Costa Rica

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Brian

Homestay at San Isidro:

First things first, there are chickens; lots of chickens around the house of my homestay family. From 3:00 a.m. onwards, all I could hear were the clucking and cockle-doodle-doo-ing of the chickens as I tried to fall back asleep in my bed. I would even say they’re even louder than the howler monkeys that kept me up in Tortuguero. During the laborious process, I reminisced back to the exact moment I arrived at my homestay.
I was feeling uneasy as I walked up to the front porch of the house, giving a proper greeting and introduction to my hosts, Johana and Misael, in Spanish. The problem is, that introduction was all the Spanish I know, and I was spending the night with a Spanish-only speaking family.  As bad as it seems to be unable to communicate verbally at all whatsoever, both the hosts were none-judgmental of my lack of Spanish skills. I was promptly offered a drink and a tour around the premises, which housed a number of livestock, pets, wildlife, and plants. Misael seemed to enjoy educating me on the terms they used for the plants and animals in the area, like pato (duck) or cacao (cocoa). Despite the language barrier, the family and I somehow communicated well, with the common understanding of laughter and mindset to work towards a common goal. What really surprised me is how rustic the land they lived in was, with minimal construction and making full use of what nature has given them.

The evening really put emphasis in how they share their living spaces with nature. There were a variety of insects that swarm the air, howler monkeys bellowing in the distance and bats swoop about as they hunt for a 6-legged meal. This night, I wasn’t particularly bothered by mosquitoes, thanks to the mosquito netting over my bed.  Simply put, I enjoyed my homestay.  I honestly expected much worse, but now I am grateful to have had a hands-on experience of what it is like to live in rural Costa Rica.

Back in the present, I continued to struggle to sleep then came dawn.  I eventually slipped out of bed and walked outside to admire my surroundings and greet the early rising pets of the locals. I had breakfast and coffee on the porch, which was then interrupted by my travel group’s arrival.  As soon as I glanced over and saw the bus, I scrambled to grab my belongings and thanked my hosts for giving me a wonderful experience, and left.

Once again, we continuing our work painting community plaza at Llanos Grandes. Under partly conditions, we scraped old paint off slides, swings and seesaws with sandpaper and promptly got a hold of our absolute favorite tools-the paint brush. We colored the facilities in a variety of colors ranging from blue to orange to pink, and let me tell you, it was a chore to coordinate everyone working efficiently (ironically).

After a scrumptious lunch made by the community mothers, we went straight back to painting, but now we are painting flower patterns on tires instead, and there are plenty of tires to go around. However, heavy rain came pouring abruptly as some of us quickly scramble to cover and some are resilient in completing their masterpieces. As the rain stopped, we concluded that our work in the plaza in done and loaded ourselves back onto the bus and readied the next round of homestay students. Funnily enough, there’s this feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I felt as I walked off the plaza, as if contributing a small amount of work can impact the children of a community greatly.

Saying ironic farewells to this group of homestays wasn’t long-lived, as there was a special gathering this night with all the homestay families, much thanks to the SCLC coordinator, Francene. It was extremely nice to return and spend a little time with my original homestay family that night, as we are now in a more crowded and lively environment instead. The mothers in that part of the community prepared a special dinner for us, and let me tell you, the bread is utterly amazing. I should really be disgusted with myself by the way I absolutely devoured half a loaf. Knowing it was the second to last night we are going to spend together, everyone took part of a salsa dancing session. People laughed and cheered as they danced in the only lamp that shined under the starry night sky of Costa Rica.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Vietnam

Paige ’18

Today was our last day in the village and honestly if I did not have so much waiting for me at home, I would be staying. We had a delicious and traditional breakfast of pho and fruit that was fresh beyond belief. We packed up our stuff and said our last goodbyes to the place I consider another home away from home. The bus ride back brought beautiful views, a delicious snack of mango, and a much-needed nap. Once we arrived back in Hanoi, we had lunch at the first restaurant we ever ate at on this trip. Going there put my time here in perspective and made me realize that I would soon have to say goodbye to this amazing country. Sentimental, I know, but we had to say goodbye to our host families as well. It has been an emotional day. At dinner, we were greeted with tables stacked with wonderful food and a seemingly endless amount of handshakes and “thank you” for the service we have done. With the host families all gathered together, we shared one last meal with people that we had suddenly come to love. My goodbyes went quickly, corrected to “I will see you later” by the people around me. After exchanging songs with our audience of parents and members of the organization that made this possible, we gave our last hugs and headed back to the hotel. This bittersweet night made me realize how comfortable I have become and there is a spot in my heart for the people I have encountered. With only a little time left, we will continue to immerse ourselves in the culture and eventually say the final “see you later.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Bonaire

