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NEW BEDFORD — Rachel Brainard, an English as a second language teacher at Alma del Mar Charter School, spent the last three weeks in Puerto Rico. She set out to practice her Spanish skills and learn more about the island where many of her students are from.
“I didn’t expect to find myself in the middle of a revolution,” she said in a phone interview Thursday after returning to New Bedford early that morning from the donor-funded trip.
Wednesday night, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation that will take effect Aug. 2. That followed nearly two weeks of protests where tens of thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation, in the U.S. territory’s biggest demonstrations since the protests that put an end to U.S. Navy training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago, The Associated Press reported.
Rosselló is also the first governor to resign in Puerto Rico’s modern history.
In a post to its Instagram page Tuesday, Alma del Mar provided an update from Brainard including videos of flag waving and chanting on the streets of San Juan.
She said protests that she witnessed remained peaceful. She saw Puerto Rican flags wave from balconies above, store owners close their doors to join and people line the streets with signs that read “Ricky Renuncia!,” she wrote in the post.
“It was almost like a parade,” Brainard said Thursday about a protest on Sunday. She found people were kind, respectful and prideful. She’d never really been to a protest before, she said.
People of all ages were involved and she called their spirit “phenomenal.”
“The people want their voices to be heard and will not stop until justice is served on the island. Puerto Ricans are extremely proud of their home, their history and are ultimately speaking up for their future,” she wrote. “I am thankful to be here and witness this historic event but most importantly, I am also here to show support for Puerto Ricans all over the world.”
Brainard said there were rumors of the resignation on Wednesday, and then Rosselló finally made his announcement. She noticed the news after landing.
“I really have so much respect for Puerto Rico and how they stand together and their pride in the island,” she said.
Brainard said that she lived like a local and stayed in a small apartment instead of a hotel room. Her trip was made possible through donors which contribute to what the school calls “Almazing Fund trips.” Another educator, middle school specialist Hanna MacDougall, was able to travel to Ecuador via a grant.
She saw historic landmarks and spent a week volunteering with local schools (many closed after Hurricane Maria) and a food pantry, she said. She talked with the principal of a middle school in San Juan and helped paint offices at the school, she said.
On the way into the school, she found a small stray black cat which she ended up taking back to the mainland.
“My hope is to start a pen pal program between some of my students and students in Puerto Rico,” she said.
The trip, she said, “just really opened my eyes to where my students come from.”
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