San Juan Events Highlight HIP GameChangers and Education Collaborative
EDITOR’S NOTE: The final event of the year-long HIP GameChangers campaign took place in conjunction with a regular meeting of the HIP Board of Directors and other activities on Nov. 29 and 30 in San Juan, P.R. The activities also included three site visits organized by the Puerto Rico Education Donors’ Collaborative, mostly in the San Juan area. Mireille Posse, HIP’s Transnational Program Coordinator, and Alexandra Aquino-Fike, HIP’s new Senior Manager for Corporate Relations, share their thoughts on their two days in Puerto Rico.
We began with the HIP Board of Directors meeting on Nov. 29, which was hosted by Board Chair Nelson Colón. He is the president of the Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico, where the meeting took place. The room was overflowing with ideas, and we are excited to see what we at HIP can accomplish next. The afternoon ended with an amazing lunch. We had many typical dishes that are served at a Puerto Rican Christmas meal and a little taste of coquito (think eggnog, but way tastier; it has coconut milk and rum). Luckily, we were able to take a break afterwards!
That evening, HIP convened the Puerto Rico GameChangers event at the Colegio de Arquitectos y Arquitectos Paisajistas in San Juan. Here, HIP brought together about 90 participants, including HIP Board members, former Puerto Rico Gov. Sila M. Calderón, San Juan Mayor-elect Carmen Yulín Cruz, academics, leaders of local foundations and nonprofits, and other U.S.-based foundation leaders.
The evening’s presentations included a data-driven analysis of the under-funding of Latino communities on the U.S. mainland and throughout Latin America. The presentations highlighted the dire socio-economic conditions that prevail in Puerto Rico, the many opportunities for increased investments in human capital, and the need to continue to foster collaborations among local Puerto Rican foundations to maximize resources. The event ended with a showcase of local Puerto Rican dance, music and food.
On Friday, Nov. 30, we visited three of the seven grantees that receive funds from the Puerto Rico Donors’ Education Collaborative. The day began at 7:45 a.m. as members of the HIP Board of Directors and HIP staff boarded our little tour bus. Our first stop was at Nuestra Escuela located in Loíza, a municipality east of San Juan that is one of the most socioeconomically depressed. When we arrived, we were greeted by a group of students, who led us to the room where Ana Yris Guzmán Torres, the school principal, greeted us and explained the work and mission of Nuestra Escuela, which operates an alternative education program. She introduced various students at the school, who told us a little bit of their personal stories, why they came to the school, and their future goals.
We were especially impressed with one of the students, a tall young man with a sweet demeanor and face, who admitted to having been deeply active in a local gang before he became a student at Nuestra Escuela. We were left with the impression that deep down, he wanted to be a better person but had resorted to being a gang member because he felt he didn’t have any other life choices. His exposure to Nuestra Escuela and the support he received there opened up new opportunities for him and today, he is a pre-school teacher at one of Nuestra Escuela’s three sites. Upon hearing this young man’s story and the stories of other students who we met on the subsequent site visits, we both thought that they and the work of these local organizations and schools are exactly what gives meaning to the work we do every single day.
We wanted to share our experiences in Puerto Rico to underscore that everything is inter-connected. We need the data, rigorous analysis, and the intellectual debates about the impact of HIP’s work to inform our current work and our future strategies — in other words, to feed our brains. But, we also need these real-life check-ins with the very communities we are committed to serving to fuel our hearts and to show others that the work we do is changing people’s lives. The site visits reinforced for us that data per se are bare facts, and what matters is how we use the data, how we transform data into action plans and work plans, and how these action plans make a difference.
Not only were the site visits energizing, but they also encouraged everyone to further ramp up our fundraising to keep our work going. Lastly, for both of us on a personal level, we were reminded how lucky we are to be able to work for an organization with a mission rooted in affecting social change.