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Jedd Tam ’18

Today we went back to Washikemba to clean up more trash. It was different from the first time we went because the tropical storm altered the terrain. The dirt road we originally took was blocked. I could tell there was flooding from the storm because there was a large area of flooded dirt with a border of trash. Instead of the trash being concentrated in a dense pile on the beach like the first time, the trash was now spread out over a large area. The trash at Washikemba consists of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam, shoe soles, children’s toys, and more. A lot of the stuff that I find there was still usable at the time of disposal because they made it to the beach in okay condition. Other stuff, on the other hand, crumbled on contact. This is a testament to the long journey the trash has gone through. During that journey, the elements corroded the plastic. While our work was helpful in reducing the amount of trash in the environment, it is far from the solution. More trash will replace the trash we removed. What we need is to change our attitude with consuming resources and disposing trash. When we responsibly dispose of trash, nature can be beautiful again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized

Costa Rica Day 9

Khalil ’18

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Vietnam

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Noah ‘18

Today I woke up at 5:00 a.m. At first I was so annoyed at how early I woke up, but as I lay there, I enjoyed the many sounds of the village; the crowing roosters, the mooing cows and the constant piercing hum of the cicadas. Today was also our last working day. We got there at around 8:15 a.m., before any of the women in the village with whom we usually work. Beginning work without them really made me appreciate how the whole village comes together to finish a project like this. We were still digging, digging, digging, trying to remove one of probably five to eight huge piles of dirt. And, much of the dirt was actual clay or rocks—not easy at all to manoeuver. We worked until 11:15 a.m. and finished our last community work efforts, dirty, sweaty and exhausted. Everyone headed to the showers when we returned to our host home on stilts.

In the afternoon Gavin, Rex and I went to a café where we met two people from an organization called Asia Outdoors. They were very nice and invited us to a free yoga session. Their invitation made me feel welcomed, and even though we didn’t go, I still appreciated it. Throughout our free time in the afternoon, almost everyone in the group got massages from some of the women with whom we worked. When I arrived there, I was glad that they were happy to see us again!

In the evening, we went back to the community center where the children put on a dance performance for everyone. They were proud to dance for us, and for the last dance they invited us to do the Macarena with them. We also sang a song for the community and Tommy, Devon and Paige did “The Cup Song.” As we handed out candy and gum to all the children and mothers, I saw many of the women we worked with and I felt like I was a little part of their community, too. There is an obvious lack of men in the village. We were told that many men of working age leave the village to go work in the cities. A lot of them have jobs in hotels. They come home for extended periods in early June and November to help harvest rice. While they are away, they send money home to their families.

We went to bed once again pretty early – around 9:45 p.m.!

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Bonaire

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Gia Delia ’18

Tropical Storm Bret didn’t take as strong as a toll as expected. There were some worries about how it would affect the island. Yesterday, there were strong wind gusts and spontaneous rain showers. Last night we lost power at the Lizard Inn, and we were told the streets would be flooded by this morning. Despite these concerns, I woke up to a sunny and beautiful Bonaire. The aftermath of the storm was unpredictable, but thankfully no effects were severe. Bonaire doesn’t have drain pipes in the street, unlike where we live, and the water from the storm is standing in puddles.

We had great weather all day and the group went to the donkey sanctuary, where I was able to see over seven hundred donkeys and feed them carrots. There was even a two-day old donkey. It was another element of Bonaire I was able to experience. We went to dinner at Mezze, a Mediterranean restaurant. I have tried a vast majority of new foods on this trip, and have learned a lot of Bonaire culture over the course of this trip.

We have been doing trash cleanup on the beach and the severity of the storm could have widely affected the trash and the debris left on the beach. We filled two truckloads of trash and dropped it off at Dive Friends where they will recycle it. I have learned the simplicity of the island and the ecological service that we are doing and how it is benefiting Bonaire. I am sad that in two days this trip will come to an end, but I am so grateful for all I have experienced over these past two weeks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Vietnam

by Juliette ’18

Today we woke up around 6:20 a.m. and had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. After breakfast, we departed for the community center where we continued our work from the day before. We began with shoveling dirt and then quickly shifted to forming an assembly line with the women of the village to transport rubble from a demolished building. We passed large pieces of concrete down the line and eventually discarded them into a ditch to create the foundation for a new building. The work was exhausting and hot, but in my opinion, it was preferable to digging and shoveling. It was wonderful to see the work that can be accomplished when a community comes together. The people in the village were all invested in the goal of building a new communal cooking area, thus improving the quality of life for all the inhabitants of the village. We took a break for lunch around 11:30 a.m. After lunch, Paige, Tommy and I went shopping in town. The afternoon heat was really intense and it took a lot of effort to mentally prepare for the hours of work ahead of us. We returned to work around 2:00 p.m. As predicted, the afternoon work proved to be grueling mainly because of the heat. We returned to the house at 5:00 p.m. and I took a nap while others went out shopping, exploring in town. We all regrouped for dinner. Everyone enjoyed the delicacy of fried grasshoppers. I was surprised how easy it was to eat grasshoppers if I didn’t look at them closely. Exhausted, we went to bed early, around 8:30 p.m.!

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Costa Rica

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Kate

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.

