Although these past two weeks have felt like longer, it is safe to say all of us are having a great time here in Costa Rica! I think it feels like we have been here for longer than we have because of the novelty of our environment and the amount we have learned and accomplished in such a short amount of time.
The first week and half was dedicated to learning about the culture and exploring the surrounding area. Andrea and Johanna, the directors of CREAR (the nonprofit we are volunteering with), set up some wonderful activities for us. Our orientation week included two beautiful hikes, a cooking class, a dance class, activities with the local kids, and various culture orientated discussions. It amazing how comfortable we all feel here in Samara after only two weeks. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, which has definitely made the adjustment period easier for us all.
This week we began our main project. We are hoping that $2,000 dollars, some donated materials, and about 65 hours of labor per person can transform a completely dilapidated building that serves as the towns health clinic into a facility that people feel safe and comfortable. In the first three days we have sanded down the chipping paint and plaster on the inside and outside of the building, knocked down a crumbling wall, cleaned out a neglected supply building, and weeded the unsightly overgrowth surrounding the building. Though we are the preparatory stages our progress is very exciting!
CREAR is a great organization and we believe renovating the clinic is a worthwhile and important task for the town of Samara. Things are going well and we are all excited to see what the next six weeks has in store for us!
As orientation ends, we are able to reflect on the amazing experiences that we have had in just one week! The lengthy orientation gave us ample opportunity to acclimate to our surroundings, both in terms of culture and climate!
We spent the first two days learning about Asociación Crear as a non-profit organization and touring their past projects in several neighborhoods of Sámara, including Cangrejal and El Torito. Crear has accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time, and we are very excited to contribute further in the next two months! Throughout orientation week, we were able to visit the after-school enrichment programs in both Sámara and El Torito, a nearby pueblo. The children here are enthusiastic and loving, making the afternoons spent with them very enjoyable. From playing fútbol in the backyard, to watercolor painting, to exchanging handmade friendship bracelets, the group loved spending time with the students!
We also visited the clinic itself, to see firsthand what restoration must be done. The clinic is certainly functional, but could surely use improvements. The earthquake that hit Sámara last year did considerable damage to the building. An entrance door cannot shut completely, and a large portion of the ceiling has cracked and caved in. The paint on the walls is dingy and faded, and the concrete is brittle and peeling. As we walked through, it was hard to imagine that this truly was a healthcare center. Its appearance so starkly differs from the clinics that we have visited in the United States. Ready access to high-quality and comprehensive healthcare is certainly something that I take for granted, and I hope that our restoration work can improve the patient experience for those in Sámara. In addition to the structural improvements, we want to beautify the exterior, make an entrance sign, and plant a garden in the front. I am very excited about the garden, as it will not only purify air but also lift patients’ spirits. We are also trying to expand and improve the waiting area for patients. From what we have heard, the community is thrilled that we are here to restore the clinic, so I hope that we live up to their expectations!
In our spare time, we were able to explore the beautiful hiking trails and beaches in and around Sámara. We did a sunrise hike to Playa Izquierda, as well as a four-hour morning hike to Punta Indio. The views were absolutely incredible and allowed us to fully experience the area in which we are working. We spend a considerable amount of free time on the beach, which is a fantastic luxury. We are very fortunate to be working in such a gorgeous area with such friendly locals, and we cannot wait to see what the next few weeks have in store!
Today is our first day of clinic restoration – wish us luck!
It is crazy to think that in a little over 12 hours we will be in Costa Rica. I am so excited to put the money we have raised over the year into action! There are six Duke students and four Vanderbilt student going on the trip. We will be living in apartments in Playa Sámara: learning about the culture, building friendships, and most importantly, working to help improve the community.
More specifically, we will be restoring a hospital and building a garden. On Fridays we will work with the kids in the Sámara community. I know this will be a very memorable experience and I can’t wait to get started!
