Our Volunteer-Trip to Costa Rica

How dangerous! Everywhere we went we got the same response when we tell them of Limon.

Everyone who lives there seems to have either been in prison at one time or to have been involved in unlawful activities. Our group leader on location, Carlos, impressed upon us from the beginning not to go out alone, never to bring valuables with us and not to trust anyone we come across. Now we have a few concerns about what our assignment on location will be like and are a bit afraid of what awaits us. But that kind of thinking doesn’t help us as we have committed to participating in this project. Yesterday we landed in Costa Rica and Carlos has prepared us as much as possible for what awaits us on the project as well as advising us about the country and its people. With a slightly queasy feeling and lots of uncertainty we make our way to Limon 2000, a place close to the coast.

We arrive on Saturday afternoon with Carlos and are momentarily speechless. Not from fear or from the views of the village but we are overwhelmed by the numbers of people there to welcome us. We are greeted as old friends. Everyone is happy to meet us and warmly hugs us. We seem to hold a great significance not only for the pastor but also the community, something we only have become fully aware of for the first time. Our concerns disappear immediately. The sincerity, warmth and optimism with which we are greeted makes all that we have heard about the place seem unimportant. We never expected to be welcomed with such positivity and enthusiasm. It was crazy! After we got our initial impression of the building site the pastor welcomes us at the church and introduces us to the community. Shortly after this our guest families, who will host us for the next week, welcome us.

We imagine that the following week will be very exhausting as we want to work on the building site every day. For the Sunday the Pastor called on the community to help out but for the remaining days we are due to work more or less on our own - straighten the floor, pour the concrete and prepare the roof. In Germany we would use modern machinery like a crane, digger or similar. The most modern technology we had here: cement mixer, shovels, axe, buckets with holes, and an energy generator, such equipment we have preferably only seen from afar.

It looks like a lot of hard work and we question whether we can really get it all done. It is

unbelievably hot and with the exception of Jonas the rest of us have little experience of building. When we start on the first working day everything goes a bit slow as we are 10 people who don’t know exactly what to do and await clear instructions. In the course of the day more and more people arrive to help us and to support the project, be it either directly on the building site or in preparation of food and drinks (which is really needed with a temperature of 42°C in the midday sun).

With the support of professionals it quickly becomes clear what needs to be done. We are overwhelmed by so much zest we no longer know where to focus as so many locals have arrived to help out. The pastor includes us again and again in his prayers and expresses that with our arrival and our support a new motivation has emerged to push the project forward.

During the week so many people participate in the project so that we are never on our own and our objective for the week, to lay the concrete floor is already accomplished after 3 ½ days. We are overwhelmed and overjoyed. As we now had surplus time due to the good and quick work we held presentations at the college to explain about our educational path and let the students know how important it is to go to school and get an education.

Moreover we invited children from the village to join us at football in the churchyard. Their

enthusiasm is indescribable and their curiosity and openness is remarkable (‘How big is Germany?‘, ‘How do you pay for things there?‘ and the most important of all ‘How much does a Playstation cost?‘).

From the start it was important to all of us not to just arrive somewhere and do our own thing but to work in cooperation with the locals to achieve something whilst having fun doing it. From the outset we wanted to be treated the same as everyone else and not get preferential treatment. However it must be said that this does not correspond with the culture of the Ticos (the Costa Ricans) as their custom is to treat guests like kings. Besides this it was important to us to accept everyone as they are and to treat them as a human being and keep an open mind even knowing some of their alarming pasts. We met everyone without prejudice and gave each a smile, shared food and drinks and took many souvenir photos. We took it in turns at work and invited the helpers to join us afterwards at the beach to relax after working all day.

Our primary objective was to progress building works on the educational facility. It quickly became evident that our stay in Limon 2000 had far greater significance as we became a symbol of hope, a source of confidence and motivated the locals to become more involved with the project. We are eternally grateful for the tremendous hospitality and caring attention bestowed on us by everyone in particular our guest families. Even when accommodation and circumstances varied from family to

family each looked after our every need and endeavoured to fulfil our every wish. We were lucky that we were able to stay with a wonderful family with children, with whom we made friends quickly and who drew us into their games every evening.

Also we are grateful for the round the clock care provided by our organiser Carlos who impressed us with his adventurous driving style, his work strength and perseverance, his musical skills as well as his constant ability to make us laugh.

We laughed a lot and had fun, we worked and made good progress as a team. We goofed about, enjoyed the good food (rice and beans and beans with rice, sometimes separately, sometimes mixed, morning, noon and night) and way too sweet refreshments. We relaxed on the beach and went carefree through the most dangerous place in the country. We made friends, became part of a family and cried as we bid farewell.

Ultimately we gained more than we could give.

Hope. Friendship. Don’t worry, be happy. Pura Vida. Amen.

Translation by Naomi Denny

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