More Than Just Community Service: University of Idaho sends students and faculty to Costa Rica
For the past few years, the University of Idaho has sent groups of students on United Planet quests. Gordon, one of the advisers on the trip, shares a little with us about his experience in Costa Rica this past winter.
“It doesn’t have to be just physical labor – and it shouldn’t be- to get a cultural experience.”
Gordon, a faculty member at University of Idaho, decided to volunteer his time and partake in the school’s Alternate Service Break and was given the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for ten days with a group of 13 students. Every year the University of Idaho sends groups of students to volunteer on various projects across the globe. This year they sent groups to Georgia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
Although 10 days may not seem like a lot of time, after talking with Gordon about his trip to Costa Rica, they worked hard and accomplished a lot in just over a week. Upon first arriving they had a two day orientation in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica. This orientation helped them adjust to their new environment and get acquainted with the staff in Costa Rica as well as each other. Since the students on this trip were selected at random, for some students and staff, this was an opportunity to get to know other people in the university as well.
The weather was consistently good and they were able to see Costa Rica’s natural beauty and just how diverse of a country it really is. From their orientation in the mountains to driving through the beautiful city of San Jose, Costa Rica’s landscape is unpredictable. They were even able to see a local coffee plantation!
After orientation, they went to a local community center where they stayed. The majority of their time was divided between the community center and a local elementary school.
The first few days they worked in the local elementary school on various projects. They cleaned and painted the school to help provide the students with a better environment for learning. They even built a restroom facility from the ground up. Gordon describes this as a “fantastic project.” The students did everything themselves and with a project such as this one, they know it was a big help to the community. So although it may not seem like the most glamorous job, they had fun with it because they knew the positive impact it would have on the community.
At the end of their trip they put together a carnival for the whole community. Putting this together was one of the most rewarding parts of their trip. They were able to see how their work effected the community and how much they appreciated it.
The students and advisers put together everything themselves. Including all of the activities for the kids, which consisted mostly of games like a wheel barrel race, a water balloon toss and a piñata . Most of these games were games the children in Costa Rica had never played before so the students and faculty had to put their teaching skills to the test and show them how to play!
The carnival was a huge success. They had about 68 kids there at one time! “When you think of a community, you think of a neighborhood, but it wasn’t. Their community spread for miles.” Gordon remembers one family of three who traveled over three hours just to come to the carnival. This sense of community is one that is not seen too often in the States but a is part of their culture in Costa Rica. This carnival was a great way to end their trip, leaving them with memories that will last a lifetime.“We made a difference in a community far greater than expected.”
Gordon returned from this trip with a new idea of what community service means. “When you think about community service you think more about the physical labor – but at the end of the trip, the community service was a rewarding experience with the people, community and witnessing different culture’s daily routine.”
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