Friday, June 14, 2013

Saying goodbye in Costa Rica

Today was a bittersweet day. It was our last day in Santa Elena working with the students. I am excited to be going home, but it was really hard knowing I probably won’t see any of these students or teachers again.

We started the morning off with one last delicious breakfast from the Mar Inn. We then walked to the school and met Liz to go work in the trails. We raked the trails and chopped down overgrown weeds. After this job was done, we went down to the gym to play more basketball and soccer with some of Jorge’s students. This was fun, as always, but I got worn out very quickly. My body is sore from all of the work we have done around the school these past two weeks, but it reminds me of how much help I have been able to provide for the school. The soreness will go away in a day or two, but I will have this memory for the rest of my life.

After our games, we listened to and watched some performances by some of the students. This included songs and a very funny skit about going on a road trip. Then we ate lunch. Our friends in the cooking department prepared us a delicious lunch with desert. They worked really hard cooking and serving our meal and I can tell that Liz has trained them well. After serving our food, they joined us for lunch.

Karen, Matt, Justin, Jorge, Wilmer, and Ellie

Justin and Wilmer 

We then received certificates from the school as well as lots of thanks and praise from the students and teachers. We were able to take some final pictures with our new friends and then it was time to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye to the students and teachers and town of Santa Elena was very hard for me. I am really going to miss these people. This has been such a wonderful experience and I want to continue providing them with my service and friendship. I hope that I was able to make the same impact on them as they made on me.

Entry submitted by: Ellie

Message of the Day - Justin: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn." - Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Leaving something that will last

Today was our last full work day at Colegio. We were assigned to work with Jorge. I woke up sore from the work we had done the day before, but looked forward to working with Jorge again. We went back up the hill and continued to shovel and rake the land to build a garden. Today wasn’t nearly as hard as yesterday, since we got most of the hard work out of the way. We worked on this hill with Jorge and his students and were able to take breaks to enjoy some recreational activities with the students.         

Jorge brought some of his students down to the gym and we played a game of basketball. Jorge even hopped in the game to play in his rain boots! Our friends in the cooking department also joined us, which made for a very fun game. I could tell that they were impressed with our knowledge of the sport. After basketball, I asked the students if they wanted to show us how to play soccer. They were very excited to show off their skills and definitely wore us out.

We took a break for lunch and went back to work on the hill. Once we were finished working on the hill, I could hardly believe how different it looked! Just yesterday, it was all tall, packed in grass. I was amazed at how much we were able to accomplish only with a few shovels and rakes. The land is almost ready to have seeds planted into it. The blisters and sore muscles were definitely worth knowing that someday, there’s going to be a garden there that will provide for the school long after we have left.

After working with Jorge, we went to the gym to watch the student’s intramural soccer tournament. We saw some students we had never seen before, as well as some of our close friends we’ve made over these two short weeks. I love how soccer seems to bring the whole school together. Watching the games was so exciting. We were very impressed with the athleticism of some of our friends, like Henry and Calero.

To conclude our night, we enjoyed our last dinner in Monteverde at Bon Appetit. The food was great and the dinner conversations were even better. We were reflecting on all of the people we have met through this experience. From Jorge, the most easy-going, hardworking person you will ever meet, to Dulce, one of the most passionate activists I’ve ever encountered, the small town of Monteverde is full of wonderful people who I will always remember. I am really going to miss this place.

Volunteers talking with Profesora Dulce

Entry submitted by: Ellie

Message of the Day - Ellie: "Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved." - Jane Goodall

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Basketball and soccer in Costa Rica

Today Ellie, Justin, Maggie, and I continued to provide our services to the students and teachers of Colegio. Our day started around 6:45 this morning when we had breakfast prepared by the Mar Inn. Coffee was drunk and fresh fruit consisting of pineapple, banana, and watermelon, coupled with granola and raisin cereal were consumed. After breakfast, the message of the day and the journal entry for the previous day were read. Then we departed the hotel with Colegio as our destination. Upon reaching the school, we were informed that we would once again be working with Jorge (the agriculture instructor who we have determined to have a strong resemblance to John Lennon). However, once we received news that we would be partnering with him, we knew that it was going to be a physically demanding work day. Our main project consisted of digging up the soil on the side of a hill near the school. The purpose of this digging was to uproot all of the grass and create a foundation for a garden to be constructed. 

