Early Saturday morning students started to show up to class at Espacio Río. The project is housed in the Mesón del Amor center, a faith based intiative right in front of the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico. The historic tower of the University can be seen across the street. A trimmer is been used by a group of volunteer students that are cleaning a lot next to the building to create a garden. Another volunteer walks down the street making stops house to house to deliver medical supplies. This is a typical Saturday in Río Piedras. This is proof that things are not back to normal in Puerto Rico.
Río Piedras used to be a municipality on its own. It is, by far, the largest neighbourhood of San Juan. The University of Puerto Rico is located near its center. It used to be a thriving commercial area where Puerto Ricans from all over the island used to co shopping. For years the area has experienced an economic decadence. The situation turned dire after María. Store fronts are now empty. The streets are but a far thought of what they used to be. But riopedrenses are still there. They are fighting for decent living conditions and for the rescue of whatever is left of their once glorious town. Espacio Río is there to contribute.
“Take a look at this so you can manage to create light and shadow”, explains Lío Villahermosa, the art teacher to a group of kids. “Hold the pencil in the middle and don’t put a lot of preassure so it looks lighter”. The children concentrate on his technique before grabbing their own pencils and try it. By the end of the class they have their own pieces of art.
Simultaneously there is a crochet class going on in the larger room. Twenty people learn how to use their hands to do something creative aht might even turn into a source of income. The guitar lessons are also ion their way in another area of the building.
This project is posssible thanks to a joint effort by Acacia Network and Comité Noviembre under the coordination of artist Helen Ceballos and Mezcolanza.
“Comité Noviembre created a program called ‘Estoy con Puerto Rico’ and we have donated money to more than 30 community not for profit organizations all over the island”, explains Angel Santini, president of Comité Noviembre. “In December we had our firt mission with volunteers delivering aid here in Puerto Rico. In August we will be back.” Comité Noviembre has eight programs currently in place that focus on services for the elderly, students, imprisoned women, health fairs, social dinning halls and rebuilding of houses.