Tag Archives: summer service trips

Costa Rica June 14, 2019

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by Urgen Sherpa ’20

What’s up yaw? Its Urgen Sherpa ’20 and I am your blogger for today. After spending the second night at Hotel Montana Monteverde, we sadly made our departure to our next stop, Arenal. However, prior to our departure, we were able to make full use out of what the hotel had offered us: Breakfast. To those who are not familiar with me, I typically eat a heavy breakfast to start my day right. Luckily, Hotel Montana was able to offer just that, a heavy breakfast. We then continued to our next stop, with a slight adjustment, that being the switch with bus drivers. Our beloved Ronald made an even earlier departure then our group in order to ensure the safe arrival of our luggage in Arenal. Thus, Antonio, our replacement driver, drove us to our next destination – Arenal. The journey was long, but scenic in every imaginable way. We drove up, down, left and right, passing by schools, churches, fields, mountains, and even “fresh” cows. Antonio’s determination was touched by everyone heart during the ride to Arenal. And we finally made it to Lake Arenal!

Upon our arrival to Lake Arenal, our group gave our regards to Antonio, and opened arms for a new mate, Carlos. Carlos, much like Antonio, contained the gushing determination that was touched by everyone during our boat ride through Lake Arenal. During the boat ride, our tour guide, Mario, began introducing key facts about Lake Arenal. I for one, took notes on his informational lecture and would like to share some of this notes that I took during our smooth boat ride. Did you know that Lake Arenal was a man-made lake, built in 1970 stretching over 34 square miles? And did you know that Lake Arenal produces 30% of the electricity used in Costa Rica daily? Lake Arenal is also known for its contribution towards Costa Rica’s hydroelectricity as it contributes around 70%. Lake Arenal is also home to wildlife such as, fish, otters, and caymans. Though the boat ride was smooth, I noticed that water levels in the lake were low. Mario stated that the decrease in water levels in recent years was due to insignificant amount of rainfall which is caused by the pressing issue of global warming. Mixed emotions were felt upon our arrival to the other side of Lake Arenal. However, the cooped-up emotion was disregarded when we met up with Ronald! With the help of Ronald’s astonishing driving skills our group then proceeded to our next destination, Hotel Arenal Paraiso, the hotel we are staying at right now. We ate lunch and then made way for our final stop during our day – a hike to the base of a volcano.

As we drove through the security gate, we made our way through the national reserve. We could smell the change in air as we drew closer to the volcano. Because the volcano is 1700 meters, it took time for our group to hike up to the lookout point. As we journeyed along the volcano, I took in some informational facts about the volcano. Did you know that it last erupted on July 29, 1968? The eruption formed about 5000 small craters along the volcano. And being that the eruption was somewhat recent, vegetation around the volcano is relatively new. Mario explained to us about the concept of Ecological War. And luckily, we were able to glance Ecological War at first hand. What does it mean? It means that species of plants compete with each other for space in the forests and we could see the tall grasses beginning to take over! After about 45 minutes into the hike, we made it to the summit where we were able to view the volcano (sadly, the top was in clouds all day) and Lake Arenal. As the hike came to an end we came back to our hotel. Which is where I began to start this blog. Pura Vida!

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Costa Rica Day #1

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by Ashleigh Curry ’20

Hey everyone! It’s Ashleigh Curry ’20 and I was the blogger for our first full day in Costa Rica! After an early morning start, we traveled Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park for a three-hour hike through the luscious forest. The hike included a spectacular view of the park, several bubbling mud pools, and sights of several species of insects, birds (including several toucan sightings!) and monkeys.

We learned that while the country of Costa Rica is 19,700 square miles, it contains nearly 920 species of birds. The United States, which measures 3.797 million square miles, has roughly the same amount of bird species. The biodiversity of Costa Rica fascinated us as we realized that this small country contained nearly 9% of the word’s bird species. Some of the birds we saw on the hike included the Motmot, Toucan, and the Lesser Ground Cuckoo. At the volcanic lagoons, we also learned that only 5% of the electricity in Costa Rica comes from fossil fuels – the rest is from renewable energy sources!

