In my opinion, the children that I helped with lived in extreme conditions, but life truly was “Pu ra Vida.” If you are looking for a testimony that will tell you that this is the most amazing experience of your life and why you NEED to sign up, then actually, this is it. But if you are thinking I won’t tell you accurately how my life changed through both good and bad times, you are wrong. Samara is genuinely a magical place. I wish I could explain how to pinpoint why life is truly a paradise in desperate need of your help, but it is one of those stories that you just have to experience it yourself. I sit here in my California home completely changed, but as I tried to explain why to my friends and family, I couldn’t find the words. Heart to heart, me to you, take the chance and do this. If you think you are weak, you will find your strengths. If you think you are too scared, so was I, so were all of us but you come home fearless. If you think it’s too expensive, fund raise. I raised all of my funding by myself and so can you. If you think you have any other excuses, I will give you 20 good reasons for every negative one to have the experience of your existence. Your outlook on life will not only change, but you will take home a lifetime of memories and new friends that can never be replaced.
My story did not begin in July- rather it began in December of 2006. After reading about the need for help in other countries in a BUCK Davis school bulletin, my heart reached out to finding a volunteer placement. Being a young female, my family was not completely up for this idea of the baby of the family venturing out of the country alone. But the more people told me no, the more I wanted to “be Jenna” and prove that I could. After explaining my situation to one of my best friends Daniel le she said she really wanted to come with me. I assure you choosing Volunteer was a very long, strenuous, and deliberative road we took. We compared prices, places, people, and programs. Everything was well thought out, but here we are. The directors of the program Nat and Me aw are two of the most amazing people and they truly made this the best experience for me.
My only regret was that we only signed up for two weeks.
So here it starts: I won’t lie, truly the worst experience of my life was traveling to Samara. If I could do it all over again, boy would I! Nevertheless, I will begin by telling you what happened, followed by what I SHOULD have done. (I wish I knew then what I know now!) We left California on Friday July th, 2007, and to start of the trip our plane was delayed right as we were about to board. After a sleepless flight due to a very angry infant expressing his anger the entire way to Atlanta, Georgia, we were greeted with the fact that our plane was delayed, again. (Note to self bring a sweatshirt and blanket for the airport. Layer it, I promise it will be worth it.) The humidity struck my California grown lungs the moment I stepped off the plane into the crying Costa Rican sky. It was like nothing I had breathed before, yet it was so pure and amazing to me. So here is my uncensored thought: men outside of the United States are NOT the same. I never realized females were not paid the equivalent of my standards of American respect. I felt like a piece of meat standing in the airport with Daniel le. We were stared at, approached, and it seemed everyone wanted to talk to these new blonde arrivals. Luckily four years of Spanish in school allowed me to get us by enough to find directions to get to where we needed to go. We thought we would take a taxi, until we realized (in our college budget minds) that it would be $100 US dollars (compared to $2 by bus). My directions had stated we needed to take the bus from Liberia to Mccoy, and then from Mccoy to Samara. What I didn’t realize is that the Liberia bus stop is about 15 minutes outside of the Liberia Airport, and once in Mccoy, the bus line was not simply one stop, and we needed to trek through the town to find the bus station. We got lost, but there was a wonderful lady who over heard me on the bus who graciously walked us to the “bus station.” (We found out later it was not actually the real bus station.) Once there, we had just missed another bus, and as we sat in a huge open lot, it began to rain, and there were men gathered in a group off to the side, as drivers pulled in and made very inappropriate gestures at us! We asked if we could be directed to somewhere to call a taxi but they wouldn’t answer us, and just laughed at these two poor pathetic Grin gas. To make matters worse, we huddled around all of our bags and it started to get dark. Finally after it was dark, the bus left.
Our 1 PM expected arrival turned into getting in around 9 PM. When we showed up at the Volunteer dorm, Meaw gave us a warm greeting and I was honestly so glad to be have reached Volunteer Samara, I burst into tears. I laugh when I think about it because that day, I truly had every emotion conjured up in my body to turn around and go home, and I was so angry at Costa Rica in general, that when I saw Me aw, I wasn’t sure what kind of tears they were. But she greeted me with tears streaming down my face. (It’s ironic more tears followed the day we left.) What an emotional little soul they must think I am! It was just that I thought I would never get there, and I was so scared that to see Me aw’s face made my heart so happy. We got to meet all of our future roommates, and everyone was so excited. Sitting at the table with everyone, I instantly dropped my angry emotions from being lost, and I felt like I was home. My new “family” all made the night great as I got to hear where everyone was from and a little about themselves. For the first time it occurred to me that these past few months I had been so absorbed in the concern oDaniel lele and my departure that I completely forgot there were other people who would be with us. Others, who had lives they were leaving to venture out with selfless hearts desiring to make a small difference, and who had stories and journeys. This was the start of some very beautiful relationships.
