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Albuquerque teacher helps out at Puerto Rico school

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Get up, have breakfast and board the bus.

Drive to Colegio Bautista.

Meet with the construction crew, get the day’s assignment, begin repairs.

Break for lunch, then back to work until dinner.

That was a typical day for Deb Moya, assistant principal of Albuquerque Charter Academy, when she was in Puerto Rico for a week last month.

She and the rest of the crew on a Lifetouch Memory Mission traveled to Juncos, Puerto Rico, to help repair Colegio Bautista, a kindergarten-to-ninth-grade school of 120 that was struck by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

While it’s been over a year since the hurricane, the school needed the extra hands, Moya said.

“There are still certain parts in Puerto Rico that are without power a year and a half later, which I don’t understand,” she said.

The Lifetouch mission team constructed a wall around the school, demolished classrooms that had been damaged and assembled playground equipment.

Dozens of educators across the country and employees from Minnesota-based photography company Lifetouch Inc. were part of the efforts. Moya was the only volunteer from New Mexico on the Lifetouch Memory Mission, which has done 16 trips.

“It was amazing how 42 strangers can come together for a common goal and get it done,” Moya said.

But the team did more than manual labor.

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Colegio Bautista in Juncos, Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The school is home to 120 students from kindergarten to 9th grade. To help with rebuilding efforts, volunteers traveled to the school. (Courtesy Deb Moya)

There was relationship-building, too.

“I had a chance to build a relationship with people, the volunteers, the people in the community. That to me was very valuable,” she said.

She said one afternoon she visited people’s homes and met with Juncos residents.

One man described a different, pre-hurricane city to her.

“He said the area was very lush prior to the hurricane; he said you couldn’t see their neighbors’ houses. But when we were there, we could see neighbors’ houses and the top of buildings,” she said.

Others chronicled what it was like during the hurricane and showed her cellphone photos of the devastation.

“It was a little difficult (to hear), although they really want people to hear them and for them not to be forgotten,” she said.

While in Juncos, Moya got to know the students, too.

The assistant principal sat in on some classes and met some of the kids attending Colegio Bautista.

Since part of the trip’s purpose was to take school photos, Moya was also able to photograph a seventh-grade class.

“Just their smiles were heartwarming. They were so excited to get their pictures taken,” she said.

Students miles and miles away at Albuquerque Charter Academy also learned from Moya’s trip.

The school tuned in while she recorded a Facebook Live video and the students got to ask questions about her experience.

It was the first time Moya had undertaken a volunteer trip like this. She’d never been out of the U.S. by herself before.

It was unnerving at first, but she said she’d jump at the chance to take another trip in the future, if possible.

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