Change in perspective

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Change in perspective

Michael Berman

This is the second year that students have gone to Costa Rica to volunteer with these children.

Olivia Griffin, Staff Reporter

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It was a late Tuesday night and all of the running water supply in the pueblito of Delicias, Costa Rica had shut off. I was hot, sweaty and had a thick coat of dirt covering my skin. Skipping a shower was just not an option. There was a small pail of water that I could use to rinse myself off, and that was it. A lack of running water is a fairly typical occurrence for the citizens of Costa Rica, especially during the dry season. Moments like these that taught me to appreciate the little things like running water were only a few of the many life lessons that I learned during my life-changing week in the incredible country of Costa Rica.

Traveling with me to Costa Rica were chaperones Dina Gundelfinger and Erin Bies, sophomores Michael “Miguel” Berman (also a Red Ledger photographer), the trillizos Alec, Jacob and Seth Comerford, Colin “Carlos” Cross and junior Sidney Frimpong. Upon first arriving at the airport in Liberia, our group was immediately questioned and held for over an hour by the customs officials due to the fact that we brought eighteen suitcases of donations for the local schools with us, and they wanted to be sure that they were actually donations and not items to be sold. Additionally, they red-flagged one of the group members due to the fact that had five bags checked under his name and was considered to be suspicious to the national security of the nation of Costa Rica. Oops. Finally, after more than an hour of being questioned by officials, we were released, though they wouldn’t let us get our luggage with the donations inside for a few more days.

We were barely away from the airport when we got pulled over again by the local policia, who were carrying large guns and were definitely no-nonsense looking.

“Estamos buscando por drogas,” one of them told us. We are looking for drugs.

Apparently, a major manhunt was ensuing for a lookalike van in Liberia that was part of the drug cartel. Less than three hours in Costa Rica, and our group had been flagged down by the policia not once, but twice, and members of our group had been thought to be both terrorists and members of the drug cartels. No big deal.

By the time we reached our final destination for the night, the miniscule pueblito of Delicias, the sun had already set and our stomachs were growling. The houses were modest establishments, with no air conditioning and plain walls. Several of the homes had locked gates in the front, and one of the homes had a ten foot high barbed wire fence surrounding it. I could only imagine what they’re trying to keep out. The town of Delicias was a rural village, with many chickens and dogs running loose around the town. Each morning, the local cowboy, Fausto, would ride through the town, guiding his stampede of horses through the streets of the town. Cows were allowed to run loose, and occasionally, we would be stuck behind a group of cows that chose to stop right in the middle of the road. This was definitely not America.

While sitting at lunch the next day, the table started rocking, and everything started moving. I honestly had no clue what was going on – was someone messing around with the table?

“Es un terremoto,” one of the locals told me. Earthquake. My first earthquake. It wasn’t much, but there were a few aftershocks that week due to a major earthquake that hit Costa Rica a few months ago.

For the local town, the terremotos could be devastating. A few months before we arrived, there was a major earthquake that hit the town and proved incredibly damaging to the community, though thankfully no lives were lost. Their local Catholic Church, which is a vital piece of the identity of the local Costa Ricans, was completely destroyed along with many homes, most of those being the homes of citizens living already in poverty. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured or killed during the earthquake. One of the most heartbreaking stories I heard during that week was the tragedy of a man who had become injured and permanently lost his job doing manual labour prior to the earthquake. The disability compensation that he was receiving was scarce, and not enough to support his family. When the earthquake hit, the family lost their home, and the man’s fifteen-year-old daughter was forced to drop out of school to go to work so that the family would have enough money just to have the basic necessities of life, like food and a shelter.

“Isn’t the government doing anything to help?” I asked a local.

“They gave a tiny amount of money,” he explained. “But nowhere near enough to help out those people that lost everything.”

Each day after lunch, we would go to volunteer at Escuelita program for the local kids. The Escuela Serapio Lopez was unlike any American school that I had ever been inside. The school was not air-conditioned, and the chairs looked as if they were to collapse at any moment. They didn’t have Mac computers for their students, let alone any computers or technology, and a few times I saw rusted nails sticking out of the ground around the school grounds. There were intricate and happy murals on the sides of buildings, and most of the buildings were painted a bright turquoise. There were chickens and dogs running freely about the campus, and, naturally, there was a large soccer field behind the schoolhouse that many of the children, especially the boys, spent the majority of their time on.

On Thursday night, we stayed in the town of Nosara to go to the bullfight. While the word “bullfight” conjures up images of classical Spanish bullfights, with matadors and grisly deaths for the bulls, this was honestly more of a rodeo than a bullfight. The bulls were not actually killed, and there were events such as bull riding and equestrian routines. Of course, there were some differences. This was a truly authentic Costa Rican event, and we were the only non-locals there. They are a bit more relaxed on rules than Americans, and many festival attendees (albeit very drunk festival attendees, for the most part) were allowed to climb into the arena with the horses and bulls. There was a karaoke bar (which had some very painfully awful performers), and some squeaky, rusty old fair rides that we were all afraid to get on.

Friday was the final day of Escuelita. We had a fiesta for the kids, and left them the  donations that we brought with us (we finally got them back from the customs officials) for Serapio Lopez and Escuela Delicias to use. It is one thing to give a donation in a supply drive or participate in a fundraising activity, but to actually be at the school and see how those gifts are truly being used and appreciated by the campus impacts you on an entirely different level. The pure elation that those kids felt upon seeing simple things that they were to receive, like backpacks, paper, shoes, summer clothing, pencils, and so forth was greater than an American kid upon being given a brand new Camaro or a diamond necklace from Tiffany’s. To these students, most of whom had never even been given a birthday present because their families simply did not have enough money, the simple things that we were giving them (used summer clothes, basic school supplies, backpacks) may have been the greatest gifts that they had ever received.

The most common question that I am asked is “well, what life lessons did you learn while you were there?” And the answer is: many. That week, I learned about everything from new Spanish vocabulary to the meaning of “swag” and “sus” to appreciating my blessings to the music of Kid Cudi. I learned that you honestly don’t need a whole lot to be content, to value family, to appreciate the incredible opportunities that I’ve been given in life and, most importantly, to just have fun and love life.

If you would like to donate school supplies, money or air miles with American Airlines, please contact email [email protected] in order to donate (all donations are tax-deductible!). There will be a group of LHS students going back down to continue their volunteer work at the schools in Costa Rica for several weeks this summer, and we need the help of the district community in making this happen.

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