Friday, August 30, 2013

Bittersweet and beautiful

My last day at Colegio was bittersweet and beautiful.  It began with an intimate gathering of about twenty students, as well as Karen, Francisco, and the principal of the school. We enjoyed a delightful selection of pineapple, cookies, finger sandwiches, and punch prepared especially for the occasion. We shared all sorts of different music with each other, and I was impressed and excited to discover a group of the students listening to one of my favorite new songs by one of my favorite German rock groups; truly astounding to hear in the mountains of Monteverde.

After our snack I was honored with a very official document certifying my contributions to the school (which I be certain to have framed), and some very sweet words from Karen thanking me for my service. After these touching formalities we immediately reverted back to happily enjoying each others’ company, listening to music, and playing a game where one person was lifted up in a chair as high as the others could get them, something I haven't experienced in over ten years since my Bar Mitzvah.

There was talk of soccer. I was determined to play on my last day even though I knew the students would be running circles around me with ease.

While we were waiting for a ball, Karen lead the group in a fun game called "Buffalo" where one must be quick-thinking and react extremely fast to stay in. Buffalo turned into "tag" and I got a grim preview of just how agile and speedy the students were; I was in big trouble.

Playing tag

Soon a soccer ball showed up and we played for nearly an hour in the blazing sun. I did not score any goals (big surprise, I blame my dress shoes), but had a blast nonetheless, as did everyone else. Then it was time for lunch and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to everyone.

However, thanks to Maggie and Karen's collective excellence, it was arranged for me to play another game of soccer with a different group of students after lunch! After a very quick power nap at the hotel, I returned to campus, went down to the gym, and was soundly trounced again for the better part of two hours. My legs are still recovering from all of that running around, but at least this time I scored a few goals! It should be noted, however, that I only scored when there were no goalies present.

Karen and Maggie

Justing playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with the students in Spanish 
Piedra, Papel, Tijera! 

I could not think of a more excellent way to end my service trip. I will always remember the amazing students and staff of C.T.P. Santa Elena. I hope to return one day and see how the chain of volunteers has furthered the interests of such a fantastic and productive institution. Already I miss everyone dearly.

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day - Maggie: “You give little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Capturing creepy crawlies!

Thursday morning began bright and early with Profesora Marisela in her gorgeously painted classroom. I was to enjoin her students on an adventure through the woods to find and collect as many native insects as we could find. Such an assignment was both a frightening and exciting prospect considering the significant nastiness of certain many-legged creatures that, most certainly, had no interest in being captured and collected for study.

Almost immediately upon venturing out of the classroom, a giant hawk-wasp darted out from the forest and landed heavily on a nearby leaf, feeling around frantically with its bright yellow antennae, seemingly daring us to come closer. Nope. The brute took off and Mario bravely swung at it with a plastic bag, but just barely missed (perhaps thankfully).

Profe Marisela then divided the group into smaller teams and directed us towards different sections of the campus; my team ventured up into the shady trail area. En route I spied a beautiful yellow-and-black-striped moth resting on a classroom window and gently captured it in a glass vial, taking care not to disturb the students inside who were evidently engrossed in a test; they did not seem to mind the temporary distraction. After entering the forest it was not long at all before our group was uncovering ants, aphids, spiders, grasshoppers, roaches, moths, butterflies, beetles, and even a few creepy-crawlies that I couldn't identify.

Soon we were running out of places to put the bugs and, with the best intentions, decided to group the more compatible-looking ones together. Unfortunately, this tactic did not work very well as one tiny bug (la chincha) decided to deploy its trademark defense mechanism, which I learned was an explosive release of its bowels, thereby killing everything else in the vial except for an ant which was hard at work dismembering a hapless cricket. By the end of the period there stood several large glass cases at the front of the classroom within each containing the ensuing chaos from the collective findings of each team.

