Service Learning Project.
My STEP Signature Project was a two week volunteer abroad program in Jalova, Costa Rica. The program was through GVI and the project was working with the research team in Tortuguero National Park in sea turtle conservation. Throughout the program, I learned about the three different turtle species that migrate through the area, the Green, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles, and different survey techniques and research methods used in data collection and in the conservation efforts of researchers.
My view of the world definitely changed from my experience in Costa Rica. One of the biggest changes is how I more clearly understand how interconnected the world is and how our actions not only affected ourselves and our immediate area, but can also impact people, animals, or the environment in multiple places. My view on conservation has also changed. Before, I only thought of conservation as a huge environmental project or something that only researchers, the government, or large organizations could do. After going on this trip, I see conservation as more of an individual’s responsibility and that everybody should try to reduce their consumption, think about how their actions are impacting the planet, and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
For example, there was an oil spill in Paraguay that occurred during the duration of my trip. Even though I was in Costa Rica, the oil spill still impacted me because it prevented a large population of the Leatherback sea turtles from being able to migrate to Costa Rica to lay their eggs. Also, we did multiple beach cleans because the beaches in the National Park had tons of plastic litter. Although we were in the National Park and people are generally more careful about not littering, a lot of the litter was from ocean pollution caused by people far away. From these two experiences, I clearly saw how an individual’s action can spread and be detrimental to others.
The program takes place in a remote location in the National Park. All the volunteers and staff live on a base. We all work together, take turns cleaning and cooking, and work together to maintain a sustainable lifestyle while on base. Some ways we lived a sustainable lifestyle was by eating mostly vegetarian meals, composting, having most of our electricity come from solar panels, and upcycling and repurposing old garbage into something useable on base. From living on base, I learned how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and that it is simple and easy. It just takes effort and awareness.
Another example is that all the volunteers and staff worked together to make a garden on base. Since we are in a remote area, we do not have a lot of access to supplies. The garden was made out of repurposed plastics and wood we found from a beach clean we did previously. We cut down bamboo from the coconut plantations next to us, we used old palettes that we found littered on the beach, we cut plastic bottles that we found from the beach clean in half and used them as pots for the vegetables and herbs. Every part of the garden was either something we found near base or that was upcycled from trash. It was an awesome team building experience because we had to think of ways to put the garden together or find things that could be used as parts typically found in hardware stores. This experience also taught me about being more creative in my thinking and that almost everything can be upcycled and given a second life. It made me more aware about what is considered garbage and how to be less dependent on store bought things. From doing projects like these and living in a remote area where there is no access to stores, I became a lot more familiar with the concept of making do with what you have.
Since the program took place in the jungle, all the volunteers and staff were forced to live simply. There was no wifi, there was limited electricity, and we did not have access to a lot of materials. We had to be creative and make do with what we had. Living for two weeks like this emphasized to me that I do not need a lot to survive. It also taught me that with having less and having that basic lifestyle of no wifi that I felt more content because I made deeper connections with the people on base. I was less distracted by social media or worried about what my other friends were doing and could focus on my own experience in the jungle.
The changes I experienced from the two weeks I spent in Costa Rica are valuable for the rest of my life. I learned that conservation is not only a large scale project but also a responsibility in every individual. Being better to the planet is simple and easy and takes awareness and effort. I have definitely used what I learned from base and have applied it to my life at home. I am eating a vegetarian diet to reduce my carbon footprint, I have tried to reduce the amount of carbon I emit by biking to work instead of driving, and I am making an active effort to consume less disposable plastic products. I have also shared my experience with my family and my friends and have encouraged them to make more effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle as well. The concept of being aware of my actions on others and this planet is a value that I plan to carry on throughout my life and share with others. This development is important to my personal goal of being a more aware and better person because it has challenged me to re-evaluate every action I do. I think about my actions and how they impact the planet and if there is a way I can creatively reduce the impact.
The concept of “living simply” is also a concept that I have been applying to my life. From living in the jungle, I realized that I do not need much to feel fulfilled. If anything, the less I owned and bought made me feel more content. I felt more fulfilled building the garden and being creative with the material around base than buying supplies from a hardware store. I was more satisfied not having wifi all the time and instead talked, played board games, and learned the culture of the other volunteers on base. Living with and relying on less material objects has definitely made me happier. This development matters to my personal goals, because cutting out excess materials in my life has allowed me to be more appreciative of what I have and I have spent more time on stimulating or productive activities like reading, spending time with family and friends, and spending money on experiences rather than on things. Instead of watching TV or spending a lot of time on social media, I spend the time reading. If I spend money, I’ll buy a ticket to a museum where I can learn something instead of buying another unnecessary pair of shoes. I believe that this development is beneficial for my professional and academic goals because it has caused me to re-evaluate what I believe is necessary in my life and what I believe is excess which has allowed me to focus my time and money on what is beneficial for me.