First Impressions/expectations of the program:
When I first heard about the EDventure Costa Rica program, I was ecstatic. Twentyone days in a tropical paradise playing with turtles, painting a community center, and playing with young kids?! It sounded too good to be true and the most perfect way to spend part of my summer.
I enthusiastically ran to my computer to sign up and began dreaming of my trip to come. I envisioned frolicking in the ocean waves carelessly in hopes to stumble upon turtle nests and baby turtles making their way into the ocean for the very first time. It was going to be a beautiful vacation with a hint of hard work. Happily to say, my expectations weren’t too far off yet they were very different from what I had dreamed about so many nights prior to my departure on this life-changing volunteer trip.
Sea Turtle Conservation
This trip has been filled with moments that have taken a place in my heart forever but one stands out above all the rest. One day after lunch I had hatchery duty and Abbi (the research assistant on duty) was performing an excavation of a group where a large number of sea turtles had hatched. After digging really deep we found a turtle that was lifeless and covered with ants. Assuming the worst, we put him in the “disposal bag”. A new German volunteer was with us and she suddenly screamed “It moved!!”
Shocked Abbi checked the bag and realized the little tortugita was alive. Abbi told me to take him in the ocean to see if he responded. I picked him up and ran to the ocean. When I submerged him in the salt water, and the ants washed off him, it was as if the life had rushed back into him. I had to hold him tight because he immediately tried to swim off. I took him back to the top of the beach and me and Tahiri prepared a runway for him along the sand. After measuring and weighing my tiny, and now happily alive friend we placed him on the runway. I honestly felt sad to watch him crawl away. This was the first time I had felt attached to one of the turtles and I believe it was because I saved this little guy from a dark, ant infested hole. This single event made all of the arduous late night walks, and the long hatchery hours worthwhile. Being a part of helping the sea turtles survive showed me how rewarding hard work can be.
After our exhausting yet rewarding week at La Tortuga Feliz, we jumped in our large shuttle van once again and headed off to Liberia where we would be living in a homestay during the week and commuting to a nearby poverty-filled community during the day to work with the countless children and on the local community center. We drove through the city and mentally prepared ourselves to be dropped off at our new home for the week with a local family who spoke little to no English and to fully immerse ourselves in the Costa Rican culture through a very personal experience.
When arriving at the house I would be staying at for the next 6 nights, my stomach tightened. I only knew a few phrases in Spanish, those being, “May I go to the bathroom”, “I’m sorry”, “Hello/Goodbye”, and “I am very very bad at speaking Spanish.” I had no idea how I was going to be able to communicate for my time staying there and that thought frightened me.
The mother of the family of my homestay swung open the door when we arrived with a huge smile on her face and her arms wide open for hugs. I instantly felt welcomed and my nerves began to loosen up. She walked inside and showed myself and the other three girls who would be living in the same house also where everything was in the best way we could all communicate with each other, lots of hand motions and pointing. Myself, and the other volunteers, made our way to our room and began to unpack all looking at each other with the same thoughts, “How are we going to make it through this week?”
Brushing away our most pessimistic and nervous thoughts, we made our way out to the living room and began trying to socialize with the family. We pointed at things and they gave us the Spanish word, we pulled out our Spanish/English dictionary and began reading it religiously, and embraced this new experience.
Early the next morning, about 5 AM, we woke up and began to start our day. We packed our day bags then walked a mile to the nearest bus station where we met the rest of our EDventure group, all eager for what the rest of the day had in store.
There, we hopped on the local city bus and made our way to the community we would be working in for the rest of the week. As we drove up entering the neighborhood, I was shocked. Houses were built out of scrap metal sheets and ragged wood, they were each about the size of a dorm room, countless dogs who looked like they hadn’t eaten in weeks wandered the streets, and with our arrival, a few dozen kids emerged out of their home and curiously walked up to our bus stop.
We wanted to do so much for these kids, and had many things in mind that we could do for them that we couldn’t wait. Each volunteer attracted about five kids each and all began trying to communicate as best as possible and get to know one another. We asked their names and we made them each a name a tag, and each one of their faces lit up with pride as they were given the chance to speak up and tell us their names and ages.
Throughout that week we focused on playing with the kids, teaching them games, and painting educational murals on the community center. However, one thing stands out to me the most. At the end of our painting, we wanted to incorporate the children and give them a chance to add their own personal touch to the community center, so we had them paint their hands and stamp their hand print with their favorite color on the front door. I though this task would be easier than it actually was. Each child was overly eager to make their mark on their favorite hangout and it became chaotic. We kindly put an end to the chaos and lined kids up to put their handprints on one by one. Each child added their own unique handprint and in no time it was a beautiful piece of art on the door.
The kids all ran off onto other activities, but I took note of one little boy who ran straight to his mom and dragged her over to the door. He excitedly brought her attention to a section of the door and pointed out his own handprint, his mark that he had left forever on that community center. His mom smiled and put her arm around him with satisfaction and pride about what her son had done. At that very moment, I didn’t care how many screaming babies there were running around or how many soccer balls I got hit in the head with, we were bringing happiness to a child’s life and that was worth the world to me.
By the end of the week at my homestay, I was speaking more complex sentences and was able to communicate more with the family. I helped with the chores around the house and was more voluntarily eating the local dishes prepared for us at meal time. I was fully embracing the Costa Rican culture and I was loving every minute of it.