After the hike, we gathered back for a delicious lunch at the hotel before going on a horseback ride to a nearby waterfall. All the horses led us swiftly to the waterfall, occasionally speeding to a fast trot or diverging from the path for a snack. At the waterfall, we had the opportunity to swim and spend time relaxing in the natural plunge pool.

Our final activity of the day included a visit to the Rio Negro Hot Springs and Mud Baths. At the destination, we soaked in the hot water and even dipped our hands in the 90-degree Celsius spring (for an instant only!). We also had the opportunity to paint ourselves in mud for a full-body facial. The hot springs were a perfect way to end the busy day and allow us to unwind before dinner.

We are looking forward to our first service project tomorrow – a cleanup at a beach on the Pacific coast.

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Montreal Day 2–More Chocolate

by Johanna 

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Today was our first service day, where we spent the majority of our day working at Moisson Montreal, a food bank dedicated to help and make people’s lives easier by preparing them food that would otherwise have been thrown away by supermarkets. After arriving at Moisson Montreal we were shown an introductory/safety video and were explained the reason and beginning of their food bank. Safety was an important aspect since the majority of the people working there were volunteers, which included wearing steel tips on our shoes for protection. Our group was assigned to pack multiple different chocolate mixes into smaller boxes to be later distributed to people who can’t afford it otherwise. It was a very big amount of chocolate that we packed that would have otherwise been thrown out because they weren’t bought within a certain amount of time to stay fresh. Throughout the day we made our assignment into a game/competition, as we tried to fill as many boxes as possible in the fastest amount of time (which got very stressful as many in our group are quite competitive, in a friendly way.)

We managed to pack a lot of boxes during our time, and although our hands and feet were hurting, we kept going, knowing that the more boxes we packed the more people we helped. We definitely got a few stares as we chaotically packed those boxes as fast as we could, however, they all seemed to enjoy us as we “demanded” more chocolate.

I think we can all agree that our service day was a successful one, but now we are very tired, longing for our beds.

 

Thank you,

Johanna

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Last Day in Cuba

The day started out with a healthy dose of 3-10 year olds, as we assisted Ileabeth in teaching the church’s children group. We helped the kids make craft lanterns, and sang with them, “Caminemos en la luz de Dios” (“We are walking in the light of God”). Working with the kids was really fun, even despite that we had more assistants than seemed logical, and I resorted to picking up then kids’ trash from right in front of them rather than helping the craft. We then transitioned to the church service, where many of us exchanged cheerful greetings with our host families from Friday’s dinner. Ileabeth, Sara, and I sang with the church choir. (And I sang a solo for the church! 😉 ). I was surprised by the ability of the choir to learn and perfect the song in such a short time (we started learning it on Tuesday, but it definitely helped that of the eleven in the choir, four were or had been professional opera singers.

After the service, and a hearty lunch, we returned to Floro Perez to finish painting the meetinghouse. This time, instead of biting ants, we found adversaries in the many spiders hiding in the corners of the church. We just barely finished painting the first coat before our truck arrived, and it was sad to think that, since we had to rush out, we will likely never see the finished product of the newly painted meetinghouse. We followed our long and treacherously bumpy ride home with dinner at a (Cuban) Japanese restaurant down the street from the church, where the food was well worth the long wait (and maybe worth a bit of complaining from the others).

Ike class of 2019

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China 2018

Our first days in Beijing were a new experience for many of us. As we walked into the airport, everyone was excited to be in China. Even though most of us could speak Chinese, we found it quite hard to interpret what people were saying until Larry, a rising junior who lives in China and also attends George School, arrived. He helped us through tough times and used his Chinese to make our lives easier. The first site we visited was the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall took years to build and is known to take people 2 years to walk the whole thing. The steps makes it even harder because some are very steep and dangerous while others are out of order and broken. Our time in Beijing had become more satisfying as we went to the world’s biggest square, The Tiananmen Square. Later during the day, we went to one of the most famous sites in China called the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the household of the emperors which lasted from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty which is around 500 years. The history of the Forbidden City was very influential as our tour guide explained its significance.

