What led you to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Costa Rica?
Kristen: I have always had a fascination with Costa Rica through minimal exposure to television clips, or simply viewing pictures of friends who have traveled there.
The country is beautiful and I made it a goal of mine to go there.
I then heard about the possibility of SUNY Cortland’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education, planning a volunteer trip to work with children in Costa Rica.
One of the members in the society chose Projects Abroad, and worked with the organization and SUNY Cortland to plan the trip.
As a teacher, this opportunity was a once in a lifetime experience that I did not hesitate to partake in. My dream of visiting the Country and my passion for working with children are what ultimately led to the volunteer project.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Kristen: As a volunteer in Costa Rica, I lived in Heredia and traveled to San Jose (about a 25 minute drive) for two weeks, to work in a daycare center Monday through Friday.
Projects Abroad set up the transportation for the group of students who attended the trip. Each day, the bus would pick us up at 8:30. We arrived at the daycare around 9, and would volunteer until 3.
At first, the transition to working all day was somewhat difficult, as working with the children was tiring. However, after the first week, we were all pretty fairly adjusted and really enjoyed our time with the children.
There were 13 girls who attended the trip. Each day, we would split up into groups of about 3 or 4, and each group of students worked with a different age group of children, ranging from infants to children about 7 years old.
We brought books and games with us on the trip, which we then implemented with the children, as well as used the resources that the daycare already had.
During the first week, however, the students on the trip created workshops in order to teach the local staff working in the daycare.
As a group of current and future teachers in America, we hoped to educate the local staff and teach them some new possible activities and procedures to implement with the children. These workshops included developmentally appropriate, math, music, art, and literature activities.
During the second week, the students worked with the staff to watch them use the new activities and procedures with the kids. Our daily routine typically included teaching one workshop to the staff in the morning, having a lunch break, and then working with the children in the afternoon, or vice versa.
During the second week, we worked with a local artist to paint a mural in the daycare. So, students would paint in the morning, break for lunch, and then work with the children, or vice versa.
Overall, our job was to teach the staff new teaching practices, as well as work with the children and introduce some new games and educational activities.
What was the best moment of the entire trip?
Kristen: The best moments on the trip were when we got to see and feel how appreciated we were. After working with the staff, and teaching numerous workshops, it was so amazing to watch the staff then implement the practices.
One of the staff members truly appreciated our work, and even posted how thankful she was to have us there on her Facebook page. Moments like that made each and every volunteer feel great about the contributions we were making.
Another one of my favorite moments on the trip occurred on the very last day we were there. After working with all of the age groups, I definitely favored the group of children, mostly boys, who were 4 and 5 years old.
There was one little boy who I worked with, almost every day, during the second week I was there. He interacted with other children and engaged in play with his peers and volunteers, but he would never smile! His facial expression was always quite serious and rarely, if ever, did I witness him laugh.
On the last day I was there, I used my cell phone to take pictures of me and the little boy. While doing so, he pressed one of the buttons on my phone, which turned the camera around to focus on us. He quickly saw our faces displayed on the phone in front of him, and smiled!
Thankfully, I was able to take a picture that exact second, and captured a picture with our smiling faces. Of all of my pictures from the trip, that is definitely my favorite one.
Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?
Kristen: I definitely feel as though we made an impact to the children and staff in that local daycare.
Not only did we bring books and games for the children, but we also used resources that we could access there, to make things for them, too. Some students made toys and games for the children, while others made calendars, weather charts, and behavior charts for the staff to use with the children.
We are confident that they are using these new things, as well as implementing the many new activities and procedures that we taught them during the workshops.
SUNY Cortand’s chapter of KDP, the international honor society in education, also plans to continue to send resources to the daycare.
What do you miss most about your time in Costa Rica?
Kristen: It is definitely challenging to pinpoint what I miss most about my time in Costa Rica.
The people in the country are so friendly and welcoming; I definitely miss the overall atmosphere of the community and the culture as well.
Of course, above all, what I miss is working with the children in the daycare, and seeing the excitement that they felt each morning when they saw us.
I also miss living with my host family. They were extremely generous and loving people.
And and I miss getting to know the family and culture through the experience of completely assimilating into the lifestyle there.
I miss learning about the culture, community, and all of the new experiences that go hand in hand with traveling to a new place.