Service

10 cool tips to make the most out of your service-learning experience

By Esther Riddle

Do you want your service-learning visit to be a memorable one? We have found that when travelers PREPARE activities ON THEIR OWN, the visit goes much smoother and is far more successful.

If your group is willing to serve for one full day or for several days and can supply some materials, we’d love to create a full service-learning project. However, not every group has that much time in their itinerary. Plus, not every local school and/or facility that we visit needs a specific type of service such as painting, gardening, cleaning, or stocking shelves.

Often times, what goes a long way in the minds and hearts of both students and those that they are serving is quality PEOPLE to PEOPLE time and exchange of ideas. Challenge students to connect with 2-3 people individually and think about what they could say to encourage or invest in their lives.

The students that we tend to serve are from underprivileged low-income communities. Many of them have never traveled abroad. However, that doesn’t stop them from being curious and from wanting to expand their knowledge of the world and of different cultures.

Here are 10 great service suggestions for teachers and students:

  1. POWER POINT PRESENTATION – Encourage students to put together a power point presentation about their school, their country, culture, or about a favorite sport. They may also want to bring out how they celebrate holidays, what they do on weekends, their favorite foods, etc. Let them be creative!
  2. ICE BREAKER GAMES – Come with an “ice breaker” game so students can get to know each other! You can find many ideas for these online.
  3. SHORT PLAY– Come prepared to act out a short play. Once again, give your students the liberty to get creative.
  4. SONGS / DANCE – Share a song or dance with those that you are visiting. It could be in their language or yours…or both!
  5. PEN PALS – When visiting, encourage the students to swap their contact information or social media pages so they can build lasting friendships.
  6. BOOKS – Each of your students can donate and read an age appropriate book to a student they visit. Have them write their well wishes in the flyleaf!
  7. HOBBIES – Encourage your students to introduce themselves and talk about their hobbies. They are welcome to bring along pictures!
  8. CRAFTING – If you’d like, bring along supplies to do a craft together. Be sure the activity is age appropriate and the supplies will be allowed on the plane.
  9. LOCAL TREATS – Have your students bring along a treat that is special to their hometown or state to share. For example, hot pepper jam is unique to Lancaster County, PA. It’s something that not too many of the kids there have sampled to be sure!
  10. SPORTS – Participate in local sports and recreational activities with students such as playing soccer, volleyball, jump rope, playing cards, etc. Introduce locals to a sport they’ve probably never played before.


Yesterday’s Power Outage

Yesterday Puerto Rico experienced an island wide power outage due to an excavator accidentally cutting through a main power line. Some residents in 5 municipalities along with several hospitals have already had their power restored and the rest should see their electricity return within the next 24 hours. The company responsible for yesterday’s outage was also the same company responsible for the power outage that effected several residents last week. The company has since been terminated.

Most hotels and hospitals have massive generators that can power their operations so that service is not interrupted. All the hotels and hospitals we use had powerful generators up and running within a few short minutes so none of our groups were interrupted in their tours.  In the mean time workers are trying to restore power to all hospitals first and then all hotels, followed by the rest of the island.


Updates On Puerto Rico February 2018

Meet Puerto Rico has issued an info-graphic update on the progress of the tourist industry in Puerto Rico. Click here to view the latest progress. You can also visit Status.pr/home to see the latest updates on water and electricity restoration.

Last month the World Health Organization (WHO) reclassified Zika in Puerto Rico from a category 1 (outbreak) to category 2 (low possibility of transmission). In response, the CDC removed their specific travel notice for Puerto Rico. For more information you can visit the CDC and WHO websites. The CDC still recommends that pregnant women and couples trying to have children should still avoid travel to Puerto Rico and travelers should still use bug repellent.


Should Your Tour Operator Be A SYTA Member?

Absolutely! SYTA (Student & Youth Travel Association) recently wrote an article explaining why teachers and schools should choose a SYTA member tour operator for their school tours. As SYTA members, we are held to very high standards. Through the years, we have had to rescue groups who chose non-member companies based on price and promises that weren’t kept.

Read Full Article


Puerto Rico is officially open for tourism!

Today we received exciting news!

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company has officially declared Puerto Rico widely open for tourism! Read the entire update here!