Jordan ’20

As we closed out our days in Beijing, the adventure and amazement with the city did not cease. Thursday morning found us at the Beijing Panda Zoo (after we became full of breakfast, of course). The main attraction of  lazy, yet very cute little bears made for an adorable gift shop and an outlier experience in our temple-dominant sight seeing. Both religious and political temples were painted with bold and consistent colors of red, blue, green, gold.  The temples were all beautiful, and almost identical, presenting differences in surrounding aura. You could sense the kind of power illustrated on mere things like architecture, layout, and color, resulting in our group becoming professionals in the field of ancient Chinese tradition. To close out our big city tourism, we stuck to the basics of Asian art by visiting a museum and then turned things transitioned to modern art as we strolled through a super urban art gallery; graffiti, sculpture, fashion— the works! Concluding it all, parents of Beijing-local GS students arranged a lunch in our honor and as a means for us to practice more of the beloved language. As hectic and busy as it was, the highlights of the city tours will remain engraved in memory. I am both sad to leave the city, and excited to delve into service, the Golden Dragon Tour Bus of Beijing will forever feel like home.

Reagan ’19

My first impression of my host family was great. I had been talking extensively with my host brother before the journey so when I met him I was already very comfortable talking with him. My host family lives in an apartment similar to the one my family lives in so I am in a comfortable and familiar environment.  His mother does not speak any English and his father only knows a few words, but I did not find this to be a problem. They are very kind and remind me of my own parents. They are also very accommodating as despite me volunteering to do things such as my own laundry and the dishes, they insist that they will do it for me. Spending time with my host and his friends and family has felt natural and overall I believe I have had the ideal start to our stay in Yangzhou.

Praveen ’20

When I first arrived in my host family’s house, I was greeted warmly by the mother of the house. She asked me to take off my shoes and gave a new pair of slippers that she had bought me for my arrival. I was shown to my new room, given a new mug, and told to sit down on the couch. My host sister started explaining the activities we had planned for the day. We started off by watching re-runs of the World Cup that had played the night before, and then proceeded to lunch. Her mother had prepared duck, duck eggs, shrimp, fish soup, rice, and some vegetables for us to eat. My family quickly took notice of the foods I seemed to enjoy more and continued to serve them throughout the following days. Me and my host sister then napped for a few hours and had an afternoon snack of cantaloupe before heading to a popular shopping street. There I was able to witness much of the Chinese culture including the different styles of dresses and foods they had in China. This was followed by dinner with my host sister and her friends. After a long day I was able to go back home and rest with my host family while watching a new World Cup match. Over the next few days me and my host family bonded a lot together. When it came time to do service without my host sister around, I felt slightly weird not having her there and quickly embraced her the next time I saw her. I told her that I missed her and she said she had been thinking of me all day and missed me,  too. I feel so fortunate to be able to have this opportunity in China to get to know and appreciate my host family and Chinese culture.

Jamila ’20

See pictures here!

 

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Cuba

by Eric Yu ’19

Today was another fun day. Since we had so much fun at the beach last week, Ileabeth and Sara scheduled another trip to Guardalavaca. We had to be at breakfast by 7:15, so we could catch the 8 a.m. bus. Unlike yesterday’s 3-hour ride to Santiago de Cuba, the ride today was only an hour, which was still enough time for a good nap. When we got to the beach, we went to have breakfast before we all jumped into the beach, though we already had breakfast back at the church. We could choose our own dish and I decided to have some bacon and fried eggs. Just like any other places in Cuba, it took a long time for anything to come out. Of course, we had to wait patiently because as Ileabeth said, “Waiting is part of Cuban culture”. The food was decent and later on we also found out that we all had access to a snack bar that had various food and drinks. We then went to the beach to have more fun. The beach was relatively smaller than the one we went last week. Also, there were seaweeds all over the place, which limited the area we could go on. And Ike told me that he got stung by something walking over the seaweed. After about an hour, we all as a group decided to go to the snack bar and get some fries with hotdogs which we were all craving the whole trip. Like at the breakfast place earlier in the morning, it was so hard to get the waiters and waitresses´ attention to order some food. When a waitress finally got to our table, we ordered some burgers, hotdogs, and fries. While we were waiting for the food, me, Maddie, and Alice went to watch the Nigeria and Iceland game. The game ended with a 2:0 Nigeria win. After the game was over, we went back to our table expecting some good food. Unfortunately, it was not. The fries were soggy and the buns for burgers and hotdogs were too hard. Then, Ileabeth came over to tell us that we also go to the hotel buffet for some lunch. Still not full from those fries and burgers, me, Ahmed, Courtney, and Miranda went back to the hotel lobby where the buffet was. Buffet had so many options. Finally after filling our stomachs, we headed back to the pool area where we played volleyball. Then, we went to participate in a Bingo game which eventually became the highlight of our day. It was pretty simple, if you win the game, you take the prize.  Miranda and I were the first ones to get two bingos and the guy gave us a prize.  It was already 4:30 and we had to get ready for our bus by 5. While waiting for the bus, many of us went into the souvenir shop for more gifts. I chose to get coffee for all the relatives and family friends. The bus came a bit later than it should have, so we had to hurry for our second family dinner. I was grouped with Annarose, Angie, and Alice. Later on, Sara, Miranda, Aaron, and Courtney came to join us. The host was a photographer and his wife was a painter. Since it was a home of artists, there were lots of paintings and photos hanging on the walls. After a great dinner, we went to the living room for conversation. Since I couldn´t speak any Spanish, I had to stay with Alice and Angie the whole time for translation. Even though I had major language barriers, I still had a good time with a local Cuban family. Tomorrow we are meeting the youth of the church for various activities.

