Volunteering in San José

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

This summer I had the opportunity of spending 3 weeks in San José, Costa Rica volunteering in a daycare. Throughout the program I stayed in a homestay with other volunteers and a very friendly, welcoming Costa Rican family just outside of San José. The daycare I worked at is located in a small, poor town called Carpio. It is a 45 minute bus ride from where I was living and the volunteer coordinators warned me and my other volunteer partner about how cautious we needed to be traveling there. The town has one paved road and most of the houses are small with dirt floors and no glass windows, just bars. The daycare itself is located in a small room normally used as a church, because it is on of the only places in the town with tile floors that could be easily cleaned. The daycare is very laid back, ran by 4 women who teach basic English to the kids, facilitate play-time, and conduct a short religion class everyday for only $2 a month per child. Many of the children were malnourished, as the snacks they brought were a small bag of potato chips or a pack of cookies. It was also clear that some children came from unsafe homes, yet these children are the happiest, friendliest, most loving kids I’ve met. My job there was to help with their English and give them the love and attention that they may not have necessarily gotten at home.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Through this experience, I was able to expand my horizons in a way that only traveling and volunteering can do. First of all, by traveling and being completely immersed in another culture through the homestay, I was able to experience a way of living that was previously completely foreign to me. I think that opened my eyes and made me realize that although people may look and sound different, in the end we’re all human and as cliché as it sounds, a smile is universal. By volunteering, I gained a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I was making a difference. Even though it was just a small difference in the lives of the children for a few weeks, it still counts and it still means something. It has made me realize how great I feel when giving back and how I need to spend more time giving back to the community here at home.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Seeing the children everyday and how excited they eventually became to see me made up my day. Before this trip, I never really fully understood how people who have almost nothing could be so warm and loving, especially considering that these are just children. Even the adults working at the daycare were eager to share anything they had with me, whether it was a cup of soda or a meal they happened to be cooking. Although I always showed up with my own snack and drink (hoping they would see that, and feel no need to share), they always insisted on sharing whatever they had with me. I would have imagined they would have kept what little they had for themselves, knowing that I was perfectly well-off, but they were so incredibly giving. That was definitely something that will stick with me for the rest of my life as I recall this experience.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

Being immersed in another culture is an invaluable experience that can have positive affects in all aspects of my life. I think it makes me more accepting of others and more understanding of others’ differences, which is something that is applicable in my everyday life. I’ve known for a while now that I want to work with children once I graduate, and this just fully confirmed that thought. Now I’m looking to get involved with volunteering within Columbus next semester through the Boys & Girls Club, or perhaps seeking out a job at a daycare here.

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