We look forward to running our usual safe and meaningful tours full of cultural and language immersion. We also can’t wait to give back to the island by making our groups participate in hurricane-relief service opportunities. “Vamonos con Vamonos, que si no es con Vamonos, no vamos!”

Gracias,
The Vamonos Team


New Update on Puerto Rico – December 6, 2017

It is December already and our 2018 tour season is right around the corner! Here’s an update on Puerto Rico and all of the progress that has been made since our last email update!

Current Puerto Rico stats:

  • Electricity is now at 68%
  • Water is at 93%
  • Hospitals in the cities we visit on tour have electricity and are fully operational (Ponce, San Juan, Lajas, Fajardo, etc).
  • The San Juan Airport has been open and operating at 100% since late October. There are about 70 flights per day going in and out of SJU.
  • 72% of all hotels on the island are open. ALL of our partner hotels have been up and running since October!
  • Post office and ports are operating at 100%.
  • Telecommunications is at 76%.
  • Transportation on the island – all of the main roads we use while on tour have been open and fully cleared for months. We see more and more traffic lights being installed daily. From experience, wherever a traffic light is missing in San Juan, a police officer is there to control traffic.
  • Tour attractions – ​Almost all of our popular attractions are now open and fully operational, including La Parguera show and biobay, Fajardo’s Catamaran, El Yunque zipline​, ​city visits, markets,​ etc.​​ ​However, ​Utuado ziplines and El Yunque trails​ remain closed​.
  • Our Hurricane-Relief Fund is nearing $18K thanks to so many donors. We continue to help many communities affected by the hurricane.

Vamonos re-opened its Old San Juan day tours and Puerto Rico educational tour operations on November 30, 2017. As you know, we do not cut corners with safety. If we give Puerto Rico tours a “go,” this means our buses, staff, hotels​, and attractions on our daily itinerary are ready to conduct safe, meaningful, and terrific cultural immersion tours of our island.Puerto Rico continues to make progress daily. We are excited about the numerous groups coming to Puerto Rico in 2018 to enjoy and to support Puerto Rico. It’s been great to see so much enthusiasm from groups interested in conducting hurricane-relief service projects while on tour. These trips will make a difference in the lives of students and help the island continue its final journey to full recovery!

For more information about our tours, and the current status of our island, write us at: info@vamonostours.com or call our office: 888.366.6121. Thank you for your support. Please follow us on our BLOG and on our Facebook page for more updates. Gracias!


Status Update on Puerto Rico

Meet Puerto Rico, the island’s convention bureau, issued an update on the status of Puerto Rico yesterday. Click the link right before the video to see the full update. Also enjoy the video below that highlights Puerto Rico’s planned comeback from the hurricane. Since yesterday the http://status.pr/Home website has reported the following improvements:

  • Electricity is now at 37%, not 30. 
  • Water is at 83%
  • Telecommunications is at 70%
  • 72% of all hotels are now open!

In addition to these updates we are happy to report the following:

  • Our top partner hotel, Ponce’s Hotel Melia, NEVER closed and has stayed open for business all throughout. 
  • El Yunque ziplines are now open and operational.
  • Vamonos Tours will resume regular tour operations in Puerto Rico by November 27th!

Meet Puerto Rico update

 


Puerto Rico Q & A: Friday October 20, 2017


We have received many questions over the past few weeks and we thought it would be helpful to address those most frequently asked.

Where exactly on the island is the hotel (hotels) where we will be staying?

Fajardo: Fajardo Inn (northeast) – OPEN now!
https://www.fajardoinn.com

Ponce: Hotel Melia (south central) – OPEN now!
https://meliacenturyhotel.com

La Parguera: Parador Villa Parguera. (southwest) – OPEN now!
http://www.villaparguerahotel.com/

Where on the island does the group travel when they are there?
Please refer to the itinerary you received from your group leader for specific locations, but most groups will visit San Juan, Ponce, and La Parguera.

How were itinerary attractions affected by the hurricane?
The entire island was affected by the hurricane, but the most impacted area was the center of the island known as the central mountain range. Our staff has been periodically visiting and communicating with partners and vendors in this region in order to assess their damage and future operation.