I met people within an hour of me, and people thousands and thousands of miles away.
Day 2: After that very long excursion (to what I would consider close to hell and back), we went into town with our roommate Deanna for an amazing fruit platter. (ThPandoraia has the most amazing food!) There is only one word for Samara by day: Heavenly. *Another mistake: on the way into town, I developed a very strange rash all over my legs. I had no idea how to ask for what I wanted, but it would have been wise to just bring a variety of medication. I suggest a first aid kit, witNonsportingin (I used these on many occasions), band-aidshydro cortisonene, allergy medication, sleep aids, and aspirin.
On the weekend uVolunteerer does not provide food for volunteers living in the dorms, but there are so many great options to choose from, it is actually nice to get the variety of cultural immersion to experience the town on your own. The fruit stand near the police station on the main strip is ridiculously cheap yet ridiculously tasty! We planned our lessons out at the office with the group, and it was so wonderful to know that we would be teaching English in our own styles. It makes you think that this isn’t a game, or a simulation; we really were going to be teaching to living, breathing children who would be relying on our creativity and enthusiasm to help them out some. Everyone was so tired but we stayed up together and played a game until we all prepared for our first day of camp.
This trip made me realize I am a very fortunate girl. I will be the first to admit that I come from a privileged lifestyle, compared to some of the families in Samara. But even though I allow my Americanized lifestyle, I left California with ambitions to alter myself for the better. I wanted to immerse myself onto the level of the locals. I lived in a small house with two other volunteers in my side. There were five of us total the first week (three apartments, two which would accommodate two people, and my side, which accommodated seven.) By the end of my volunteer placement, there were 13 people with Volunteerer. My side had a kitchen, 2 open bedrooms, with four beds on the bottom, three upstairs, and one bathroom.
The abrupt spiral staircase proved to be the first challenge, until we discovered the constant battle to keep dirt, sand, and crawly creatures out of the house. There was constant shooing of small lizards and ants from our rooms, so I will only warn you once: be prepared to keep an open mind to live with anything. You don’t have a choice of who gets to bunk with you, so learn to deal with it. I am one of “those girls” who would jump every time a critter tried to befriend me, but I promise you by the end of my time I was so immune to the little buggers, I wouldn’t even care anymore. It makes you tough, and I admit I needed it. However, one thing I never could quite get over was the fact there was no hot water in the house. Am I complaining? Absolutely not!! Even though it was physically the hardest part for me, it was my favorite part at the same time. I just laughed when I would let the water fall from the shower head onto my shivering body because it was a cold wake up call that I was not here for me- I was here for the kids and the people. You think you can’t do it, and then you do. What an amazing feeling. I am an advocate that you need to learn to stretch yourself to the limits!!!
Day 3 – Day 7: My typical day began at 7 AM, when the group woke up to get ready to meet our house mom Patricia for a warm home cooked meal. Patricia’s cooking and company was among my favorite parts of my experience. Breakfast was typically served around 7:30 AM. The most amazing thing is that Patricia will observe when everyone eats and if she notices you don’t like something or if you prefer something over another, she WILL remember. It is absolutely incredible in my opinion. I personally do not like fish or bananas. The first morning she made banana pancakes and when she asked why I wasn’t eating, I explained I don’t eat bananas, and without even saying anything she turned around and when she came back out of the house, she had toast and fruit prepared. Every day thereafter, she would make a special drink with no bananas if the drink had them in it Daniellele does not eat red meat, so every dinner; she would find herself a special plate of chicken just for her, or a noodle dish without meat in it. Not only is her cooking unimaginable, it was always so diverse and tasty. I never had a meal I didn’t love. My only words: I hope you like rice and beans because everyone will serve it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you think I am kidding, stop laughing because I am dead serious. I was in heaven though because I would survive off of it for the rest of my life. It was the most amazing food so who could complain?!
We then would leave for El Toritoto Danielle and I rented bikes ($35 a month) so it was a very short trip) and our lessons would start at 8:30. The first day there were a little more than 30 children (which grew to 50). I started in the kindergarten classroom with the very adorably misbehaved kids. All I can say is that there is a very different teaching style than in America. Our lessons plans never unfolded in the way we hoped, but it created this atmosphere that was so original and eccentric. The first day the only word to describe my feelings was frustration. They were all sweet kids who meant well, but I couldn’t get them to listen. Eventually I loved watching how our plans would crumble as we told the kids to sit down, and then how we would adjust to the problem. It made me think on the spot and become creative. The most important concept I became to realize was respect from the children. Once they grasped that the classroom was not playtime, and I would not tolerate distractions, some of the antics stopped. Notice that I said some; the children have an unusual attention span. Colors, games involving physical activity, and group participation never seemed to fail.