These past few months have certainly held life lessons for all of us,
and adjusting back to our former routines hasn’t been entirely easy. After having been back in the States for a week or two, we can truly see how this experience has shaped our perceptions, our interactions, and our understandings of ourselves. We can look at a broken shovel and see all of the lives that it has yet to live. We can turn a plastic bag into a shoelace, turn a rock into a hammer, and turn a broken bottle into a watering can. In many ways, we have also come to more personally learn our own faults and shortcomings and how to accept a helpful hand when needed. And, perhaps most of all, we are constantly reminded of the relative extravagance of our lives.
There were times that were frustrating. We struggled with others, with our equipment, and with ourselves. However, throughout it all, we remembered that we were struggling with, which made it all the more worth doing. Now Puni Kotona and Santo Domingo are left with a greater appreciation and comprehension of computer skills and English that will aid them in their future studies, covered gardens that will harbor vitamin-rich vegetables to supplement their diets, chakras de guayusa that should help provide a sustainable supplemental income for the schools, nutrition booklets, compost, and a trash collection system. The desire of the communities truly encouraged these projects, and their efforts will be what continue them. omings and how to accept a helpful hand when needed. And, perhaps most of all, we are constantly reminded of the relative extravagance of our lives.
As Nelson Henderson once said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” It is something to carry with us as we continue our own stories. It was heartbreaking to leave the families we had spent two months of our lives coming to love, knowing that we might never see them again. This experience has certainly impacted our lives as well as theirs, and both parties have learned a great deal. Now, we must just decide which tree to plant tomorrow.
Ally tuta! I cannot believe this will be our last post before our internship comes to an end. After traveling on the weekends to Tena or another destination, returning to Puni Kotona is like returning home. The kids in the community have become our good friends, the teachers have become our colleagues, and our homestay hosts have become family. It will be difficult saying goodbye.
Staring at this screen for the first time in two weeks, I was trying to think about how I could possibly decide what to write about from the plethora of experiences that have occurred thus far when it hit me: the capacity to love here. To borrow the words of Henri Nouwen, “Often we talk about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. . . When we “do” love, even if others aren’t able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts.” Such has been the reception of us here. Working in a community that has never had volunteers before has certainly exposed us to a genuineness of love, and that within itself has mad our experience greater than anything that we could have imagined. My host mom calls me “ushi,” which means daughter in Kichwa, the children are always making sure that we don’t fall, and I could not tell you the number of times each day that we’re asked about how we’re doing.
We’ve made lots of progress in our English and computer classes. It’s inspiring to see the kids’ desire to learn and willingness to help with the other projects. We’ve started using a double digging technique for the school garden, have begun a composting project that will incorporate kitchen waste from the school’s breakfast program, and have made progress on the school chakra, planting guayusa, yucca, plantains, guineo, and pineapple. We also had a painting day for the students to decorate rocks to surround the garden. The girls working in the other community are excited to direct a school play as well!
We are all looking forward to what the next month will bring and are sad to know that our stay is already halfway over. It’s amazing to see just how the time has flown (not to be cliché). We hope that we can truly take advantage of the time that we have left to continue building our relationships with the families in the communities and mirror the love that has been afforded to us. Emily and I will be without Internet for another two weeks, but we’re looking forward to where these projects will be at that point. Chao chao, amigos. Que todo vaya bien.
As we wrap up the second week, we finally feel at home in our communities. Adapting to a way of life so different from our own was difficult, and not without bumps in the road, however, after two week we have grown accustomed to the Kichwa way of life. One of the hardest things was that we are unable to communicate with our families and friends because we only get internet and phone service closer to the town. In addition, we are also far removed from technology and chaos of world events. Despite these shortcomings, our host families have treated us as if we are one of their own, if not better. Just this morning a seven year old boy ran up a mountain to stop a bus that was quickly evading us, as several other people yelled and whistled to catch the drivers attention. We had never previously spoken to any of them and yet they went out of their way to help us. That is one thing that is very special about Kichwa culture, their sense of community. Another thing we have noticed about the culture here is that the people all seem to have a sense of simple happiness. They work extremely hard to feed their families and go through the trials and tribulations associated with living in the jungle such as fighting off a Watusa (the largest rodent in the world) with a machete, or accidently encountering a group of Boa Constrictors on their way to work, and yet they never stop smiling. This may have to do with the importance they place on relaxing and spending time with their families. After a long day at work or school, they always make time to sit and share their stories with one another, to laugh and enjoy the presence of their loved ones.
