Last year, Jonah Charnock was selected to take part in c3’s volunteer abroad scheme.
Each year, we send one or two people on a volunteering project abroad to support a charitable initiative or project of their choice. Everything is funded by c3 and nothing is taken out of their annual leave. It’s a perk we’re proud of, allowing our team to travel the world while supporting important global charity initiatives.
2022 saw Rachel Harrison head to Thailand to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary, and Jonah headed to Puerto Rico. This year we’re sending Charlotte Sharpe to Costa Rica and Frankie Bisi to Nepal, both will be supporting gender equality initiatives.
We caught up with Jonah to find out all about his experience on this beautiful Caribbean Island.
Where did you go and what charity did you support?
I went to Puerto Rico to help with the coastal restoration programme, and to help families and communities affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017. I chose this programme because I’m passionate about sustainability and looking after the environment, particularly in places that are typically the worst affected by climate change.
What did your day-to-day activities look like?
I got up to a lot of different activities during my two weeks in Puerto Rico. The programme consisted of everything from coastal restoration to clearing up debris caused by the hurricane and replanting native plants and trees that had been torn apart during the storm.
This part of the restoration programme was particularly important as the native plants and trees act as a natural coastal defence against less extreme but still unwelcome weather along the coastline.
Due to the hot weather and humidity, it was difficult to work during the day, especially in the early hours. So, I’d start my workday at about three o’clock and work through till about seven or eight in the evening.
I spent five days volunteering at a local garden and spent the remainder of my time restoring a skatepark. I’d start my day by pruning any bushes and trees, to keep the overall growth of the garden intact. After that, due to the heat and humidity of the island, I spend a lot of time watering the plants and trees to ensure they stayed healthy and had the best chance of surviving the harsh summer climate.
What was the hardest part?
Definitely working in the heat. It was really humid and hot, which is obviously a very different climate from what I’m used to in the UK. The other hardest part was the fact that clearing up the debris felt like a constant battle because every time I cleared something up, the next day or a few days later, I’d end up going back to the same place and clearing out the same thing again.
This is not just because of Hurricane Maria; it’s also due to the lack of education around recycling and sustainability. This is partly due to a lot of the schools closing because of the hurricane, but also other social and economic issues that surround the island.
Inevitably, funding has been cut from these crucial sectors, which makes it a lot more difficult for people to learn about sustainability and recycling.
What did you get up to in your spare time?
Due to the beautiful nature and culture of Puerto Rico, the opportunity to explore various parts of the island was limitless. In general, getting from one place to another was difficult as public transport was restricted. However, I made the most out of every moment I was there and I was fortunate enough that the hostel I was staying at was only a few minutes walk from the beach, and this is where I spent a lot of my downtime before my volunteering started in the afternoon.
I would then spend the weekends going further afield, with ‘El Yunque’ and ‘Luquillo Beach’ being at the top of my list of places to visit. With over 240 plant species endemic to Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Forest was something I just had to see, and I was lucky enough to be taken around by locals who avoided the busy tourist trails, making my experience around the rainforest even more special.
I also took the chance to explore Old San Juan, a town lined with brightly coloured houses, cobbled streets, and shady plazas – it was definitely worth the visit. The landscapes, infrastructure, architecture, and local cuisine were amazing, I couldn’t get enough of the empanadas, Acai Bowls, and mofongo dishes!
What did you gain from the experience?
It was an eye-opening and very humbling experience. I saw first-hand the devastation of Hurricane Maria and the effect that climate change is already having on these small islands. It also allowed me to do something out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a culture that I never thought I would be able to, and I’ve definitely ticked stuff off my bucket list.
I’ve been able to adapt the life lessons that I’ve learned in Puerto Rico to my work life here at connective3 as well. From before I left to after I came back, I found myself pushed into situations that I never thought I would be in and that’s due to the new confidence that I’ve built, becoming a much more adaptable and self-aware individual.