The eco-friendly group that wants to help rebuild Puerto Rico
Have you ever heard of an Earthship? They are eco-friendly self sufficient houses designed by architect Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico. They are made from natural and recycled materials, use thermal and solar technology for heating and cooling, use solar and wind energy for power, built in water harvesting, and a contained sewage treatment. Plus they can support agriculture and be made to be earthquake proof and hurricane proof.
They are now being built in Puerto Rico as part of a sustainable community project El Colectivo Verdolaga. Founder, Lauralina Melendez and her family moved to Puerto Rico two years ago with her husband and children as part of a family dream to live more sustainably, the idea for El Colectivo Verdolaga came from the destruction of the hurricane, “When hurricane Maria hit us in Sept[ember] of 2017, we were displaced, traumatized and confused. After weeks of gloom I could see a little clearer. I decided to go back to the reason we moved here, to build a sustainable community. So I wrote to Earthship Biotecture, explaining our situation and they responded with scholarships to the Academy and a game plan to start a hurricane relief program to build the first Earthship in PR. A small, hurricane resistant prototype. The project expanded quickly. The amount of support and love we have received made place for the design to go from one hut to a full community villa. We truly believe this protect is a huge step towards recovery in the right way and a space of safety and harmony and expansion for the communities of the west of the island.” The project is named after the plant Verdolaga (Purslane in English) which is an herb known for its ability to grow and spread quickly. The name is very fitting as the project has taken off. The first thing that they did was organize an “Earthship demo event”. The event was run like a workshop: 30 international volunteers paid a donation to join a group of 30 local workers on the build. The local workers were part of a work trade program: they offered their skills and talents in exchange for attending the workshop and becoming trained in sustainable building. Like the plant Verdolaga, the workshop filled up fast and had a long waiting list of participants eager to get involved.
The group has begun constructing earthships on some small farms that are part of the collective. After the hurricane nothing has come easily and the construction has faced its own challenges. “Building in PR has been incredible. Also the hardest work I’ve ever done. Preparing the land after it had been destroyed by Maria was a big task.” explained Laurelina. Noemi Chaparro is one of the people working with Lauralina as part of El Colectivo Verdolaga. She explained to me why her and her farm chose to become a part of the collective, “We are a family of beekeeper[s] saving wild bee hives throughout the island we have been doing this for about 5 years our name is TainaSoy Apiario we’re located in Aguada, the west side of PR. When Lauralina went to Taos NM she contacted me and asked if I was interested in having EarthShip come out and build a demo on my land. Of course I was super excited and on board especially knowing that they wanted to do an earthquake proof prototype. It went from one structure to five. The Colectivo crew has been working non stop, our plan is to turn it into a learning center for the community offering an abundance of sustainable classes, info about the EarthShip and how to construct using recycled materials, herbal medicine, music, arts. We hope to have a library in one of them, agriculture and of course beekeeping.”
While we were only in touch over Facebook, Lauralina gives off the impression of being a strong individual with a clear sight and vision. The saying ‘from tragedy comes triumph’ sprung to mind while I interviewed her. “I’ve learned with this build that after the hurricane Puerto Ricans aren’t just looking for healing and helping and sustainability but they are soooo hungry for community! The island is still in crisis, there are people with no power or water STILL 6 months after Maria. But COMMUNITY has made the difference. Taking care of each other is where the truth lies. And together we with open hearts we are building this community and we can do anything!”
I also talked to Ysabela Trujillo, a volunteer who helped to build one of the structures during the first phase of the joint building project. A resident of New Mexico, Ysabela applied to be a non-local volunteer with Earthship who publicly searched for volunteers. Volunteering with this project is not exactly an easy task: the volunteers helped with the day to day construction activities including making bottle bricks, pounding tires, and laying cans. I wanted to know what expectations she had going into the project about Puerto Rico, and if the situation was different then she expected and what her experience was like. She explained very openly and descriptively about her time on the islands “Before I arrived I had no idea what to expect. What came out of it was a grounding appreciative experience. I will never again question my life when it comes to how much I have because I have seen people come out of such an experience that I may never have. All I know is to be grateful for every being and to spread as much love and care as I possibly can. The group of people that I was with were such an amazing group that were so tired of the government and ready to get stuff done on their own. They didn’t care about anything but living well, healthy and happy. They often talked about how this time after the hurricane brought the people so much closer together and for tighter community collectives to form. It was so crazy to see the area that I was in and how you would drive on one road and there would be a house that looked like nothing had touched it, the next house was a pile of wood, and the next house was just a foundation with pillars but everything else completely gutted. There were other areas were power lines were down and some area with huge resort hotels and restaurants right along the beach that looked brand-new and I’m sure probably just got remodeled after the hurricane. I also heard stories of people completely losing everything – they still didn’t have a place to live. Also stories of people who were lucky to not have any problems and were able to go around the island helping as many people as they could. I met people who stopped their entire lives and moved to Puerto Rico just after the hurricane to volunteer full time and do as much as they could for the island.”
You can donate directly to El Colectivo Verdolaga through paypal or you can contribute to a fundraiser run by a member of Earthship Biotecture, who are raising money for the second round of building which will begin at the end of April.