Simplicity

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.

Peace

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.

Integrity

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.

Community

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.

Equality

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.

Stewardship

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Costa Rica

by Spencer

It has officially been a week since we arrived here in Costa Rica—a whole seven days. While it honestly feels like I have spent more than a week here, it is still strange to think that a whole week has passed. For whatever reason, I feel as though time works differently here, in the sense that time passes slower. Our itinerary accounts for so much to do everyday, but we somehow still have time to rest and relax, making the days seem noticeably longer than at home. Perhaps it is the early wake ups, or the two hour time difference, which is not long enough to cause jet lag, but long enough to confuse one’s biological clock. Whatever the cause is, I can say with certainty that I will miss the unusually long days.

All that aside, Day 7 of our service trip accounted for a morning boat tour of the canals of Tortuguero National Park and an afternoon of Tortuguero beach cleanup.  The park’s canals run parallel to the ocean with only a sliver of land separating them.  Some of the canals are natural, but loggers dug up other ones in the 1940’s.  Now, visitors to the park use the canals when in search for rare and unique wildlife.

After a typical Costa Rican breakfast, we gathered the necessities for the boat tour and departed at 8:15 a.m. We were treated to an authentic Costa Rican wildlife tour, as there was a light rain throughout a majority of the 2.5 hour tour. The highlights of the tour were some sightings a plethora of exotic birds, including but not limited to toucans, kingfishers, Jacanas with really long feet that had yellow highlights, Anhingas with long necks and long beaks, night herons, parrots, in addition to a startlingly large wolf spider, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, and a cayman, which is basically a small crocodile. It wasn’t until I saw the cayman that I truly began to appreciate the fact that we are in such a unique environment, an environment that may not be around much longer due to pollution and global warming. To think that such incredible fauna is in danger, the colorful birds and fearless monkeys, and such beautiful flora, the giant palm trees and vibrant fruit. I feel blessed to have been able to experience Costa Rica while it is still flourishing.

Later in the day we took a short boat ride from our hotel across the Tortuguero River to access the beach and clean up some trash that has washed in or left by visitors. We walked down a narrow pathway from where the boat docked to get to a small green shelter that would serve as our “base camp.” Once we got all our work gloves on and were designated trash bags (general trash, plastic, and metal), we headed to the beach. Along the way, we were lucky enough to spot a dozen Great Green Macaws, an endemic and endangered species of large parrots only found in Costa Rica and Panama. This provided another opportunity to appreciate the fantastic and one-of-a-kind fauna that exists in this truly special country.

Once on the beach, we were certainly not at a loss for trash to clean up. We mostly focused on plastic items since that can harm turtles when ingested.  All in all, we covered half a kilometer of beach and found lots of small plastic items.  After some time, I was alerted by Pacho’s voice indicating that he had found something of interest. Once everyone had gathered, he revealed that he had found a broken turtle egg, probably a very common site in later months, but not in June, as we learned yesterday. (Yesterday we visited a Tortuguero Sea Turtle research and care conservatory to learn of the important of sea turtles). As one of the staff had explained, it is most important for people to have real, visceral experiences with sea turtles in order to understand their importance, as those experiences are far more effective than facts and statistics. I had obviously never had a true experience with sea turtles until I touched the baby turtle shell today and felt for myself how frail and easily breakable they are. More than any video or lecture could have ever influenced me, my experience with the turtle shell gave me a true appreciation for the impertinence of nature and how important it is to protect the environment.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Vietnam

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Devon ’18

To begin our first working day in Mai Chau, we woke up after a restful sleep (despite the lack of AC). We had a delicious breakfast of banana pancake fritters and dragon fruit. At 8:00 a.m., we walked to the community center where the townspeople were working; they are expanding the center and so we were asked to level the dirt piles and fill in what used to be a pond. Two of the large piles were dry and rock based. Another was predominantly clay. In the morning we could hardly see a difference although we worked for a few hours. We broke at noon, which is really 11:30 a.m. in Vietnam, for a filling and delicious lunch. After, the girls’ house took a long siesta, and we returned to work around 3:00 p.m. After an hour and a half of work, the townspeople decided to use a backhoe to move the dirt. To us, it really seemed like our work was destroyed but the organizers explained that our work had to get done first for the backhoe to come into the area and do its job. While we all watched the machine do ten times faster what we were doing, Julian became friends with a little boy. He was very strong but very small, and we all had many laughs together. I have really noticed how happy these kids are without electronics. To me, that is really special and has made me think a lot about kids in the U.S.  Julian and I were also greeted by my little friend Jiang and her cousin Nguyen when we came back home. Very graciously, they brought us cold bottles of water. We soon left for showers and dinner. None of us could wait to eat the great food they make here.  After the meal, most of the group played a round of cards but I chose to sit in the hammock next to the table and journal while Julian watched many head lamps moving and working in the rice patties. The work was hard, but overall we had all had another great day. 9:30 p.m. bedtime was fine with most of us!

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students