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Rwanda

by Jeffrey Love ’19

Today we went to the lake about 30-40 minutes away from our “hotel” in Byumba or as it is now called Gichumbi. We were assigned to three different boats/Canoes in which we were grouped up. Our boatmen took us all the way around the lake as we look at the sparse wildlife. the only creatures we did see were two pairs of African Cranes, which happen to be the national animal for Rwanda. As we turned back after reaching the opposite edge of the lake it began to get windier and thus we began to get colder. All in All however it was an enjoyable ride. After the boat ride we traveled back to the library which we completed and had lunch. We also thanked the librarian Francis and gave him our donations. Afterwards we went to an Expo in the town center, but couldn’t stay very long as it began to pour upon us. After the expo we headed on our way back to Kigali and the peace garden where we had dinner and were briefed by our Safari guide in preparation for the next day. Later that evening we said goodbye to Fiacre as he was not to come with us on our Safari. Today was a great day and I can’t wait for our Safari tomorrow.

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Rwanda

by Clarence Kwong ’19

The work at the library has come to an end, and we make our finishing touches. The pictures on the wall look great as well. Organizing books into categories isn’t necessarily fun, but it makes everything easier to look through for English learners. In addition, we planted grass seeds and orange trees in the library backyard in hopes for a more lively landscape. We also learned about a group which created their own banking system. It was interesting to learn how they kept each other accountable as they also held their own responsibilities as members of the group. Later on, some of us played soccer, basketball, and helped kids to learn to use Microsoft Word. Afterwards, we listened to Congo refugees speak about their life at the refugee camps. It was disheartening to hear about the rough circumstances that they have previously and currently faced. However, I am glad that we have the exposure to refugees and their situations. At last, we have dinner where there were Rwandan tribal dancers. It is fascinating to see that these people hold so strongly onto their roots. Ultimately, today was an insane day, and I hope that we all have just as good of a time to come!

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Cuba

By AnnaRose ’19

Our service group and a group of church members took a day trip to Gibara, a coastal town about an hour away from Holguín.  On the bus ride there, our guide explained how the Cuban education system worked, and how Cubans attained jobs.  Education is free, and mandatory until ninth grade, although nearly all Cubans will continue their studies past then.

On the drive we passed many forts from the early nineteenth century. There was also a good view of the bay, which we would end up paddle-boating and kayaking in.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLyn n were in one paddle-boat, while Alice, Maddie, Courtney and I were in another.  Aaron and Ahmed, and Eric and Miranda, rowed about in kayaks, and they stuck by the paddle-boat I was in as we moved about the bay.  Courtney and Alice were the ones who were paddling, but they seemed to be good with the load.  It was fun to explore the bay, even though we couldn’t swim in it because of the water quality.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLynn were a couple minutes late getting back to shore, but then we were on our way to explore a cave.