After a tasty lunch it was time for English lessons with Profesor Sergio's class. The students gathered into two teams, each team had one member that would face the others while I held an English word or phrase over their heads so the one facing the others could not see what was written. It was the task of the rest of the team to try and help that student guess the word or phrase without saying it directly. Each correct answer would earn that team one point, and each team had 60 seconds to guess as many correct words or phrases as possible before the next team would take over. I was delighted by the student's enthusiasm and energetic response to this activity, and soon we had successfully navigated through nearly six dozen flash cards; both teams were clear winners. We rounded out the end of class with a few games purely in the interests of fun and friendship: one in which a "Maestro" was secretly selected by the profe while a single student was outside of the room. The Maestro would lead the other students in clapping, snapping, or tapping gestures while trying not to let on to the "outsider" who was the leading the group, although they were almost always found out after the first few guesses. Everyone was in hysterics by the end of class and before I knew it the school day was over and I was sadly ending my last full day at Colegio.

Students guessing vocabulary in English

Students clearly enjoying the guessing 
game in English with Justin

Entry submitted by: Justin  

Message of the Day – Justin: "You must be free from prejudice and fanaticism, beholding no differences between the races and religions. You must look to God, for He is the real Shepherd, and all humanity are His sheep. He loves them and loves them equally. As this is true, should the sheep quarrel among themselves? They should manifest gratitude and thankfulness to God, and the best way to thank God is to love one another.

"Beware lest ye offend any heart, lest ye speak against anyone in his absence, lest ye estrange yourselves from the servants of God. You must consider all His servants as your own family and relations. Direct your whole effort toward the happiness of those who are despondent, bestow food upon the hungry, clothe the needy, and glorify the humble. Be a helper to every helpless one, and manifest kindness to your fellow creatures in order that ye may attain the good pleasure of God. This is conducive to the illumination of the world of humanity and eternal felicity for yourselves. I seek from God everlasting glory in your behalf; therefore, this is my prayer and exhortation." – Abdul Baha

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Proud to be serving

I began the morning with Don Luis, where we were tasked with sweeping, mopping, and cleaning the surfaces of the learning kitchen area. Once this job was completed, we moved on to collecting trash around the cafeteria and café. I was a bit surprised and rather disappointed that many students do not seem to have any qualms with leaving their refuse on the grounds of their beautiful campus. After clearing the area, we moved on to sweeping and mopping the boy's bathroom as well as the main corridor between classrooms. Don Luis gently reminded me to keep my posture straight and upright while cleaning, which I imagine is good for both the body and the preservation of dignity while performing a job that many people (especially Americans) would consider "lowly"; I was proud to have the students seeing me doing this kind of work, as proof of my sincere devotion to serving them and their school. 

Soon enough it was time for the morning snack break which I enjoyed with Maggie, Farid, Calero, and Henry; the sweet fresh fruit was very welcome and helped alleviate much of my sleepiness. Then I headed down to the gym with Karen, Sergio, and a troupe of students to begin setting up the space for the annual "Traspaso de Poderes", where the new student government officers will be ceremoniously sworn in. We brought down 42 chairs from various classrooms (taking care not to disturb any of the students taking tests) and set them up on either side of a stage comprised of 34 wood risers that Sergio and I brought out from storage. Karen led a group of students in making beautiful decorations in the colors of the Costa Rican flag which were adorned on the recently assembled stage, which was adorned by both coffee bean sacks (a nice aesthetic touch) as well as a soccer goal draped in to bright white sheets upon which were affixed shimmering blue letters bearing the title of the event. Sergio then facilitated my leading of an English-language game of "Simon Says" which was both very enjoyable for everyone involved and productive as a teaching aid. 

Playing Simon Says! 

After a super tasty lunch, I returned to Sergio's classroom to assist him in preparing his students for their oral examinations. The test topics included naming the various parts of a house (in English) as well as all of the interior rooms and the various items that might be found in each one. Then we covered an extremely important topic in both Costa Rican and North American culture: making coffee. I led the students in reviewing the step-by-step process of brewing a pot of coffee as well as challenged them to name each individual part of the coffee-making machine. I noticed that the students had particular difficulty pronouncing the word "reservoir" (which isn't even English), specifically the "v" sound, but after slow, clear, repeated demonstration of how to form one’s lips in the pronunciation, most everyone caught on. I was pleased that this group of students was much more engaged, attentive, and respectful than the last class we worked with. After our review I led the students in smaller group learning sessions focused on identifying and correctly pronouncing English letters, animals, and phrases, while Sergio called in the students one by one to test them. 