Old San Juan, the center of Ponce were Hotel Melia is located, and La Parguera didn’t suffer as the rest of the island. Old San Juan was built in 1521. Its buildings and forts didn’t sustain damage. However, areas outside the walls of Old San Juan, such as the historic neighborhood of La Perla where the famous Despacito song video was filmed, were damaged. This community was affected since many of the houses are made out of wood and not according to construction standards. Ponce’s downtown is in a similar condition as Old San Juan – minimal damage; even the main square trees are standing, are green, and free of considerable damage. Only areas outside of downtown and areas in the mountains suffered damage.

La Parguera is a small fishing village and home of most of our staff members. It has a unique ecosystem of mangroves that break strong wind and waves and forms a sort of a coastal shield. Our beloved Parador Villa Parguera is possibly the longest operating hotel in the best shape on the island since the storm. It was already operating three days after Maria. 

What are the likely changes to the itinerary from past trips given the damage to the island? How will the experience be different?
As it stands now, groups will not be going on the ziplining excursion in Utuado (mountain range) and possibly the Yunque Rainforest on their next trip to Puerto Rico before March 2018. Instead, we will offer a nature day in an area that’s open, safe, and close to San Juan. We can also replace the zipline experience with our popular Catamaran day experience

Will this be more of a relief effort trip now?
If your group opted for a service learning project, we may engage in hurricane relief efforts. However, the focus of the trip will not just be service unless the school requests it. The group will experience lots of culture, adventure, and Spanish interaction with locals, not just service!

Are the hospitals there up and running should there be an emergency for anyone in our group?
Safety is our number one priority at all times. Today, most of the main hospitals, medical centers, and pharmacies are operating. We will not stay in a city that doesn’t have powered and fully operational hospitals. Remember that with any of our Puerto Rico tours there is a 24/7 back-up car that follows the coach bus in case of an emergency.

Here’s a list of hospitals that are fully powered and close to our hotels:

– Hospital Auxilio Mutuo (San Juan)
– Hospital Damas (Ponce)
– Hospital San Lucas (Ponce)
– Hospital Dr. Pila (Ponce)
– Centro Medico (Mayaguez, near La Parguera)
– Centro Medico (San Juan)
– Hospital UPR Dr. Federico Trilla (Carolina)

What should we expect to see while there? News media reports much devastation, flooded roads, and significant power distribution difficulties (10-15% of the island having power is being reported).
As of today, 71% of the population has WATER. 21% of people have electricity.; most of Ponce has now power. The Governor stated that by the end of October, 30% would have power. By December 15, 95% of the island will have power. As for the devastation, the north and central mountainous regions will not recover until 2018.

There have been reports that Puerto Rico’s water supply may be contaminated. Will our students have access to clean water while on the trip? Safety is our number one concern. We would never put our students at risk. We will continue to monitor our hotels to ensure they all have clean running water. As for clean drinking water, it has always been our practice to provide clean filtered drinking water daily to all of our travelers during the tour. We buy large 5-10 gallon bottles of water to fill our water coolers that students can then use to fill their water bottles throughout the day. This practice will not change.

Could the tour company please provide photos of their facilities, the accommodations for our group, and a video of the surrounding area so that we can see for ourselves?

Yes! We can send recent pictures or videos from some of our hotels upon request; please also visit our BLOG as there are pictures and articles about La Parguera and Hampton Inn hotels. You can also visit the hotel websites directly for further information.

How do you justify the media reports and devastating images on TV with your positive outlook on 2018? 


The majority of the footage on the media are from areas difficult to reach (north/central mountain region) that we don’t usually visit. The island has a population of 3.4 million and about 1.5 million lives in the metro area of San Juan. Currently we are receiving much help from the US Government, FEMA, and the military. Reconstruction on the most affected areas has already begun. As of today, most of Ponce has electricity. Malls, stores, airports, hospitals, ports are fully open and operating.

Again, keeping our groups safe and maintaining our unique Vamonos cultural immersion experience are our top goals. We are honest and do not cut corners with safety. We have staff members in multiple cities on the island that have first hand experience with hurricane relief and update us weekly on the recovery of their region. We have visited our hotel facilities, vendors, and partners. As far as our itinerary is concerned, we feel capable and ready to open by the end of November.