What It Means To Volunteer in Costa Rica
Sara Eckstein is a WorldTeach volunteer teaching English in Costa Rica this year. She has fully embraced the people and culture of Rey Curré (the village in which she teaches) and has also embraced what it truly means to be a volunteer. Check out Sara’s awesome perspective on volunteering and learn more about her daily experiences in Costa Rica!
On this day in Rey Curré, the sun rose above the tree-covered hills, lit up the Inter-American highway snaking through the little pueblo, and danced on the steadily rising river before rolling back over the hills, casting red streaks in its path. The day came and went just as it has been for centuries. Only on this day, and every day for the past 5 months, I got to experience life here along with the community of Indigenous people that moved here in the early 20th century after splitting off from the neighboring reservation to take advantage of life by the river.
On this peaceful Sunday, I enjoyed a late morning and woke up to the sound of my host nephew laughing in the living room. I went out to the kitchen and washed dishes while my host mom, Freddy, fixed us a breakfast of fried eggs and plantains. Our kitten, my new defense against the mice that keep trying to board with me, rubbed up against my legs as we ate. Afterward, I showered, put on my brown peasant dress, and walked to church, Bible in hand. We sang adoration songs and listened to Olman remind us to turn the attention away from ourselves and reserve the praises for the Creator, not the creation. My good friend, and the keyboard player for the church, accompanied me home, bidding me goodbye with “God bless you, Sara,” in his halted, Latin-American accent.
I quickly ate a late lunch of spaghetti, made with the surplus of tomatoes that Freddy didn’t want to let go to waste, and I hopped on my computer to greet my family on Skype. After a coffee break, I headed to my classroom to prepare for Adult English classes. Few people are attending, but this week, I plan to hold an informational meeting to get the word out. They helped me spell out the letters phonetically as we practiced pronunciations, and I shushed away the 6th graders that giggled outside the window. I returned home and ate a warm, filling dinner. Now, I’m working on my blog. It’s like a fellow volunteer commented, the months go quickly but the days go slowly.
Two weeks ago, we had our mid-service meeting, and we discussed the meaning of volunteering. Is it the people we’re serving, or is it more about ourselves? Why did we come here in the first place? I have to be honest in saying that my decision to come here was more about me than about other people. I wanted to capitalize on the Spanish speaking opportunity and try out English-teaching in a real-life setting as opposed to studying about it in the university. I wanted to live in a different country and learn about a different way of life from a different culture of people. I wanted to see beautiful beaches and hear the monkeys in the trees. It’s true that I want to serve these people to the best of my ability. It’s true that I want to make a difference in the world. But, did I have to come to 2,000 miles south of my hometown to be a world-changer? No. Each of us can change the world, wherever we are. A smile. A kind letter. An effective lesson plan. A well-built bridge. A patient reply. A parent loving her child. A marriage preserved. A grateful thought. A hug. Forgiveness granted. Grace accepted.
Giving without expecting anything in return. That’s what love is, and it changes the world. So, in some ways, that’s what a volunteer is. We give, we love, and we change the world. And, we go home with empty pockets. But, we are paid, and it’s much more valuable than a sum of money. It’s a hug from a 1st grader. It’s hearing the 3rd graders singing the “Clean up” song in their math class. It’s hearing a high school student say they will miss you when you are gone. It’s making a bowl of guacamole from the freshly picked avocados and sitting on the floor to enjoy a movie in Spanish subtitles with friends. It’s taking a walk to a 100 meter water fall down the road, a native Indian and friend as your tour guide. It’s receiving a text message from your friend in the community saying, “Dios te ama.” (“God loves you.”) It’s visiting your fellow volunteers and meeting the people that fill their days and their hearts. It’s the things that no amount of money could buy that are worth the most.