Travelling independently of family for 3 weeks to a continent in another hemisphere is a daunting prospect for any group of 16 year olds. It was therefore with trepidation that 9 students from JFS School decided to visit Costa Rica for 3 weeks in July 2015 on a volunteering expedition. It was important for everyone in the group that we made a constructive and effective impact with the work that we would be doing and as we planned the trip over 6 months, Costa Rica became the best option to explore a new culture, meet new people, and affect positive change. The more we planned and researched our trip, the more our anticipation built, yet on arrival our expectations were not only met but exceeded by the dramatic landscapes, friendly welcome and more than several large insects!
What we did
Our group was involved in two projects. The first was a Conservation Project in Barra Honda National Park where we stayed for 10 days in the green heart of the jungle. After getting used to the many (mostly harmless) scorpions and snakes present on the camp and familiarising ourselves with the three large iguanas who lived nearby, we began our work. One of our primary functions at Barra Honda was to assist in that summer’s reforestation project which involved hikes up various mountains in the park to plant trees which had been cut down in previous decades.
Over our stay, our group assisted in the planting of over 500 trees – a task which was tiring but rewarding as we could see how we were helping nature re-emerge and help Costa Rica become a more sustainable nation. One of the key attributes of Barra Honda was its abundance of wildlife. Everywhere we went we saw scores of different species of birds, their lyrical songs providing a delightful soundtrack to our stay. Monkeys were also glimpsed swinging through the trees and combined with the buzzing of cicadas at dusk – the jungle was never silent.
On the weekends we went on daytrips around the country, for example, to the beach at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Pacific coast to enjoy the pristine white sand lined with palm trees, and to swim in the bath-tub warm Pacific ocean. We also enjoyed a trip to an adventure park in Puntarenas where we zip-lined over the tops of the trees before clinging on to rubber dinghies as we rushed down rapids!
We later moved to Heredia, a town on the outskirts of San Jose, where we stayed with a Costa Rican family for another 10 nights. This provided an excellent opportunity for us to practice our somewhat limited Spanish, but also to learn about the typical Costa Rican lifestyle and cuisine. During the day we worked in a nursery school in Heredia, helping the teachers there by teaching the children some English, assisting in classroom activities and playing lots and lots of football! Members of our group felt that they had really bonded with many of the children there despite the language difficulties and we were all sad to say goodbye as we departed for London.
Although a clichéd phrase, our trip to Costa Rica was truly the trip of lifetime particularly when considering the entirely new experiences which we had and the wide variety of people who we met. We felt as though we had become richer as a result of our trip, not in a financial sense, but in how we had helped such a fantastic country and that our memories of our time in Costa Rica will have a lasting impact on the way we live our lives – a little Pura Vida always helps.
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. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.
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