Volunteer Review: Tashrima H., Tropical Dry Forest Conservation & Community in Costa Rica
I initially decided to travel to Costa Rica because I wanted an opportunity to immerse myself in the Hispanic culture after five years of Spanish classes in school. However, I specifically chose to travel with Projects Abroad because, in comparison to many other programs, they had such a significant focus on volunteering as opposed to tourism. After much research, I eventually chose to attend the Care & Conservation program.
Arriving in Costa Rica
When I arrived at the airport, I was a bit disoriented. My rusty Spanish made it difficult to communicate with those around me. However, I eventually made it out to the parking lot and was met by a bright and smiling representative from Projects Abroad. Because I had arrived to Costa Rica two days later than the other volunteers, he drove me straight to my accommodation in San Joaquin.
As we travelled, I was immediately captured by Costa Rica’s beautiful natural surroundings; the geography and landscapes are quite unique from any other. After a quick drive, we soon arrived to my host house, a cozy building snug in the middle of a small town. There, two other girls and I stayed with our host mother.
Our host mother was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. She’d make us the most delicious meals, tell us the funniest stories, and treat us like her very own granddaughters. One day, she even let my roommates and I take over her kitchen to make crepes for the families and volunteers. That was the beautiful thing about our accommodation. Together, we were all one grand family.
At the Care project
While we were living in San Joaquin, we volunteered at a children’s day-care center - Osito Feliz. When we first arrived, all the children were busy learning behind closed doors, so we made our way to the backroom in order to paint our mural for the children. It was awesome watching the dirty, run-down room transform into a haven for young kids. After lunch and a break, we spent the second half of the day working with the children; they were so cute and would often cling onto us, so much so that when it came time for us to leave that afternoon, they all chanted “No se vayan!”
Each day after that, I had so much fun with the children. I enjoyed reading to them, dancing as a group, and sharing the most adorable hugs. In addition, we spent hours every day perfecting the mural; it was so nice to see that we were leaving a lasting impression on those children.
They may forget the times they shared with us, but that mural will remain with them every day. Sometimes, I’d even see them staring at the colors. It pleases me to think that our work made the day-care an even better place to grow and flourish.
In addition to our daily volunteer activities at the day-care center, we also spent our afternoons participating in recreational activities. We took Costa Rican dance lessons and also went bowling and paintballing. Such experiences were fun opportunities to not only grow closer to the other volunteers.
Before we knew it, it was our last day at Osito Feliz. Saying goodbye was difficult not only because of the way the children clung onto us as we were leaving, but even more because the kids would probably forget us after we left. The mural was seemingly the only lasting imprint we could have on their lives, and I was grateful to at least have that opportunity.
During our trip to the Barra Honda National Park, I was certainly grateful for the momentary hiatus from the everyday volunteering. Through the four-hour journey, I couldn’t help but admire the natural beauties native to Costa Rica. Everywhere you looked there were mountains, trees, and rivers. The absolutely exquisite scenery can make one contemplate how beautiful the world is.
Soon after we arrived at the camp, Meicel, the chef, prepared a delicious dinner primarily composed of a staple in the Costa Rican diet; beans and rice. We subsequently took a tour of our dorm with a series of about ten bunk beds, as well as the outdoor showers and restrooms. Our accommodation was quite comfortable in comparison to what we had been expecting.
Later that afternoon, we were given an induction, where one of the staff members introduced us to all of the on-going projects at the national park. It was moving to see how the staff members could be so productive in so many different environmental endeavors. Their passion made them successful in their pursuits. At the end of the lecture, we were told that we’d be going on a weekend adventure the next day.
The Sunday was probably one of the most eventful days of my life. We travelled to the Adventure Tours, where we went horseback riding, swimming in a waterfall and hot springs, tubing (my favorite, as it was the scariest, most enlivening, yet soothing sensation I’ve ever felt), zip lining, and finally, mud bathing. After such a busy day, we feasted at the Costa Rican Burger King for dinner: a relaxing end to our weekend before our conservation work began.
At the Conservation project
The next morning, we had a 3 kilometer hike to a cave. While the hike was certainly sweaty and physically strenuous, by the end, I was proud that I had completed something I initially thought impossible. Our journey wasn’t over at the end of the hike; we still had to venture into the unknown expanses of the cave. We climbed down a 17 meter ladder and were immediately greeted by the untainted beauty of the rocks.
The following days we began with planting trees; together, we planted over 105 trees. We moved on to phrenology: the study of trees (which included the once-in-a-lifetime vision of thousands of bats leaving their cave at nightfall). We next cleaned a local river, which was followed by a boat ride and a game of football. On the final day, my group and I helped dig holes for the bio garden, and our night was spent participating in the bat project.
Finally, after all of our work was complete, the volunteers spent the last night gazing at the stars. If you end up choosing the Care & Conservation program – especially if you are from the city - I highly suggest spending one of your nights at Barra Honda appreciating the sky. We lied on the gravel road, put on some calming music, and stared at the beautiful sight ahead.
Goodbyes the next morning were quite a challenge. The staff had been so kind and welcoming over the course of our stay. In fact, the chefs in the kitchen told me that I’d always have a family and home in Barra Honda. It was hard to leave them, but alas, it was time to drive back to San José and end a beautiful two weeks in Costa Rica.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.