El Depa: The Experience

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By: Ariyana DeWitz ’24, Student Attorney, Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic

After this trip, when I think of Puerto Rico, I will think of the team-building, energizing work (and laughter) I experienced during my time with the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law. My most memorable experience during the trip occurred at El Departamento de la Comida (“El Depa”). As soon as I arrived, I felt the sense of community. One of the staff, Kieran Murray, hugged me as if we had known each other for years, although we had only connected before via a class Zoom call. 

The clinic student attorney group seamlessly split into the tasks of weeding & planting, packaging seeds, and cooking our delicious lunch. Being tasked to plant kale, I was at first intimidated because I have never worked in soil before. Looking back, I had no reason to fear because Carmen Veguilla Montañez guided me step by step. My first steps were to clear the land of the previous weeds. After, I turned the soil and created plant beds. It’s easier written than done. The sun was hot, and it took a lot of manual labor, but I had no complaints. I was kept in good company by the El Depa team, my friends. and music. I did not even notice that we had spent over an hour working when the food was ready to eat! Although I was helping El Depa with their garden projects, I was also learning various tools that I could take home to create my own garden. 

After the day finished, we were lucky enough to get a tour the home of one of the El Depa team members right up the street. On the way, they showed us different plants such as citronella, guanábano, mimosa púdica and tamarindo. These native plants have various uses for food and medicinal use. It was amazing to witness life being sustained by the fruits and vegetables that grow around them.

The biggest lesson I learned at El Depa was about environmental sustainability. The meal we ate was all from the garden or locally grown, and all of their plates and forks were compostable. Back in Buffalo, I am going to begin being more conscious of my environment. I will begin recycling and using biodegradable materials instead of plastic. This coming summer, I hope to have my own garden that thrives!

To support the continuing work of #UBLawResponds student attorneys, you can find a link here.

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