The cave had more graffitti than I expected, and more bats, but it was a new experience to  aim my headlamp at the cave walls to see if there were any interesting rocks.  As we walked around the dirt floor, many people, including me, took pictures of stalagmites and columns.  At one point, on the way back to the cave entrance, we stopped for a minute to stand in the dark.  It was scary, but thrilling.

As we drove towards the restaurant for lunch, we saw many of Gibara’s houses and buildings. We stopped at a lookout to take pictures of the town and the bay encircling it.

The restaurant, named La Cueva, served us seafood, mostly shrimp and crabmeat. There were also platters of rice and beans, vegetables, and plantain chips.  Aaron continuously stopped by where Miranda, Courtney, Sara, Ileabeth, Roxy and I were sitting in order to get more plantain chips. It wasn’t just the plantain chips that were good; you could say the same for all the food. Spaghetti or pork was available for those who did not want to eat fish. There was a small zoo attached to the restaurant, and Miranda, Courtney and I stopped to look at a parrot.

After lunch, we traveled to Gibara’s main square, where we could walk around for half an hour before we had to go.  Most of us stopped at a grocery store to take a look around.  While there might not be as many products as in American stores, there didn’t appear to be a lack of products for sale.  Ike, Angie, Priya, JoceLynn, two sisters from the church named Maylen and Mitel, and I looked around for ice cream.  It took a while, but eventually we were able to find another convenience store that had ice cream. As we walked, Jocelynn, Angie, Maylen, and Mitel talked about their shared love of K-pop (Korean pop music), especially BTS.

As we returned to the church, it started to storm, and while the rain w as refreshing after a hot day, it made everything hard to hear.  We rested before dinner, and then went for a walk towards a nearby plaza.  Roxy joined us, and Ike stayed behind to practice singing with the church chorus.

Walking the short distance from the church to the plaza at night didn’t feel unsafe, especially as our resident street dog Chica was beside us, barking at any bicycle that passed.  We made our way to an ice cream parlor opposite the plaza.  Miranda, Maddie and Alice debated what questions they might ask a group of communists we would meet tomorrow, and Courtney and I talked about our upcoming trip to Santiago.  Eric was mostly interested in eating his sundae.

After returning to the church, we heard part of a song that the chorus was singing, and they sounded great.  Angie and Priya joined Ike, and they all seemed to be having fun, judging by the singing that I could hear.  Others headed upstairs to play card games or journal for a while. After the evening meeting, we went to bed, tired after a full day.

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Cuba Day 6

By Miranda ’19

Today we went back to work. Our day started out by having breakfast at 8, we had pineapple, eggs, packaged toast, and bread with butter. As soon as breakfast ended we headed back to work to finish what we had started on Friday. We pulled over 16 barrels full of sand to the second floor then we bucketed them up to the third floor (the roof) where we had previously put the rocks from last week. Throughout this tiresome process we had rotations to reduce the work and to give people a break.

We ended work around 12:40 and started our nap session shortly afterwards. During our nap session we munched on my goldfish, Ike’s Milano cookies, Maddie’s pop-tarts, and Alice’s crackers. Everyone was so tired to the point where they didn’t care where they slept. Alice, Priya and I made make-shift beds out of chairs; while Maddie, JoceLynn, Annarose and Angie all slept on beach towels. Courtney, Eric, Ahmed, and Aaron all slept in their beds.

After our hour and thirty minute “nap”, we all went straight back to work but this time filling up water for the community from 2 to 5. The two men, who help us build the church, showed up a little after five to help us continue construction. This time we moved 12 long metal bars and multiple tin roof top pieces from the ground level to the first floor then immediately to the second. Lastly we formed an assembly line to move cinder blocks from the ground up to the second floor.

After we finished all of our hard work it was supposed to be time for dinner but we had time to spare so we all decided to walk 15 minutes to La Loma de La Cruz ( which is a giant hill with over 462+ steps!).

After the hike we all feasted on rice with shredded beef and green peppers. For dessert we had jello and banana cake. Following dinner, Ahmed and I played Spit, the card game (I won by the way), and JoceLynn and Maddie also played afterwards. After our games we all went upstairs and played a mini game of apples to apples followed by our meeting that occurs every night. Overall today was tiring yet fun and I can’t wait to see what is in store tomorrow.

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