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Volunteering While Studying Abroad in Costa Rica

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Since living in Costa Rica, I have had the opportunity to volunteer in two different places.

The first place I volunteered was at the Alma Verde ("green soul' in English) Garden in Cahuita, Costa Rica. Started by Fernando Davis, the Alma Verde garden is an all-natural healing garden, which is HUGE. Fernando, who lives there, grows all of his food and medicine. With little funds to pay people, he asks for volunteers to help upkeep the garden in which he’ll house and feed them in return. I, along with two others, helped him plant different foods such as papaya, watermelon, and spinach. We also cleaned the garden by removing the weeds and made hot chocolate from scratch as a treat. Fernando, who was such a down-to-earth guy, really made us feel at home. His outgoing and funny personality helped me take my mind off the bugs, dirt and sun, as I am not an outdoorsy person.

 Heating up the cocoa beans with Fernando explaining the steps in the background
 Standing in the middle of the garden

The second place I volunteered at was an orphanage in San José. There were about 10-15 children living there, ages ranging from 2 to 16. While there, we played games, fed the children and helped them with homework, all while in Spanish of course.

It took the kids a while to warm up to us but after a while, they were as hyper and fun as can be. It was sad seeing that these lovable children were living in bad conditions and had lacked a lot of necessities such as enough food and clothes. At the end of my study abroad program, however, we have the opportunity to provide them with things they need, so that is great.

I am so glad that I was able to step out of my comfort zone and step into the shoes of other people. At the Alma Verde Garden, I lived like Fernando. I didn’t have hot water or an automatic stove to prepare my food. I didn’t eat food that came from a store that was down the street – it came from the ground. I was able to take part in Fernando’s natural and truly green lifestyle. Volunteering at the orphanage definitely opened my eyes as well. It showed me that there are a lot bigger problems in the world than my iPhone not working.

My volunteer experiences have definitely impacted my study abroad experience because they have showed me how grateful I should be. Growing up with almost everything handed to me, helping Fernando, who works for everything he has, and working with the children who don’t have a lot, allowed me to see how blessed I am and how I need to stop taking things for granted.

I think Gandhi’s quote that I used in the beginning is great. If we focus more on helping and serving others, we’d find our true self. That is to say, instead of being selfish and concentrating on our own petty problems, we should worry about the needs of others and learn what it means to be a true human being: compassionate, loving and thoughtful.

Leslie Brown is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a junior at Winthrop University.

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