Week one is already over!As my flight departed LaGuardia, New York fading in the distance, the butterflies returned – dancing around my stomach, signaling the start of something exciting. I arrived in Costa Rica an hour before the sunrise, passed through Custom’s half asleep, and exited the airport greeted by a surprisingly cool breeze. As I waited for my cab driver—remembering I was now on Tico time—I watched dawn fade to day as the sun peaked up from the East infusing the sky with an amber glow. Happy Monday!
When the driver finally arrived, we quickly became friends. He laughed at my sleepy Spanish as I explained to him where I needed to go. After a thirty-minute drive through rolling hills, I arrived at my host family’s home in Cedros. I was welcomed at the door by my host mother (Mama Tica) and two playful pups; after hugs and kisses all around, she showed me to my room where I met my roommate, Naha. We chatted for a few, sharing what insights we had about the region and culture. After a quick, brisk shower, I joined my host family for breakfast and explained my dietary needs to Mama Tica. She seemed to have a vague understanding, so I offered to help with the cooking. She was excited for a new challenge in the kitchen and has been extremely hospitable and accommodating.As we prepared to leave for our first day of the assignment, her handsome tattooed son came downstairs and to our surprise spoke a fair amount of English. He offered us a ride to the volunteer headquarters at Maximo Nivel. After a two-hour orientation and Spanish assessment test, the volunteer coordinator led us to our placement. On our way I remembered how bright and colorful Costa Rica was even in the darkest areas. From the headquarters we take two buses to get to Purra El Alto—a less fortunate rural area outside of San Jose. Our placement is for struggling families in the ghetto that can’t afford daycare. Divino Nino is for kids without either or both parents. When we entered there were at least thirty children running around and screaming but the others welcomed us with huge smiles. I jumped right in and began playing with some rowdy three-year-old boys who were anything but shy.
After speaking with the teacher, we decided I would be best placed with a group of about twelve children, mostly two and three-year-olds. I was a little overwhelmed but excited by the challenge. Luckily the children in my group are at about the same level of Spanish as me, so we use a combination of verbal and nonverbal communication to get by. No one at our placement, staff included, speaks English so it’s great practice.After a few hours of becoming acquainted with the children and facility, we headed back to volunteer headquarters. Two buses back into San Pedro later, I began my first adventure to find some local vegan cuisine. My favorite vegetable shop, Neshuma, is closed on Mondays so I basked in the comfort of a street-side falafel, only a six-minute walk from headquarters.
Fulfilled, I returned home to Credos for a nap in hopes to stave off the jetlag. I awoke a couple hours later to another big hug and kiss from Mama Tica. I gave her some coconut oil and curry powder as a gift for having to cook me separate food. Again, I offered to help out cooking but she was persistent about making it herself. After a lengthy broken bilingual debate, I was handed a knife, and basket of yuca and chayote squash. I really just wanted to make sure she wasn’t sneaking any pork or chicken fat into the beans. 😉 She’s picked up on the whole vegan thing pretty fast and made sure everything was vegan before giving it to me. She even went out of her way to find vegan hamburger crumbles made of soy—safe to say this journey was off to a promising start.On a typical day, wake up is about 6AM, followed by a breakfast of fruits and coffee with my host family. From their home we walk about forty-five minutes to Parque de Guatalupe and catch a bus to Purra el Alto. From there we transfer for another twenty-minute ride taking us to our placement. In the mornings about thirty kids flood the doors to greet us. Hola! Buenas Dias! I’ve never felt more welcome.Mornings at the daycare start with cuddle time and educational TV programs. We prepare snacks, usually fruits and yogurt, and help the children eat. After snack time, we head over to the indoor play area—a.k.a. garage—for an hour of playtime. Previous volunteers have helped tremendously to transform this barren structure into a viable playground—a task which I plan to contribute to before my departure. This daycare is likely the nicest and safest place these kids have stayed. After recess the kids are sectioned off into three different classrooms. I teach about ten-twenty two-year-olds for about two hours. This can be very difficult, especially in Spanish. All the lessons and activities I do never end up according to plan, but they always seem to have a good time. I’m continually amazed at their capabilities; with the proper guidance and support, these children have so much potential. Sometimes they fly through the assignments, so I try to teach them basic English greetings and how to use a camera.Most of the kids love to be photographed and are eager to take photos. During class I also bring in healthy snacks for the kids everyday and teach them the power of please and thank you. After class we help all the kids wash their hands and then sit down for lunch. We try to emphasize basic hygiene, as many of these impoverished rural families are raised without the means or knowledge. Much of my job is breaking up fights, comforting crying kids, and helping them go to the bathroom.This week I taught the about fruits and vegetables, colors, and the number one. With each lesson I teach, I am learning just as much in return. On Friday I told them story of St. Valentine and we prepared cards and crowns for them to decorate and exchange.This trip has flown by. I plan to make the most of my last few days with these children. Teach them as much as I can and impart as much support and positivity as I can. These children have taught me so much about the beauty of simplicity and the true meaning of appreciation. I am so thankful to once again have this opportunity and hope to be able to enrich their lives as deeply as they have mine.Next week I plan to use the rest of the donation money to make care packages for the kids that do have homes to take back with them. Additionally I will be supplying the daycare with more soap and medical necessities, which are consistently scarce. Thank you for reading and to those of you that donated. Will post about the last week soon! Included are photographs from my Iphone and smaller camera. Wont be able to share photos from my SLR till I return in mid March, those are the magical ones. Stay tuned. ❤