After working for a few hours, our group took a mid-day break from our workday to eat lunch. After lunch was eaten, we were surprised by Dulce that we would be joining her classroom in the gymnasium for a game of basketball! Dulce informed us that sadly enough, for over a year and a half, the school has not had permission from the board of education to utilize the gymnasium for basketball-related purposes. Hearing this news made Ellie, Justin, and I very excited to play with the students and demonstrate the rules of the game to them. We were then divided up, girls against boys. The students’ respective soccer backgrounds allowed them to have quick foot movement and quick hands. After playing for around twenty minutes or so, a student on the boys’ team hit the game-winning shot! It was fun to share this experience with the students and I'm sure it is one that they will remember for a long time.

Profesor Jorge, Matt, and Justin picking seeds

After we finished at the gymnasium, we returned to our previous labor area for the remainder of the work day. Our day came to a close when we ate dinner at a local restaurant, where movie trivia was discussed and horchata was thoroughly enjoyed.

Entry submitted by: Matt

Message of the Day - Matt: "Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others." - Booker T. Washington

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Leaving a community feeling prouder

Hello again!

After an awesome weekend exploring areas outside of Monteverde, today we finally made our return to Colegio. Matt, Ellie, and I began our day with a brisk three-hour period of shoveling dirt out of old garden plots, which quickly got us back into the spirit of volunteering with the students. As we were working with the cooking class that we'd met the previous week, we were all quick to become friends again and work cooperatively.

When it was almost time for lunch, we were invited to watch a quick match of intramural soccer, which was exciting despite the fact that the odds were heavily stacked in the older team's favor. Following lunch, we joined students from another class in transporting garbage both large and small from the main level of the school to a "dump" area behind the gym. This is how we spent much of the rest of our day, and at the end of it all, we were just as dirty and sweaty as ever. That counts as a successful day in my book.

Later in the evening, we took our second night tour at the Santa María forest area. Our guide was both witty and intelligent and this made for a night of laughs and more interesting animal sightings with good friends. Hungry and exhausted, Matt and I had no choice but to ravage a large pizza before heading back to the inn.

A side-striped palm pit viper we saw on our night nature hike

 A mama and baby sloth cuddling 

Only three days remain in our journey and the time has absolutely flown by. I'm anxious for when we will have to leave our new friends, but I only hope that we leave them feeling prouder than ever about their school and their community.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Volunteering is a universal good

Today was our second and final day volunteering at the Santa Elena Nature Reserve. The day started off with a very full bus ride to the reserve with some other volunteers from other organizations. Once we got there, one of the tour guides, Donald, gave us a much-anticipated tour of the reserve. He was a great tour guide. He was very funny and knew a lot about the wildlife. While on the tour, we were actually able to see a quetzal! Donald was so excited he could hardly contain himself. This bird is so beautiful and such a big piece of Costa Rican culture. I felt very honored that we had the chance to see one! After the tour, we ate a delicious lunch. Then it was back to work. Our group had to be split up to do different jobs, so I volunteered to work with another group of volunteers I had met earlier at the reserve. We walked along the trails raking leaves and pulling weeds. I saw even more beautiful birds while I was working! I really enjoyed the work I did today. I got to bond with other volunteers from various countries including Finland, Switzerland, and even guys from other parts of the U.S. Working with them reminded me about why it’s so important for you to volunteer. We all come from different backgrounds, yet we all decided to come to Costa Rica to help better the community. Volunteering your services is a universal good and anyone can help. Today, I not only learned more about the culture of Costa Rica, but I learned about the places the other volunteers come from. It makes me want to travel and volunteer even more.

A huge stick bug we happened to find on a hydrangea

Entry submitted by: Ellie

Message of the Day - Ellie: “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” - Anthony Bourdain

Friday, June 7, 2013

Volunteering right in the cloud forest

Earlier in the week, Ellie, Justin, Maggie, and I were informed that on Friday, instead of volunteering at Colegio, we would be providing our services to the Santa Elena Reserve. So on Friday morning the four of us departed by van for the aforementioned location. It was about a 10-15 minute van ride to our destination. But, being subject to challenging aspects of this country such as poor road conditions and the inconsistency of wireless Internet connections has really opened my eyes to the luxuries that I enjoy and take for granted in the United States. This has become my primary motivation to put forth the effort to volunteer my services to better this community. 

