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Volunteering in Southern Costa Rica Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Chiran, Canada Aug 28, 2003
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I went to Costa Rica with a youth organization called Youth Challenge International. About thirty other young Canadians and Australians arrived in Alajuela (a large city next to the capital city of San Jose). The next day we split into four groups of about twelve and started our voyage to four parts of the country. With my new group, we went to southern Costa Rica near the Panama border.

After a cramped, hot and sticky seven-hour bus trip from San Jose to southern Costa Rica us challengers and our two group leaders arrived in a quiet community of around 350 people, set in the rolling hills of the most brilliant green, dotted with palm trees and gazing cows and horses, called Jabillo. We got off the bus, unloaded our huge backpacks and waved the bus goodbye. When the dust cleared, we finally saw that we had arrived at the most beautiful place on earth!

This is when I realized that this is it: I have discovered heaven on earth. At this moment, I knew that all the fundraising, all the medical vaccination shots, all the countless hours spent studying Spanish and all the complaining I have done to come to Costa Rica have paid off. I haven't even been in this small community for more than a few minutes but I knew that if I were to leave and head back to Canada right now, it would be all right, for I was in a place that not even the best poets could describe.

I would have never, not even in my wildest dreams, known that the best was yet to come!!

We walked down, a few minutes from where the bus dropped us off to our new home, and what a rustic chicken home it was! I spent a good part of the first night talking and chatting in my new home with my new group members. There were thirteen of us (eight Canadians, four Australians and one Costa Rican). When we talked, our topics ranged from "This is the best place on earth" to "I can't believe I'm here!"

The next day was spent organizing things in our new home. Our tiny house had two parts. The first part was one actual house, whose second floor we were allowed to use, as there was a family living in the first floor. In the same yard, a few feet away was a tiny, tiny little shack made of rusty old wood. This would be our kitchen and dining room. Most of the day was spent deciding who gets what room and unpacking our life for the next few weeks.

The next day was our big day--we were going to visit our worksite and have dinner with the town association. First we would visit our worksite. We arrived at a large community center "shell" which would soon become our worksite for the next few weeks. A seemingly enormous expanse almost half the size of a football field had just a tin roof, and walls, and no floor. This community hall will soon be a "multipurpose facility" which will be used for health attention, community meetings, classes, cultural activities as well as other functions that will contribute to a rich and dynamic sense of community life.

After visiting our new worksite, we headed up the hill to have dinner with the association of Jabillo. Seated in the kindergarten room of the local school, we were welcomed into the community by the association with dinner where many families were introduced to us. After dinner, the kindergarten children performed a play for us, describing life in Jabillo. The play had great props which were handmade just for our arrival. We later found out that these little children had been practicing this play for the last few weeks, as they were very excited about people visiting their remote community. After the play, the association gave a very tearful speech about how we were the first and last foreigners to come into this community (they never receive tourists as the community is very small and remote.) When we headed home, we realized that we had entered a very special place where the community opened their arms widely and accepted us as their family.

Our daily routine began almost immediately, and consisted of waking up at 6 am to begin homebody duties (ie. two people who cook and clean for the day). The rest of us could go for an early morning walk if we weren't lazy, and we might see a toucan if you were lucky. We ate breakfast at seven and started work at eight. Our objective was to finish the community center by creating a cement floor approximately a foot and a half deep. So our weekdays were spent mixing rocks and dirt, cement and water, wheeling barrows back and forth and shoveling all day.

After work we would spend time with the locals; playing football, going fishing or for walks in their coffee farms, or depending on the day we would teach them English at the local school. The pulperia (local store) became our afterwork location, where we sat and bonded with the community, wrote in our journals, bought ice cream, had fiestas or made phone calls and generally had a wonderful time. It really was the all-around store! Besides the pulperia, we were overwhelmed by the activities held for us over the next few weeks. We were given cooking lessons for delicious biscuits called pan casero, corn bread, chocolate donuts and Costa Rican style pizza. We couldn't believe how much food we were given.

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