Over the summer, I was a volunteer in Costa Rica with the organization Amigos de las Americas. After the seven week project, I have learned so much about the world, a different culture, and myself. Being immersed in a unique culture enabled me to meet the most inspiring people, relish in delicious cuisines, develop a more understanding perspective, be more appreciative and grateful for everything I have, and live my life to the absolute fullest.
My Amigos volunteer experience in Costa Rica was amazing. Amigos provided unsurpassable training in health, safety, and cultural sensitivity preceding the in-country project. I felt prepared and inspired to promote change and support community development. The training meetings and retreats were fun and informative because previous volunteers were incorporated into the training staff; their knowledge, trustworthy advice, and unending support eased the sometimes overwhelming tasks of packing and mentally preparing for this life-changing journey.
Volunteers have in-country briefing for a few days, before they are partnered and assigned a community. Volunteers live with a host-family in primarily underdeveloped regions. Project Supervisors are assigned partnerships, and these multiple partnerships form a route. Project supervisors are always extremely friendly, supportive, and caring. They spend one night a week in each of their communities. During this period, they do an evaluation with members of the partnership, where they assess the health, safety, and goals of the individual. The ambitious project staff are always willing to meet the needs of the volunteer and the community; they are approachable for advice, questions, and discussions. They are experts at inspiring youth leadership, while providing a foundation for safety and security.
The CALM Plan (Contact, Assist, Lift, Medical) and twenty-four hour on-call hotline ensure the safety and well being of every volunteer. Additionally, the project staff is willing to address specific needs, such as altering living arrangements or a meal plan. Local clinics, transportation, and contact information are provided prior to arrival in community.
My host community was extremely welcoming of my partners and me. They happily provided hospitality and always went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable in the foreign environment. By the end of the project, we felt entirely immersed in a new culture; Costa Rica had become our home away from home.
The members of our community were enthusiastic and willing to partake in a community based initiative project (CBI). Upon arriving in community, we organized a meeting and got input on what they desired. They chose to paint a mural that would unite the community and beautify the school. In addition, we planted over 150 trees, constructed a cement path, started a youth group, and finished painting the school. In addition to working with children for at least two hours a day, five days a week, we implemented these projects. The projects were great ways to get community members engaged and feel empowered as leaders. Amigos emphasizes the vitality of supporting, rather than helping the community. It is their project, not ours, and it is crucial that they have ownership over the sustainable result.
Average days consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, going to the local school to lead a two hour 'campamento' (youth camp) pertaining to the theme of environmentalism, eating lunch, going home to dance, listen to music, cook, play cards, make bracelets, or do art, eating dinner, planning the next day of 'campamentos,' organizing the youth group fundraiser, playing soccer, working on the community based initiative project, spending time with my host family, and learning about the culture. Typical food included beans, rice, tortillas, bananas, plantains, avocados, and pineapple.
I will never be able to express my gratitude toward the truly amazing people I had the privilege of meeting and befriending over the summer. From the adorable children to the playful teenagers to the wise adults and elders, I have never met more pure and appreciative beings. They have the ability to live so simply, but possess a sense of happiness that is so real, and so inspiring; nothing is more moving than their genuine smiles and effortless giggles. I will never forget the community members saying that my partners and I will always be in their hearts, and I will probably never cry as hard as I did upon leaving.
I would definitely recommend Amigos to a friend because it was truly a life-changing experience that broadened my perspective and grounded me as an individual. The cultural immersion process, as well as the relationships established through Amigos are priceless.