Students listening attentively to Justin 
go over rooms in a house in English class 

Justin and Franciny 

After class we ventured down to the gym and to witness the transfer of powers ceremony, which included a short skit and speeches from both newly-elected officials and the principal of the school. As a veteran of Student Government affairs (Sophomore and Junior class VP, as well as overall school President), I was touched with vicarious pride for these young leaders and recounted fond memories of my own experiences. It was wonderful to see the students so earnestly invested in the betterment of their school. Surely they will continue to make excellent and upstanding leaders in their community!

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Maggie: “The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it.” – John Ruskin

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Honored, humbled, and feeling part of the community

Maggie and I were very sad to learn that Jorge was suffering from back pains this morning. Thus my planned activities in the vegetable garden were postponed and instead I headed out with Don Chepe and a group of students to an overgrown spot by the fishpond to carve out a large composting pit. One student hastily hacked away at the tall grass with a machete while I attempted to accomplish the same task with my shovel - not as easy, but definitely fun and enjoyably toilsome. This particular group of students did not speak very much English at all, but still we were able to work effectively as a team and enjoy some of the North American rap music that one of the students was playing from his phone. Almost as soon as we had cleared the area and dug out a good-sized pit, the clouds swept in over us and unleashed a torrential downpour, causing us to scurry up the hill and seek shelter next to the rather stinky pig pens. 

Digging a composting pit

Once the rain let up enough to venture down the hill we returned to Jorge's classroom (still without Jorge =( .....) where the students immediately set to coordinating and choreographing a dance routine to a Spanish/English version of "In The Still Of The Night"; I spent the time writing in my personal diary about the past weekend's activities, which included a beautifully serene solo hike into the woods where I discovered a tree comprised of spiral-bent branches that formed a veritable organic portal up into the canopy. Fernando Luis, the young man whom I became fast friends with during the classroom painting activity, convinced me with a wide grin to put down my notebook and dance with them for a little while; he's quite the smooth salesman.

After class I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch with Maggie that comprised of flattened, fried plantains and a colorful array of steamed vegetables, rice, and beans; I think I am becoming addicted to the local Lizano sauce! After lunch I headed over to Sergio's classroom where I reviewed different means of transportation with the students, including written and oral comparisons (which car is bigger, faster, more expensive, etc.). I was pleased with the knowledge, proficiency, and progress I witnessed during these exercises. At the conclusion of this class period I joined Karen in the teacher's salon to continue working on the bilingual brochure for C.T.P. We added a sixth and final category to the catalogue: Colegio will offer tours of the grounds, classrooms, and all four major products that the students are engaged in. The proceeds from these tours will go towards helping fund the projects themselves. I am proud to have contributed to such an important undertaking that will surely benefit the school by offering an English translation for those guests who would need it. The day was joyously concluded with a short but exciting game of dominoes between me, the vice principal of the school, and the accounting teacher. I am continuously honored and humbled by how wonderfully well the staff treats me; I truly feel like a part of the community. 

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Justin: “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” – Andrew Carnegie

Monday, August 26, 2013

Working on a very important brochure

Today was spent almost entirely in the teacher's salon working with Karen on one of the most important tasks so far: creating a bilingual pamphlet detailing the five main projects undertaken by the students of Colegio. These projects include:
   1) raising and selling both young and mature pigs (for commercial and culinary purposes, respectively) 
   2) caring for nearly 100 ponedora hens (and collecting their fresh and delicious eggs on a daily basis) 
   3) feeding and milking cows (and making cheese, which has an excellent reputation amongst the locals and    never stays on the shelf for more than a few hours) 
4) maintaining the fish pond, which cleanses the water recycled from the pig pens by means of tilapia and  oysters 
   5) the construction of a butterfly/hummingbird garden, the benefits of which will include not only increased beauty but also facilitate the flourishing of plants and animals that are only indigenous to the Monteverde region. 