Once we reached Santa Elena Reserve, we were put to work with cleaning the area surrounding the welcome center. While working I was able to appreciate the natural beauty of the environment that I was working in. Observing the exotic plant and wildlife was an indescribable experience that will hopefully stay in my memory for the remainder of my life. Being in this type of setting has really changed my overall outlook on the environment by providing me with a first-hand experience of the beauty of Mother Nature at its finest. After we worked to clean up the welcome center area, we walked about twenty minutes away from the reserve to an area just off the road. There we helped in unloading 1,500 baby trees that were to be planted throughout the area by other volunteers. It is very rewarding to know that I volunteered my time, energy, and money to enhance the beauty of this area of rainforest. I hope that others can follow in our footsteps by volunteering themselves to better the world that we live in!

"Sombrilla" leaves - great for shade! 

A koati at the reserve who let us watch him for quite a while!

Entry submitted by: Matt

Message of the Day - Matt: "Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead." - Mother Teresa 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The amazing science fair!

Buenas noches. Today was, at long last, the science expo at Colegio. Much of our work before now has been leading up to this event and I'd like to think it was executed just as fantastically as it was envisioned. With dancing, awards, and important members of the Monteverde community present, this was definitely a day to remember for both us and the students of Colegio.

We volunteers were humbly asked to be honorary judges during this time of ceremony. Our task involved inspecting and evaluating different science projects or research studies performed by the students, and, although the language barrier made us feel a little distanced from the process, we were still able to appreciate the fun and importance in the hard work that was performed. In the end, a winner was declared and awards were distributed accordingly, but all of the students should be proud of the hours they put into making these presentations.

A Costa Rican folkloric dance performed at the opening of the science fair 

Ellie discussing the science projects with another judge 

Matt, Justin, and Walter evaluating science projects

Our new friends Daniel and Wilmer with their science project 

At the end of the day, Francisco assured us that we would indeed be working at an actual reserve tomorrow. We even discovered that we would also be at the reserve Monday because of a region-wide strike, of all things! I’m not complaining. I'm ready to see some animals.

At the end of the night, we went out to get some pizza (my favorite), and afterward we met Francisco at a local hangout to relax. Now comes the sad news. I bailed on my comrades early to head back to the inn and try to get a WiFi connection, but to no avail. That makes this the first night that I haven't been able to talk to my mom or a certain special someone who I'm used to talking to almost all day, every day. It's not the end of the world or anything, but it does put into perspective how far away you are when you lose the ability to communicate.

So, I have a bittersweet day as I prepare to close out my first week in Costa Rica. 

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day - Justin: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." - St. Augustine of Hippo

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Meeting Profesora Dulce and her students

Around 7:15 am Maggie, Justin, Ellie, and I convened in the hotel lobby for a delicious breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, pancakes, and coffee. Upon finishing breakfast, I felt energized and eager to return to Colegio and see what tasks that the school staff had prepared for us. We then met at our usual meeting area to hear the Message of the Day and Justin's account of the day before. It was quite intriguing to reminisce on the previous day because I had already forgotten some details associated with it. But, once we were finished discussing the plans for the day, we left the hotel to once again volunteer our services to the students and teachers of Colegio.

When walking outside of the hotel, I immediately noticed the warm temperature, even though it was so early in the day. In the two days that we have been guests in the Monteverde region, I have observed that there seems to be very warm mornings with relatively clear skies; however, as the day progresses the scattered rain showers and the presence of the fog cools everything down. Upon arriving at Colegio we made our way to Profesora Dulce's eighth-grade classroom. There we introduced ourselves in Spanish to the students and we then learned that we were going to help the students clean their gymnasium in order to help prepare for their science fair that was to take place later in the week. But, we were surprised by Profesora Dulce when she informed us that we would be joining some students in a hike along the nature trail that surrounds the school. We ended up walking about two hours through the forest and were able to see an environment that was home to many very interesting organisms such as sloths, transparent butterflies, and leafcutter ants. We were able to take many great pictures and Professor Dulce was a fantastic guide who had vast knowledge of all of the plants and animals that we encountered. It was also entertaining to be able to interact with the children in this environment.

