'More about hope': former Fredericton principal helps rebuild school in Puerto Rico

Former Fredericton principal John Hamilton is sharing his experience of helping rebuild a school in Puerto Rico. The school was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

John Hamilton hopes sharing his experience will encourage more people to volunteer

This building needed to be torn down because of the damage from Hurricane Maria. (Submitted by Lifetouch)

It didn't take long for former principal John Hamilton to return to school after he retired in December, but the school he went to was a far cry from the one he left in Fredericton.

Hamilton has just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico, where he helped rebuild a school in the municipality of Juncos that was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

"This is less about helping and more about hope," said Hamilton. 

"We're hoping we can make a little dent with what we did, but also to provide them hope, to let them know that people haven't forgotten about them."

Hamilton went on the trip through Lifetouch Memory Missions, which brought together educators from across North America to help with the work. 

Helping with hope

While there, the group tore down a few classrooms at the school that were no longer safe.

They built a wall around the school and also put up playground equipment and a basketball net.

Volunteers with Lifetouch Memory Mission helped rebuild a school in Juncos, Puerto Rico that was damaged by the hurricane in 2017. (Submitted by Lifetouch)

But, as Hamilton said, it wasn't all about hard work.

"Through all of that, we also wanted to take time to enjoy the students of the school and get into the classrooms and play with the kids at recess, to make that sort of connection," said Hamilton.

Hamilton said that even 18 months after the hurricane, the community is still in bad shape. 

"They're still struggling," said Hamilton. 

"When something like this happens, there's an insurgence of money and an insurgence of help right away, but a year and a half later, everybody forgets about them."

Planting the seed

Since returning to Fredericton after the week-long trip, he's visited his former school at Bliss Carman Middle School to share his experience. 

"It's kind of planting the seed in their minds that service is important," said Hamilton. 

The school's sports court was destroyed during the hurricane. (Submitted by Lifetouch)

Hamilton said that during his time in Juncos, a group of high school students came for the day to lend a hand. He said that group worked hard, and he hopes that some of his former students would do the same. 

"The idea of giving service is really important and I hope they got the message, and also got the message that we live in a pretty great country, and we're so fortunate to have what we have," said Hamilton. 

John Hamilton retired in December as principal of Bliss Carmen Middle School in Fredericton. A month later, he visited hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico to help rebuild a damaged school. 6:08

With files from Angela Bosse and Shift NB