Norma Molla - Care & Conservation in Costa Rica
It has been about a month since I came back to the UK after two life-changing weeks of volunteering in Costa Rica. And it has been about a month since I have been recounting the stories of my experiences and adventures non-stop to my family, friends and anyone who will listen! I will forever be grateful to my Head of Sixth Form who managed to convince me to volunteer abroad in an area of work which I am passionate about. I regularly do volunteering in the UK, but the experiences I gained in Costa Rica are incomparable by far!
Before we went away
The ten of us did everything we could. Endless cake sales in Churches and schools. Car washes during the winter. Chores for family members. The list was endless. But eventually, reality hit some and the notion of raising £2650.80 each by fundraising alone seemed impossible. And inevitably, members of our group slowly dropped out until only five remained. And for us five, the prospect sounded like a fantasy, but we were determined. I mean, how many times in life does one get to partake in an opportunity of this sort? And our determination eventually paid off. Before we knew it, our departure date had arrived. Weeks of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, packing, injections and other typical travel preparations had led to this event!
I clearly remember us meeting in our school at 5am and taking a minibus to Heathrow Airport. Excitement levels rose and filled the atmosphere. When we arrived at Heathrow Airport, everything felt like a blur, whizzing past me as I checked in. It was finally happening! We boarded our plane from London to Canada, then from Canada to Texas and then from Texas to Costa Rica. After a gruelling 20 hours of travelling, we had arrived at our destination, jet lagged and exhausted. We were met by two staff members, Andreia and Freddie, who accompanied us to our little hotel which we learnt to call our “temp-home”! I still remember being embraced by the humidity as I stepped out of the airport and feeling like England was a distant memory, to be (gladly) forgotten for the two weeks.
Arriving in Costa Rica
The girls and I rapidly embraced the new Costa Rican culture and adopted it for the rest of our stay which helped to make the transition easier. We also had a lot of help from the Projects Abroad staff members in Costa Rica help us adjust to this new environment. We had tours of our local areas, a barbeque with the other two-week special volunteers to break the ice, and much, much more!!!
I was in placed in a day-care centre in Heredia called St. Mark Little People for children aged 0 to 6years old. Normally, when I volunteer to work with children in the UK, it never crosses my mind to even think about how lucky and privileged those children are. Working with the children in this day-care made me realise that what we deem to be underprivileged in the UK could be seen as rather fortunate to most, if not all, of the children I worked with. At first, language was the biggest barrier between the children and me as I speak little Spanish, and the children didn’t seem to understand why! But after that, we managed to connect, and eventually formed attachments and new friendships. The children learnt to trust me and took me as their friend and teacher, which was heart warming. We painted a mural on the outside wall and some of the children helped us. I taught them English songs, played games, fed them, etc. It was hard work, but it was worth it! Leaving them was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
I spent four days in The National Park of Barra Honda doing a conservation project for four days. I’ve never really been a nature person; even the smallest fly would have made me go into frenzy! But after the conservation project, I guess one could say I’ve learnt to appreciate nature more. I was, again, heartbroken to leave Barra Honda and the family of staff that we had adopted as our own!
In Costa Rica, I had a chance to not only make a difference to other people’s lives, but also to my own life by experiencing a new culture. I was able to explore a country with beautiful views and landscapes, rich vegetation and amazing wildlife. I was able to be enchanted by and indulge myself in the beauty of their language, their traditional dances, their music and of course, their food! But I was also able to make many new friends, in particular a very dear and treasured friend with whom I am still in contact. I was able to see another side to life.
It was only by working abroad that the realisation dawned upon me: through volunteering, we all have the power to change someone’s life, even in the smallest possible way. It may not seem like the work we do matters at the time, but it has a good impact on those who we are helping. It dawned upon me when, after eight days of working at Little People’s, a 2year old child who seemed very reserved, always angry and always seemed upset, finally smiled at me and came over to let me hug him. Even though this was for only a few seconds before he ran away again, this was touching, and is something I will never forget...
The idea of returning to England sounded like an ancient myth to our ears. Tears were shed. There was silence and mixed emotions. How do we readjust to life in England? In contrast to coming into Costa Rica, leaving Costa Rica was sombre. But one thing I can confirm that we all took away was how privileged we are. And knowing that we had, in some way, contributed to someone’s life through the volunteering we did. This thought warms my heart. On behalf of my group, I would like to once again thank all the staff at Projects Abroad Costa Rica for treating us like family. I’d also like to thank our Projects Abroad Coordinator, Ian, here in the UK for organising our trip.
I would recommend this to anyone, and would encourage others to take this opportunity. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it. You will never regret it.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.