Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with GVI in Costa Rica?
Amelia: I wanted a career break and was looking to try something new, and came across volunteering overseas.
It was a really interesting research process go through each of the volunteer services in each of the different countries and locations. Do you pick one that has animals at the heart, or education projects or perhaps even medical?
Sadly I am not trained in any medical services so after putting all the pieces together I found that GVI was the perfect fit for me. It was exactly what I was after, an activity that was very different to my everyday norm and was assisting in the development of the community and childhood education.
Tell me about one person you met.
Amelia: My hero of the program was by far the teacher I spent the most time with, Nubia. She was the only teacher to the second & fifth grade that I was an assistant in for three months.
She exceled in math, Spanish, geography and most importantly conflict resolution and discipline. She was firm, but incredibly fair.
She was well respected by all of her students, and she encouraged the kids to get into combined school activities like dancing, sport and drama, even if she knew they would be at a disadvantage. Nubia was always on the side lines cheering them on or joining in. She was very happy to make fun of her self in school plays, but at a single word she could command the class to silence.
She was very interested in ensuring her kids continued on into the older grades and beyond and made it her business to know what backgrounds her kids had come from so as to help them as best possible.
She made a special commitment to giving assignments that would engage the kids rather than alienate them. There is no internet or library, and not every kid even has a text book, so learning to teach without resources is incredible.
But I think her most amazing attribute was that she could've had a job in any school in Costa Rica, but she chose to help in El Cocal.
In what ways was the trip what you expected/different from what you expected?
Amelia: For me, it was the richness of the culture and landscape. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, but traveling through the country, there were parts of vast aridness and others of rich, almost mountainous backdrops. I experienced some of the heaviest rain I've ever heard and then some very sweaty days.
The cultural days that I got to be a part of within and outside the school were fantastic. They were always full of color, movement, dancing, food and lots of celebrating.
They are a very proud people who rally around their communities, family and religion. Not being a very religious person myself, it was wonderful to see the festivity it brings to these Central American communities.
Ten years from now, what’s the one moment you think you’ll remember from the trip?
Amelia: There are many single instances that stand out when you first arrive. The humidity, the cold showers, some people's lesser hygiene, getting used to sharing a bedroom, living conditions of the locals, the frantic transport, the food, etc.
However what I think will stay with me for at least the next ten years will be the children, the teachers and the friends I made along the way. The children are beyond amazing!
There is little to no money for western luxuries like education. Sometimes I even questioned the money put towards some of the educators, but these kids are trying to make it.
Our community development project was to assist within the school, and ultimately encourage these kids to stay in school to finish their education, hopefully allowing them to move beyond the world of El Cocal. After three months it was really wonderful, because I could start to see the changes taking affect.
Firstly, by adding more infrastructure and creative more permanent spaces the school became more integral in the community and thus held a more significant place in the community as a whole. To be able to contribute to this was wonderful.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Amelia: Apart from wanting to go back in the future, it gave me an opportunity to share amongst someone else's life, community, their customs and family. It gave me a much needed career break, and an opportunity to focus on some bigger 'world picture' issues.
For me this experience has opened me up to a world of volunteering. There are so many people out doing great deeds for others in need in so many different areas.
And it felt wonderful to be able to contribute to what GVI is trying to accomplish. When you are put into unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar people, it allows you to be pushed out of your comfort zone. It really gives you a chance to find out what you're made of!