Kaho Yamamoto - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation & Community in Costa Rica
The reason I decided to go on a volunteer trip was that I wanted to do something different for my last summer of high school. I go to a high school in the United States, and I was ready to challenge myself before school started again and I was bombarded with homework and tests. I was not sure how I was going to do this, but after a few hours of searching on the internet, I came across the Projects Abroad website, and I immediately thought that this was what I was going to do.
Arriving in Costa Rica
It was the beginning of July when I stepped out of San Jose International Airport, looking around to see if there was a “Projects Abroad” sign waiting for my arrival. Towards the end of my flight there, I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find anyone from Projects Abroad at the airport, and that I might get lost in a country that I knew nothing about. However, it turned out that I didn’t need to worry about it at all, because the second I stepped out of the airport, I found the Projects Abroad staff holding the sign and smiling at me.
I had arrived in Costa Rica the earliest of my group, so I did not meet any of them until dinner on the first day. However, during the free time I had that day, one of the staff took me around San Jose, and I was able to explore the city as well as visit a Costa Rican national museum, which was very interesting. In the evening, the other members started to arrive, and after we introduced ourselves to each other, we were taken to dinner. I had a really good time talking to the other members of my group at dinner, and I knew that the following two weeks were going to be amazing.
Although there are too many exciting things that happened in Costa Rica for me to describe them here, I want to highlight a few events that made my stay in Costa Rica especially unforgettable.
My group stayed at Diria National Park for the first week. The building in which we stayed was located in the middle of a forest; no other building or houses could be seen nearby. On the night we arrived there, we were taken outside to catch bats. What they did was they hung nets between trees in the forest so bats get caught in it. We were broken up into small groups, and my group caught three bats in total. The scientist there let us touch and hold the bats, and they were the most fascinating things! We also learned to tell the differences between species of bats.
On another day, we went butterfly catching. Me and several others were in my group, and we were each given a net so we could try catching some butterflies in the national park. I have never really loved insects or bugs, so I wasn’t too thrilled at first. However, as we I learned how to catch butterflies and hold them in our hands so we could look at them carefully, I was surprised at how beautiful and fragile each one was, and became excited to do it on my own too.
We were also told that, because Diria National Park hasn’t been closely studied yet, there were many species that were still unidentified as inhabiting the park. That meant we could discover butterflies species that have never been identified in Diria! I caught about ten butterflies in total, and two of them were species that were not known to be living in Diria. I was happy to be able to contribute to the studying of the beautiful Diria National Park. Also, I have to say that I am very proud of myself for not being afraid of insects anymore!
I know that it sounds like we were at work outside the whole day exhausting ourselves, but we also had plenty of time to socialise and make friends with the members as well as the people working at the building. When it was raining, for example, the lady who cooked all of our meals let us make bread. We shaped the dough and spread jam and let them bake in the oven. Because we hadn’t had any sweets or ice cream since we arrived in Diria, the subtle sweetness of the pastry tasted wonderful. We all sat in the dining room, chatting and munching on our handmade snack. During our stay in Diria, we also went night time hiking, planted trees, and swam in the river nearby.
The following week, we were in Liberia, where we were assigned to child care centres. I was worried at first because I couldn’t speak any Spanish at all, but it turned out not to be a problem. The children there were so friendly and sweet, and it did not matter to them that we didn’t speak the same language. In the morning, we played with the children outside until everyone was here, and then we would start our English lesson. We taught them colours, days of the week, parts of the body, etc. It was a great experience to teach them! Later, after lunch and nap time, we worked on an art project with a Costa Rican artist. The children enjoyed it, and so did I. The week with the children was so fun that it was hard for me to leave on our last day.
Overall, I am so glad that I went on this trip. I enjoyed every minute of my stay, and I know I will be going back to Costa Rica someday to visit the beautiful forests and the friendly people there. If you want to do something different than your friends and have life changing experiences, volunteering abroad is the activity for you. Don’t worry about being afraid of insects, not being able to speak the language, or other concerns that you may have, because once you get to your destination with all your new friends, they will quickly disappear, and you will just have a great time.