If I am being completely honest with you and myself, I went into this service-learning trip thinking that it would be more of a vacation than community service. I looked at the itinerary several times and felt that there was more sight seeing, nature walking, and bird watching than the reason I signed up for it in the first place-making a difference in Costa Rica. Luckily, every aspect of the trip that I thought it would be was proven wrong today.
Waking up lazily before seven o’clock as usual, continued by the apparent tradition of not doing much service in the morning. We enjoyed the succulent pineapple and traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner side dish of arroz y frijoles (Rice and beans), “gallo pinto” style. Though we were given a heads up about things changing on the trip in terms of community service, I chose to disregard the advisement as usual. Our destination was a community adjacent to Chilamate and made up mostly of laborers of the nearby banana and pineapple plantations. When we arrived at the community plaza beside the church and primary school, we were given cloths, Brillo pads, oil based paint, and brushes. We were instructed to wash and scrub gargantuan tractor tires that were used as flowerbeds along with cement benches that we were going to repaint.
Alongside Rachel (the twenty-two year old British student whom was studying trees for her dissertation and working as a volunteer for the Sarapiqui Conservation and Learning Center) and the SCLC coordinator, Francene, we enjoyed the sweltering 92 degrees and punishing sun throughout our morning’s work. For almost four hours we painted the objects vibrant, beautiful colors that Latin American cultures love and adore. Then, just as I thought we were coming to an end, Pacho instructed us to each grab a trash bag. For an additional time before lunch, we cleaned up non-biodegradable materials around the community plaza. We packed up, took pictures of our work (which looked a lot more beautiful and inviting than anticipated) and headed next door to a sparsely decorated community center for lunch. We ate delicious, arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), plantain chips, salad, and a star fruit cocktail. It was made and served by some of the local community mothers just for us.
After lunch we moved two acres down to a primary school. We showed up at perfect timing for some the 3rd and 4th grade students were just beginning to play a futbol game. All it took for us to join was Kevin to say, ‘Go play.’ We sprinted to their soccer field and immediately formed teams. Though our group was feeling the effects of the heat, it seemed as if the children weren’t fazed at all. We continued to play futbol as most of the teachers (except for Pacho who played futbol with us), interacted with the remainder of the children. The game ended up being 2-4 loss for us, but it was apparent that everyone had fun. Then, we headed to some shaded area to cool off and sang several songs to the Costa Rican children. I don’t use the word ‘cute’ often, so when I say that the children singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and When you’re happy and you know it was cute, it’s more than an understatement. Without being as cliché as possible, the emotion that I felt when interacting with the kids was unmatched to anything I felt before. Doing service is one thing, but when the outcome of your efforts is evident in the smiling faces of children, you can’t easily put into words a feeling that immense. I’ve done 200+ hours of community service and I can truthfully say that today was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life.