2, 2020
The School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic completed its fifth service-learning trip to the island where a #UBLawResponds team of students and faculty continued legal and policy work to support a resilient Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico Recover Legal Assistance Clinic was fortunate enough to take a service learning trip to Puerto Rico this winter in order to provide legal and hands recovery assistance. Opportunely, housing, travel, and most food expenses were covered for the students. Our funding came from generous donors who contributed toward our fundraising efforts. Initially we intended to focus our efforts on post-hurricane Maria policy work, but in the wake of the recent earthquakes which shook Puerto Rico we had to quickly adapt to the needs of the people as they arose. The earthquakes provided us with an opportunity to look a little more attentively at the situations in Puerto Rico, in regard to their natural disaster resiliency and socio-economic hardships. The lands, people, and wildlife in Puerto Rico are beautiful, inherently rich, and bold, however, there is a strong undercurrent of social and political adversity that makes it difficult for Puerto Ricans to respond to the increasingly frequent natural disasters. On the trip we committed ourselves toward being genuinely helpful in any manner to which we were capable.
On the first night in Puerto Rico I found myself dancing, singing, and parading through the streets of Old San Juan as thousands of people gathered to celebrate La Sanse Festival. This festival is a huge celebration honoring the Christian saint and martyr Saint Sebastian. There was an overwhelming feeling of community and home pride at the festival, something I have not experienced anywhere else. During our time in Puerto Rico, we visited several areas with varying concerns. For example, we visited Salinas, where we met with a local community activist to assess some dirty power plants located in impoverished communities, which created a dangerous and anti-resilient centralized power situation. Further, we visited Guanica, Guayanilla, and Ponce, all of which were significantly impacted by the earthquakes. In these city-towns we visited refugee camps where people who had lost their homes to recent earthquakes or were too fearful to stay under a roof, were living in tents and tarps experiencing very poor conditions with insufficient supplies and resources.
Most surprising was the adoration I grew to have for Puerto Rico. Despite the adversity that the people and wildlife face, hope and resiliency seem to prevail and consume everything around. Additionally, I grew very close with the other individuals who were apart of the clinic, including UB alumni and students from other education departments. The entire experience was incredible and I came back to the mainland with a stronger will to apply my growing legal skills to help as best I can. I strongly recommend any prospective law students to consider the hands on clinical experience offered at University at Buffalo, School of Law when deciding on a law school to attend.