Rather than beginning my reflection at the start of the day – more specifically, when we gathered for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. – I would like to open with a few thoughts about the night before. Last night, mere minutes before check-in, we found ourselves lying on the dock of Tortuguero, staring at the stars. They were noticeably brighter than the stars back home, and we were provided with a perfect spot to reflect on the service of the day. It is difficult to avoid comparisons between aspects of the environment back home, compared to here. Something that has stuck with me, especially because of the Quaker environment George School strives to achieve, are the Quaker “SPICES.” In middle school, I learned that these ideals are the basis of the Quaker belief: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.
I can say that I have felt a closer connection with nature (and my surroundings) than ever before. I came upon an instance of this today, during our morning boat ride departing from “Pachira Lodge” in Tortuguero. Climbing aboard, the only open seat available was next to a small girl, who I later learned was named Elly. I didn’t ask her where she was from, because I didn’t have to. In a way, I didn’t want to ask. Something I have learned here, is that forming a connection with someone has little-to-nothing to do with where you are from. Sometimes, keeping an interaction simple is the best thing to do, because it can still have a significant impact.
As we traveled the canal, we slowed as we passed by three men on a small boat. The vessel was already mostly full of bagged sand, from the small island they were standing on. The two men, both young and physically fit, hauled the bags from the patch of sand back onto the boat. The third, an older looking man, was up to his neck in the water. My initial interpretation was that they must have been “gruff” (physically AND mentally). This was proven wrong, when they all took the time out of their strenuous work to stop and give us a respectful smile and wave. The main reason why I felt this was so significant was because of the genuine respect I felt for the three men in that moment.
The honesty that the Costa Ricans have, resulting from living such a present life, may be from creating such a strong connection and appreciation for their surroundings. This has caused me to significantly question my ability to be present back home. Leaving behind a seemingly inescapable addiction to technology has surprisingly proven to be easier than I initially expected, most likely because of the people here and their own commitment to being present.
At 9:45 a.m., our bus pulled up to “Escuela Vega del Río Palacios,” our first stop at any Costa Rican school. Trying to create a natural environment of ease, we found a soccer ball, set up the goals, and began to play. Slowly, the group of children began to leave their classroom to come join us for their recess break. Some were more hesitant than others, like the group of four young girls standing off to the side. I approached them with a smile, and invited them to play. One thing I kept in mind was that this was their community, and we were mere visitors. Although they were much younger than us, I felt that a large feeling of admiration for the kids. As we began to play soccer together, laughter and yelling filled the air. High-fives were exchanged, and Kevin even served as a great goalie. We had previously learned the song “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars, to sing to the schoolchildren. We wanted to make a connection based off of the music, and they even treated us to a song of their own as we sat with smiles on our faces. The school supplies were presented to one of the teachers, as we thanked them copiously and departed.
We arrived at the “Selva Verde Lodge” in Chilimate, at around 1:35 p.m. We walked to the local Learning Center, which was first developed in the early 90’s. Last year, they created a program to help the local community and its families. It formed a connection between the parents and the children. Separate from other environmental programs, the center assisted illiterate adults by having some of the children read to them. Additionally, the Minister of Science and Technology began training seminars of how to use technology such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. As our guide thoughtfully put it, they wanted to “empower the surrounding community, to help improve ecotourism.” In order to help the citizens find meaningful jobs near them, they helped them learn English. They aid around ten families, and twenty kids during each semester when they visit local schools.
Tomorrow, we will embark on a day filled with service activities. We plan to repaint community buildings, plant trees, recycle tires, and wash the outside of a local church. I look forward to giving back to a community, which has provided me with so much to look back on already.