The weather was beautiful which was a nice compliment to the shambles the school was in.
The ability to work, live, and play with every type of person is the most useful skill uVolunteer will teach you. We had people from Canada, California, Brooklyn, England, Kansas, Michigan, Maryland and beyond; you learn to befriend people who love games, people who love the nightlife, people who love relaxing on the beach, people who are studying, relaxing, exploring, or any type of commodity, and you adjust to that. You must be responsible for yourself, to wake up at the same time, show up where you are supposed to be, remember classes you need to teach, and keep your word when you say you will do something.
On the weekend, we were allowed to do what we wanted. One weekend 5 volunteers decided to take a horseback riding excursion to a waterfall. We meNa popo our tour guide, who took us up through the hills on an absolutely breathtaking course. We rode through the town of Santa Domingo, up through the pure wilderness and fresh air. We trekked across a river, up and down hills, and under a canopy of endless trees. Let me just begin by saying we were told this excursion would last no more than five hours. This is a private tour because one of the tour guides’ uncle owns hundreds of acres of land up in the mountains, complete with a farm he never leaves (he is a hermit) and a beautiful 50-60 foot waterfall. The short 10 minute walk next to a stream, turned into a 30 minute walk THROUGH the stream uphill. It was not the physical portion of the adventure that made us so uneasy; it was the prospect that we were not dressed for the occasion properly. We did not have food when we grew quite hungry, and I didn’t bring water. My patience was fading, but more the prospect of fear of danger I was putting us in. However walking up to that waterfall was one of the most breathtaking experiences of the trip. The falls were complete with a swimming pool below it and rocks to lounge on. We experienced sights I thought were only imaginable in the movies or a sweet dream. Long story short, we were still at the top of the mountain after 5 hours and 20 minutes. Moral of the story: prepare foTi coco time, as it is never predictable.
The second week was much more relaxed once camp ended. There is just so much more for me to share and so much I am leaving out, but for the sake of your eyes, it is just impossible to not shorten this. We taught in ETor itoto during regular class section with the teacher, and then would head back to Samara to help with the kinder class in town. We had a few hours to surf, relax on the beach, get a bite to eat, bike through the hills, and listen to music and journal, or whatever our hearts desired. We were scheduled to teach a class from 3-4:30, but the first day when we arrived, we discovered there were not enough people at HoteGi adada, and the class was cancelled. There was an adult class that started at 6:00 and ended at 7:30.
The height of my experience was actually a personal adventure for me. One dayDaniel lele and I decided to venture beyond the hills, and we hiked up a side street only to find a platform that overlooked Samara beach and beyond. The view is indescribable so I won’t even try because I know I won’t do it any justice. We came back so excited and told our roommates about it and took them back. It was simply such an extraordinary feeling to be seemingly on top of the world at such peace. I was able to look down and reflect on this life I was living. Teaching in the classroom was also wonderful because I enjoyed all the aspects of watching the children walk on their hands, bounce off of the walls, and banter amongst themselves. There was this moment that was so precious to my heart, when a song by Loony Tunes came on and every child knew the words and started singing. It was such a beautiful minute that flashed before our eyes, but imprinted the memory on my heart forever. A last word of advise: if you are a stargazer like me, go out onto the beach late at night when everyone is gone, bring blankets, get ready to battle off some crabs, and prepare for the show of your lifetime. There were lightening storms out at sea, with stars dancing above us, and the gentle waves lapping onto the sandy shores. It is a peaceful gorgeous moment, and you have to do it.
I like to think that we made some impact on the students. I saw some of our students change from silent listeners who did not really expect to understand, into questioning thinkers who really felt that they could achieve something.
We worked with individuals, not just students. I got very close to some of the children and it tore at my heart to say my goodbyes.
Sometimes this world seems so big. I remind myself that to one person, I can mean the world. If you think this concept is too large, you are missing out on so much. I wanted this trip more than you could understand. There were times when I thought I would have to back out, due to money, time constraints, or lack of confidence to follow through, and even while I was there I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and overwhelmed. But if you want it bad enough, it is more than worth it in the end. Will you live your life forever in the comfort zone you are in, or will you make an attempt to help those who are less fortunate? I went with aspirations to only be there to help, but I would have missed out on so much if I didn’t experience more about life while I was there. I talked to locals, ate at amazing restaurants, ventured out beyond Samara. There is so much more left to say, and there was more to explore. Samara is enchanting, touching, and beautiful. It is less than one week since I have been home, and I am already planning my return. What is left for you to lose? Take the plunge and have the experience of your life. I hope to see you there someday. 🙂
Love, Jenna Harvey, Student of University of California, Davis.