SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – After Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked to assist with inspecting and evaluating the damage to the island’s schools. While inspecting a school in Coamo in the southern part of the island, the Infrastructure Assessment team left a lasting impression on one particular student.
Daily, IA teams would spread out across Puerto Rico with a list of schools to assess. Upon reaching a campus, the inspectors would speak with a school representative to get a sense of the amount and type of damage at the facility. Sometimes there was no interpreter, so the team had to improvise to get the information needed.
When infrastructure assessment inspection team leaders Rob Bolduc, from the Louisville District, and James Scungio, from the Buffalo District, visited the Benigna L. Caratini elementary school, there was no one available that day who spoke English except for one of the students.
Angel Emanuel Martinez Mateo, 9, joined Bolduc and Scungio on their assessment, interpreting as needed. Mateo “told us he wanted to join us on inspections and help,” Scungio said. “He was able to translate all of our questions and verify where all damages occurred.”
Without Mateo’s help, the team would have had to return to the school at another time. “This was a remote location and a very difficult location to get to because of the narrow mountain roads and rock slide debris in several road passes,” Scungio said. Having Mateo’s help on this visit “was very important to complete the inspection.”
“Before Rob and I departed, the young man indicated that he wanted to ‘be an engineer like you when I get older.’ He has the desire and work ethic. He has what it takes,” Scungio said.
“We’re recruiting them early!” said Bolduc.
Mateo’s mother, Marianela Mateo Santiago, expressed her pride in her son. “His mother's only words in English were ‘My son is a good students and studies very hard!’” said Scungio.