Once we returned back to the school we ate lunch in the cafeteria and then walked down to the gymnasium. We showed the students how to properly utilize the pressure washer to clean the gym floors so that they would be able to become familiar with operating it by themselves. After cleaning for a few hours, the Monteverde Fire Department arrived and assisted our cleaning efforts. Once we were finished working for the day, it was very entertaining to watch the students burn excess energy off by running around barefoot and throwing water at each other. We had a great day in Colegio and I made some memories as a volunteer that I will cherish! ¡Pura Vida!

Entry submitted by: Matt

Message of the Day - Matt: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." -Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, June 3, 2013

First full day in Monteverde!

¡Buenas noches! Today was our first full day in Monteverde, and, as expected, it has been an adventure. I mean, when you wake up at six in the morning and the sun is out in full force, you know the day is at least going to be interesting.

Today was our first arrival at Colegio and we were given the grand tour of the premises, which mostly consisted of giant-sized livestock and more food than we were prepared to eat. Our job was almost completely focused around cleaning a tool shed and the area surrounding it, and we were able to work very closely with the students and their teacher, Jorge. Thankfully, this situation allowed us to develop a working relationship and, perhaps, a blossoming friendship with these kind and enthusiastic people.

After our work day was over, there were still things to be done before we returned to our rooms for the night. Our merry band visited a local shop and bought lots of pants, and we then went back to the hotel for dinner and our Spanish lesson. I think Maggie may not think my attempts at humor are any good. At least she laughs and smiles a lot.

I also believe it pertinent to mention that, among the students we met, we have already made our first "friend." Wilmer, the Machete Master, tried to play the role of the shy little boy at first, but he showed us that he can be funny, friendly, and just as hard-working as anyone. Also, I think he likes Ellie.

Ellie and Wilmer

So ends our first day in Santa Elena. We worked our volunteer tails off for a few hours, and we returned to the inn beaten, muddy, and exhausted. But we will return tomorrow morning to do it all over again, because that's what the students of Colegio will do for their school.

P.S. Ellie went into the boys' bathroom. Also, she said "buenos días" when it was evening.

View of Colegio from forest trail

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day - Maggie Bjorklund: “I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”              - William Penn

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First full day in Costa Rica!

Today we woke up early and left the hostel in Alajuela. We hopped into a van to ride to our destination, Monteverde. Along the way, we stopped and got a very delicious breakfast. The ride up the mountain was unreal. I’ve never seen mountains so high, or land so dense with forestry. The roads were very bumpy and often, we were very close to the edge, which turned out to be really exciting. We arrived at the Mar Inn and Ánthony showed us our rooms. They are very nice and will be a pleasure to spend the next two weeks in! We then walked into town to get lunch. Everyone was very impressed with the delicious fruit smoothies! After lunch, we walked back to the Mar Inn and began orientation with Maggie. We read over the Volunteer Manual to get a better understanding of the Philosophy of Service. We then met Francisco and Karen, who both work at the school. They were very welcoming and made me feel much more comfortable about visiting the school tomorrow. They explained to us some of the work we will be doing, which includes helping teach lessons on conversational English. We will also be working outside to clear paths to the forest around the school, beautify their garden, and possibly make a compost pile. I have a feeling that we will be at no loss for jobs to do at the school. At the end of our orientation, Matt, Justin, and I came up with five of our own individual goals of this volunteer experience. From there, we agreed on five team goals:

1) To appreciate nature through observation and exploration
2) To experience another culture and its people by immersing ourselves in our surroundings
3) To become more familiar with the Spanish language
4) To enhance our outlook on life through our volunteer experience
5) To have a profound memory of this experience

We also discussed the types of qualities and characteristics we need to display in order to achieve these goals:

cooperation               charisma              flexibility
humility                    sociable               outgoing
energetic                  patience               enthusiastic
optimism                    motivated             open-minded

The night concluded with a walk to the town and a very delicious dinner back at the hotel. Anthony told us about some of the local tours, which I am very excited to go on during my free time. Overall, yesterday was very productive. I now feel comfortable and ready to go to the school and meet the students and faculty. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us!

Entry submitted by: Ellie

Puntarenas - the beach we stopped at on our way to Monteverde