This summer I went on a community service and leadership trip with Rustic Pathways to Costa Rica. For the first four days of the trip, along with 15 other American teenagers and 3 Rustic Pathways counselors, I was given the opportunity to get acquainted with my colleagues and the beauty of the Costa Rican rain forest by going white water rafting, zip-lining, and horse-back riding.
On day five, we arrived at ‘Casi Cielo’, located one and a half miles away from La Fortuna, the facility where we would host our camp for a select group of Costa Rican children- the little Ticos. Immediately after arriving, we participated in intensive training sessions which gave us strategies and ideas for working together and turning our ideas into a real summer camp for Costa Rican children. Then, we spent the afternoon working to plan the agenda for the next week and creating the itinerary and activities that eventually made our summer camp a wonderful success!
The next 7 days were a dream come true for the little Ticos who for the most part were participating in their first ever “summer camp.” The Ticos were chosen to come to the camp because they demonstrated diligence in school. Although some days it was very tiring to wake up at 7:00 am (especially in the summer!) and to take care of hyper children, I was always motivated to give every moment my best effort because I knew how much it meant to the kids and how hard they worked to be there. I woke up early early everyday to have breakfast with my fellow counselors and to put the final touches on the agenda for the day, before receiving the Ticos at 8:00 am.
We spent the next 7 days with the children, running various games and activities while coordinating their lunch and snack times. The children would alternate from the arts and crafts station to the outdoor station and then to the indoor station. The camp name was ‘Los Pequenos Superheroes’ (The Little Superheroes); we tried to incorporate the superhero theme into all of our activities. The Ticos were split up into three groups: Los Monos Fantasticos (The Fantastic Monkeys), Los Capitanes Ticos (The Captains Ticos), and Los Conquistadores Ticos (The Conquerers Ticos). On the last day of camp, we set up an awesome Superhero Olympics day, where a “villain” was said to be destroying Costa Rica; the little Ticos had to compete in different activities to win pieces of a puzzle that would eventually form a map leading to where the villain was hiding! Through teamwork and a lot of laughs, the little Ticos finally built the puzzle and captured the villain! (Shout outs go to our camp supervisor, Oliver, for dressing up as the villain and enduring the playful punches and kicks the little Ticos gave him when they believed they had captured the man who was “destroying their country!”)
We said goodbye to the little Ticos everyday at 4:00 pm when the bus came to pick them up. After a nice 15 minute break of silence (the break was definitely needed), we, the camp counselors, would enjoy our free time by jumping into the river, playing cards, and telling stories of funny moments that happened throughout the day with the little Ticos. In the evening, before dinner, we would all gather around to evaluate the day and prepare for the next one. Sometimes there were children that were not engaging in an activity so we had to think about ways to get them more involved. We would share stories of what activities worked so that we could plan future activities according to what the children were liking. A large part of our discussions was our organization. Sometimes groups took too long to move from station to station or were taking too long to to finish an activity, which both caused delays in everyone’s schedule; no one wanted to miss lunch or an activity. Being 16 and 17 year olds, which are usually supervised and not the supervisors, we had to discuss ways that we could improve our organization (which we did!).
On the final day of camp, we went to “Termales”, a large family-style water park. After an amazing day spent running around and swimming with the little Ticos, which we had gotten to know so well in the course of the week, it was time to say goodbye. Upon arriving in Costa Rica and seeing the little Ticos I was not expecting to get emotionally attached to anything in the short two week trip, but I did. When the bus dropped us off at our camp, we were told that the kids were going to stay on the bus- this was goodbye. After giving them hugs and saying goodbye to all the kids, I got off the bus as quickly as possible because I couldn’t bear to see them crying. As I was waiting for my colleagues to get off the bus, the little Ticos threw bracelets, shirts, and notes out of the windows of the bus to me, making the goodbye so much harder. I picked them up and put them in my bag and waved goodbye, grateful that I had an effect on their lives.
While working with the kids, I saw so much of my little cousins and friends from Colombia when I looked at the little Ticos. Their stories were so similar; one girl, Laura, told me, in response to my question, “what do you like to do,” that she liked only to study because when she got good grades her mother would take her to McDonalds-something that is taken for granted in the United States. Hearing things like that while on my trip to Costa Rica reminded me of why it is so important to have a larger perspective and understand that not everyone lives like you! I’m so glad I was able to mentor the children in Costa Rica, even if it was for 7 days. I am hopeful that they will remember our advice: have confidence and you can do anything you want to! Looking back now, I read the little note that Marlon threw to me from the window of the bus: (translated) “I thank you so much for everything you did for us and for being my friend, I love you.”
I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Friends Seminary gave me to be able to go on this trip. I look forward to going to Costa Rica again in the near future to check-in on the lives of the children I met. This trip has also motivated me participate in similar mentoring activities in my local community and, hopefully in the future, in the global community.
To conclude, I would like to share a quote from a shaman in the Maleku tribe that I met in Costa Rica: Everyone is the same: has legs, arms, hands, and feet. The only difference between them is what they have in their mind and heart.