Ponce Youth Dreams Big
Today the team had two dream workshops scheduled in Ponce. The first was held at Melvin’s alma mater Colegio San Conrado High School and the second at Pontificia Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
During Melvin’s first trip to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he visited Colegio San Conrado to connect nuns at the school to their sister convent in New York City, since communications were not available. Melvin took that opportunity to speak to the senior class to deliver a message of hope, with focus on the importance of critical thinking and innovation. Because of the relationships already established, Colegio San Conrado provided the perfect place to conduct a dream workshop with the senior class.
We were openly welcomed by the staff and students. Even, teachers from other classes dropped in to observe the workshop and the work that came out of it. The questions we posed to the classes and their most prominent answers are as follows:
1. What is it that you love about living here?
Historical landmarks (Parque de Bombas, the cathedral, the art museum), the beach, the food (quenepas, domplines, mofongos), the hospitality and warmth of the people.
2. What happened here after the storm? What are the current challenges?
Increased crime/lower sense of public safety, lack of financial aid, huge lines to get basic needs (gas, oil, food, water), lack of communications, no power or internet access. Though there are countless challenges that still face them, the three most pressing challenges identified by the students were: Financial help, communications, and security.
3. What kind of people and talents are in the community?
The answers from the students reflected how important culture is to Ponce. The arts, dancing, music, and especially food that can only be found in Ponce.
4. Where can you go from here? In a week, month, three months, a year?
After some discussion to get them energized to contribute to the community, ideas started to fly. They saw opportunities to start a festival to engage the neighborhoods, set up a site to sell products from local artists, to set up a volunteer group to focus on a building or community space that needs attention, and engage people beyond Ponce and Puerto Rico to give visibility to the positives coming out of the island rather than the negative.
They broke up into groups to plan the next steps of the projects/dreams they have chosen. Immediately they had social accounts set up for their future efforts!
Sister Mildred, the school principal, showed Melvin the damage that the hurricane caused to the auditorium of the school, which is no longer in use. Melvin made a small donation to a family in need.
For our second workshop, we visited Pontificia Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where we met with students from the entrepreneurship class, architecture and design program. This was the second time that our team meets coordinates with the Catholic University. The earlier visit was with a PCI partner, Studio Dror: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb9h-6p2Zo8. Dror Benshetrit, is a designer, thinker, dreamer, and futurist whose ingenuity disrupts conventions of art, architecture, and design. Dror’s vision for PR offers a Supernature Lab that enables communities to think differently, so they can develop more robust and smarter concepts for the construction or renovation of “smart” housing. In partnership, both organizations seek to realize the potential of the Internet by creating a collaborative environment that brings innovation. Dror and Mel visited PR in January and established a relationship with the Architecture Department of the Pontificia Catholic University of Puerto Rico. A proposal is being worked, where Dror will provide the university access to use his IP at no-cost and the location of the initial Lab was identified in Ponce.
Before the workshop began, we took the time to speak with and engage with the professors and students informally. We heard that groups from stateside universities have come to the school previously to speak, but that they were unsuccessful in mobilizing and engaging the students with the messages they came with.
Luckily, the students and professors were actively engaged in the content. We began by asking what they were studying and the plans they had after school. Many had planned to leave the island for work opportunities, and it was clear that many of them did not want to leave the island. This is representative of how many Puerto Rican youth feel when faced with making career decisions: the best chance they have for economic success is to move to the States for better opportunities.
A student in attendance explained to us that their obstacles as future architects and designers are that most of the opportunities available are on a contract basis without a consistent workflow, often the same group of people get those opportunities, and even then, they may not pay enough.
Going through the workshop prompts seemed important to help energize the students and spend the time to envision the best-case scenario, the best Ponce that could be. Here are their responses to the prompts:
1. What is remarkable about living here?
By and large, food and local history were at the top of the list. Ponce is a place of beautiful art and architecture and is known for its food culture which is unlike anywhere else on the island.
2. What are the current needs of your community?
The most prominent needs are communications, financial aid, energy/electricity, and security. In regard to security concerns, they expressed that since the storm crime has been an increasing problem, especially in the city square where the Parque de Bombas sits. What used to be a place riddled with locals and tourists alike has become a scarcer area with many closed buildings and businesses.
3. What are the Dreams?
Many envision a Ponce that is metropolitan and connected to the rest of the island through innovations in public transport, as well as a city that is a destination for businesses big and small. Students also see opportunities to become a modern, environmentally conscious city.
4. What are the talents in the community?
An abundance of artists and designers, many unutilized buildings, vocational schools and programs, and small businesses.
There were a couple of community representatives, such as the Library Director for the former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon and three representatives from a Non-for-Profit called Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services. This NFP develops communities with a focus on housing and recently acquired a communications vehicle to allow access to the internet and conduct workshops around the island for communities in need.
Also had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Dr. Eilleen M. Figueroa, from the Entrepreneurship Department. She is also the President of International Council for Small Business (ICSP), Chapter Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. After learning the vision of People-Centered Internet (PCI) and the work being done by Project Coqui, she became very excited, because our efforts are in alignment with the business models developed over the last five years by academia, industry, and government that focuses on building entrepreneurial capacity locally. Dr. Figueroa introduced us to the Dean, we took photos and an introduction was made to PCI.
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