Your volunteer coordinators will be like your lifeline if you ever feel lost, and the first close friends you’ll make in your day-to-day activities! So today, we’re talking about our work from a different perspective––one through the eyes of a volunteer coordinator.
Note: our coordinators are bilingual but not native English speakers, so their English is is not perfect..
Meet Daniela, a Costa Rica volunteer coordinator. Read her story to learn about her opinions on life as a coordinator in our San Ramon location in beautiful Costa Rica:
The day starts at dawn
At 4:30 in the morning, the day started. It was not a usual day. I had to follow a volunteer around with a camera to keep a record of their day.
I had to be a sort of “paparazzi”––not of someone famous or someone who would hide from pictures. Not even to someone who was on a vacation. Oh no! I was going to spend the day following a volunteer from the very first moment she woke up until she went to bed at night.
We were shooting a day in the life of our latest Scholarship winner, Valentina Carrillo.
It was something I had never done before. It was a test not only to show someone else what was I capable of, but doing so to also prove to myself that I could do this. Afterall, all this was my first day at work!
By 5:00 a.m., I was feeling both excited and nervous. I wanted to do it right. I wanted to be able to capture important moments of her day that were to be able to speak more than any of us could about the volunteer work volunteers do here in Costa Rica. I also wanted to be professional and to make her feel comfortable with the camera so that everything was as natural and true to itself. Bottom line, I wanted for her and me to have a great day, to make a difference, and (of course) to have great videos and pictures from this day.
I took the bus from Palmares to San Ramón at 6:00, and if you’ve ever been on a bus or a train by yourself, you know how it is a great opportunity to give free time to your brain to ramble from thought to thought. I started by thinking that I had only met Valentina the night before; we talked for about 20 minutes, but I could tell from that short time we spend together that she was a loving and caring human being. “How did I know so easily,” you ask yourself? It was because she talked about the work she was doing with such care and love that it was contagious.
I found myself at 6:22 in front of the house (our dorms) where the volunteers live throughout their time here in Costa Rica, still thinking about how the day was going to be. Virginia, our housekeeper, opened the gate and welcomed me. I started to set up the camera and get a bit warmed up. We were getting breakfast ready, and you could not help but to feel that warm fuzzy intimacy of a home. Some of the volunteers woke up early and went for a run; the rest of them woke up around 7:00 and had breakfast, including some great Costa Rican coffee, to be ready at 8:15 to leave for their volunteer placements.
We all walked together from the dorm to downtown San Ramón, where we took a great group picture before everybody said goodbye and wished each other luck on their days––bidding farewell to each other until they would meet again in the afternoon after work.
On the Job - The Special Needs School
I heard laughs and joyful screams children made upon seeing the teachers, who were petitioning the students to behave while brushing their teeth. Two teachers made me walk all the way to the end of the hall to find Valentina, who was helping Isaac––a 6-year-old boy brushing his teeth. Isaac immediately looked at me, then at the camera, and screamed, “whisky” (which is the word we say when taking a picture in Costa Rica to smile). So I took a picture of him and revealed it right away so I could get his approval. He was happy with it, and for the very first time in my life, I made a friend as easy as that.
By that moment, I had started to lose track of what time it was. There was so much to do around, and I wanted to keep it all on video or pictures. We spent the first half of the day with Isaac’s class, where I met the teacher, Ericka, and Josue and Mateo––Isaac’s classmates. We went to recess to play soccer with soft balls, went back to singing songs and dancing, and later did some arts & crafts with glue and colored paper.
We said goodbye at 11:00, when Valentina, Ericka, and I went with the students all the way to the gate. Ericka talked to the parents personally to make sure to say goodbye to each one of them individually and to give them a little bit more love until the next day. Valentina and I took a moment to talk on-camera, but time was scarce––the second group of student she helped already passed through our door, following her teacher. We followed them before taking the lunch break to get to know each other and to get familiar with using a camera together.
Our lunch was delicious rice and beans with purple cabbage salad, pineapple juice, and fresh mango for dessert. Valentina, who was not new at the school, took the time to talk to the cook and to ask about the cook’s family and thank her for the delicious meals every single day. Before we could continue taking pictures or filming, we did the dishes.
The dynamic of the second group of students was different, as we were with older and much more outgoing children. They were in primary school, aged 7 to 10 years old. Their teacher, Shirley, was an awesome lady. Her way of treating them was very different from other teachers––she liked to joke and play around while teaching them. She played ‘80s music to the kids, which they loved. She played soccer with them, but she was always getting the best out of the five kids. She was a unique, one-of-a-kind human being.
Valentina helped them with their class activities, played soccer with them, cleaned after they ate, and gave them tons of love. After we said goodbye to them at 2:10, it was time for us to leave, as well. We said goodbye and thanked everybody at the school for their patience with the camera, the help, the life lessons, and the trust placed on me to be around the kids even if I was new. We had a chance to talked a bit of our day together on the way home, where Valentina was very interested in knowing how the day had been for me. We talked about how awesome it was, and then she let me know that she had decided to stay working at the special needs school throughout all her time in Costa Rica, instead of changing to the sports project as originally planned, because she knew she wanted to made a bond with the kids and help the teachers as much as she could.
Wrapping Up the Day
We got home tired, but Valentina was very excited to tell everyone that she had made up her mind to volunteer at the special needs school the entire length of her volunteering experience in Costa Rica. I went for a cup of coffee to be back at 5:00 since we were going to have a volunteer meeting, right after everybody got home from their placements. At the meeting, it was great to see that Valentina had the opportunity to tell everyone what she wanted to do about the volunteering options and to share a little bit with everybody about her personal experience.
That evening, we had a farewell barbecue for one of the departing volunteers. At this sort of activity, you get to see the small kind of family the volunteers become––even though some only know each other for about a week.
Around 7:00 pm, I realized that I was tired and smelly, but happy after having such a day full of adventures, games, new friends, new memories, awesome pictures, videos, and stories to tell.
On the way home, I felt incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. ...