I found that working with Karen, in addition to being a pleasure (as usual!), was extremely helpful in my understanding of Spanish and I believe she was able to bolster her English language skills as well. 

We took a short break to enjoy the exquisite culinary preparations presented by the students in the Food and Drink program, which included fresh fruits, sweet snacks, and a colorful array of garnishes in the shape of owls, butterflies, swans, and other happy-looking creatures. ¡Qué rico! I have no doubts that each and every one of these students is bound to excel in their field of choice. 

Tomorrow we shall continue working on the brochure. 

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Maggie: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

Friday, August 23, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Experiences in Costa Rica

At 5:50 in the morning my mom, Maggie, and Justin took a spin class. After, we all ate breakfast and walked to the school. The school prepared a party for our leaving. They had turned oranges into butterflies and swans. They made and served dips, fruits, and tuna sandwiches. They presented my mother and me with certificates for our volunteering. Then the classroom and teachers began to salsa dance. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Alajuela. 

Karen with Jen and Lena
and their certificates

Final Celebration with Rural Tourism students

Karen teaching Justin to salsa! 

On our drive down we visited a black sand beach. They had a truck there that had Churchills (pronounced Church-e). It was ice cream, fruit, water ice, and cookie crumbs, layered in a large cup. We also created a list of our top ten favorite experiences (they are in no particular order).

My Mother's: 
  1. Maggie
  2. Justin
  3. Casem and the walk home from it
  4. Meeting Karen and the other teachers
  5. Santa Elena Reserve and meeting Johnny
  6. Chocolate Tour and Night Walk
  7. Planting/cultivating a garden
  8. Service to the school
  9. Walking in Alajuela (exploring a new city and trying new foods alone together)
  10. Mother and daughter time
My List:
  1. Maggie
  2. Justin
  3. Casem and the walk home from it
  4. Meeting Karen
  5. Being with my mom
  6. Chocolate tour
  7. Volunteering
  8. Santa Elena Reserve
  9. Teaching English
  10. Crepes and agua dulce (sweet water)
  11. Playa Porta Caldera
Saturday at the airport:

A family on the same plane as us (both coming to and going home from Costa Rica) stopped us and said, "We remember you. You two were so excited to be in Costa Rica on the way down." In the airport, two people independently complimented my mom on her Spanish.

Entry submitted by: Lena

Message of the Day - Lena: 
"Do all the good you can, 
by all the means you can, 
in all the ways you can, 
at all the times you can, 
to all the people you can, 
as long as you ever can." 
                    - Jon Wesley

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Extra special bonding time

Today we painted one wall of the outside and one wall of the inside of a classroom. We worked through our breakfast break but broke early for lunch, which was capped by delicious fried plantains with butter and cinnamon. The chipping off of the old paint before applying the new paint was the hardest of the work. The vapors in the small space were hard, too, but we had face masks we could wear. (The students did not, but thought we were funny to want ours.) 

Getting ready to paint! 

Scraping away

Karen sharing her expertise 

Profesor Jorge, Lena, Jen, and Justing on a painting mission 

We finished just in time before the rain swept in. The morning had been the prettiest weather of the week and there were gorgeous views of the water from the top of the hill where the classroom that we were painting perched. It was mesmerizing watching the fog roll in, bringing the rain with it.

The view from the classroom we painted in the morning 

The view in the afternoon 

Freshly painted! 

When the rain halted us, we played games and listened to music. There was greater comfort between the volunteers and students then, which was nice. After dinner we went to the snake tour and had crepes and prepared for the next day’s activities. As half the team is leaving, it was extra special bonding time, having the last night together. What a unique and amazing week, trip, and experience.

Entry submitted by: Jen  

Message of the Day – Jen: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” – Abraham Lincoln