Since 2006 a total of 91 people, both youth and adults have gone on a service trip to Costa Rica. Many people have asked, “So just what kind of service do you do when you are in Costa Rica?” That’s a hard question to answer in one or two sentences. So I thought I would try to summarize it for you. Our work has been quite varied, and has evolved over the 7 years that we have been going to Costa Rica. Our service had not just been doing for, but has really been working alongside members of the various communities so that over time we have developed some significant relationships. For me, and I think for othes who have gone on a Costa Rica service trip, it is this relational aspect that has been what has made a trip transformative.
Guadalupe, in the Osa Peninsula
The main emphasis of our service every year has been to help in the community of Guadalupe, which is in the Osa Peninsula. The first trip in 2006, a combined youth and adult trip, we made directional and ecological signs which can still be seen throughout the community today. We also planted trees to re-grow the canopy which the birds and monkeys use to travel along. The youth on that trip spent one afternoon interacting and playing games with the children of the community.
In 2007 and 2008, we built desks and chairs for the school using large logs which needed to have the bark stripped before we could work with them. The stripping we did with machetes. Because we had more people in 2008, we were also able to build walkways between classrooms at the school and gathered rocks from the river to begin the foundation of the health center. A few people painted a mural on one of the houses in Guadalupe, which is the custom there.
During 2009 through 2012 our major emphasis has been to join some of the members of Guadalupe to work on the community center/health center. Each year we have sent some money ahead to help fund the projects the community chooses to do. We also spend some money there to buy added supplies. We want to buy the supplies in locally owned businesses so that our spending benefits the local economy. Some of the activities we have been involved in were: mixing and then laying the concrete floors ($2,000), building the septic system, preparing and stuccoing the support posts and walls, hanging door ($400), painting the walls, improving and doing the electrical wiring, painting a mural on a center wall, helping raise the roof, enclosing the center($950). In addition we created window bars on 9 windows. We sent $4,500 for the roof at the health center. Last year we bought $500 worth of medical supplies from Globus United for the health center. The actual retail value of these medical supplies was $3,000. In addition to the work on the center in 2012, some of the women on the trip painted a mural and some of the walls at the school, which is right across the road from the community/health center.
Developing a relationship with the people of Guadalupe has been an important part of our time in the Osa. The children of the town come to be with us as soon as they get out of school. Some of them like to practice their English, and some like to help us with our Spanish. We love playing with them. Each year there has been a community party while we are there. One year we brought and planned a movie night, a couple of years the high school kids came and entertained us with their dancing, and some years we dance and play games with the kids. We have donated $500 to help fund the costumes for the high school dancers. The young men who are employed at Donta Lodge told us we weren’t like any other group that comes to serve. They told us we a different because we take time to talk to them and get to know them.
The first two years we went to Costa Rica we spent some time in the community of San Isidro. This is where a cooperative of small coffee growers was formed. This cooperative also supports some social programs: an orphanage and a school for exceptional children. While we spent some time visiting the co-op’s roasting plant, learning about and tasting coffee, we also visited the orphanage to have a game day with the children there the first year. The next year we send money for the school to change 2 school rooms into 4 school rooms and then we painted the rooms. The coffee that people can currently buy from HUCC comes from a company that gets their roasted beans from that co-op.
Church in San Jose
2008 through 2012 we have been going to a small church in an area of San Jose called Desemperados. The pastor at this church wanted to create a safe place for the children of this community to go after school. The first year we were there we painted the downstairs area, the stairway and fixed and painted the bathroom. One of the most important things that we did was identify a weight bearing wall that wasn’t properly braced. We braced it so it would be earthquake safe. The following year we did more painting. Now our major service is singing and playing games with the children. As with our service in the Osa, it is the relational interactions that we have with the community that is the most meaningful. The pastor told us that they are very appreciative of the money we have given them: $1,000 to make their doors meet the safety codes so they wouldn’t be shut down, and $2,000 for a much needed new roof. They are also very appreciative of the work we do with them. But the thing that they value the most is that we come, we see them, we know that they are there and we remember them.
One Good Samaritan
During the Costa Rica service trips in 2011 and 2012, we added visiting One Good Samaritan, a shelter for homeless men with dual diagnoses. Many of the men who stay in this shelter come straight from a hospital; some even die while they are residents there. This ministry was started by the youth group of the local Catholic Church 20 years ago. One of the young women in the original youth had continued in this ministry and is now the director of it. They are supported completely by donations, and sometimes don’t even know how they will pay for their next month’s food and housing needs. The first year we visited and mainly learned about this much needed shelter. We also gave them $1,350 to use on specific projects. Last year we spent $450 to buy supplies and paint, and then some of our group painted the upper room and dormitory. At the same time other members of our group interacted with the residents of the shelter. It was heartwarming to see how the demeanor of the men changes from glum and uninvolved to smiling and interactive after our visit. We left $1,500 with them to help fix their electrical problems.
Some of the lessons we have learned along the way are: that we may think we know the best way to get work done, but in Costa Rica it’s best to do it the Costa Rica way; with money we could build things a lot faster, but then some of the workers there would not be employed for long; how to live more sustainably; how we are dependent on all the elements of nature; how getting to know others from a different culture broadens our lives and perspectives; and how much seeing monkeys and birds and different plants and an active volcano enriches our lives. Another major life lesson is what a joy it is to be a member of this HUCC community and work as a team to be with and serve others.