This week, we had a charla (meeting) with the Padres de la Familia (the parents association at the school in Santo Domingo) to discuss planting a chakra (plantation) of Guayusa behind the school. They all seemed excited about the idea, as it would bring in more funding for the school and its students. We also discussed the possibility of implementing a compost system at the school to provide a place for organic waste as well as improve the quality of the soil in the chakra. In addition, we brought up the idea of planting a vegetable garden to provide the students with new nutritious food items. After the charla it was decided that at 7 AM this coming Monday, the Padres would reconvene, and we would all begin the preparation for the 300 Guayusa plants Runa plans to send. While teaching English and computer skills has been incredibly rewarding, we are excited to begin these new projects!
We have concluded our first week emerged in the exotic and beautiful Amazon. It was spent integrating ourselves in the communities Santo Domingo and Puni Kotona, getting to know our host families and teaching English to the indigenous children. The educational system differs from what we’re used to in the United States. The educational system is more structured around oral and written repetition. In response to this, we are trying to introduce more critical thinking and creativity into their curriculum. Outside of the curriculum, the students are very vibrant and welcoming to us extranjeras. Everyday is new adventure with them!
Only a week into living in the communities we are starting to establish a rhythm in each of our living situations. For example, the food in the communities revolve around staples such as Yucca and white rice and are completed my small portions of meat. After eating certain meat for a few days, we were surprised to find out that “mountain meat” we were eating was actually monkey. You would never know because it is so appetizing.
As the first week comes to a close, we are already planning to implement our other projects which include building a chakra for the community and school to help raise money, implementing a recycling and compost project, and expanding our English classes to include teachers and students who don’t go to school in the community. Teaching these two groups of people will create a more sustainable impact on the community.
So far our initial arrival to our Amazonian communities have heightened our sense of awareness about the world and kindled a fire of positive change within our community and with ourselves! Yupaichany and Ally Tutta! (Thanks and good night!)
Ally tuta (or buenas noches in Spanish)! Its been a week since we landed in Ecuador, and after a five hour drive through the mountains and the jungle we arrived in Tena. We were greeted by a cozy cabin-like intern house at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the city. Our first night was spent exploring the unique streets of Tena along side other interns and employees of the Fundacion Runa. Our dinner conversation revolved around Guayusa and the company’s efforts to form its image as a sustainable cash crop for small Kechwa farmers. Runa has taken a creative approach to international development by forming a company that has both for profit and non-profit sectors in both Ecuador and the United States. The four parts work as one, to promote Guayusa as an organic fair-trade product over-seas. They focus on marketing Guayusa as not just a drink but a story, a story of centuries old indigenous tradition and culture. Guayusa has been historically central to the Kechwa culture, bringing together families at 4 o-clock every morning to share stories, interpret dreams, and discuss the coming day. By promoting this image Runa hopes to create a product that will always stay in the hands of Ecuadorian farmers and provide a sustainable income for them. Starting this coming week we will have the opportunity to take part in Guayusa ceremonies with our host families.
In order to prepare for the coming 7 week excursion into the Amazon, where we will be completely immersed into the indigenous Kechwa culture, and cut off from society as we know it, we have spent the past week taking intensive Spanish and Kechwa language classes. We also discussed culture shock and the cultural norms we will be experiencing over the next seven weeks. On Monday we will re-pack our bags and enter Santo Domingio and Puni Kotona, two indigenous communities deep in the Amazonian jungle. With excitement and uncertainty looming ahead we are looking forward to this journey where we will strive to make a difference as well as learn about an ancient, beautiful culture and about ourselves. Pakharinkama (adios)!
Our bags our packed and our anticipation is ever increasing because, in two days, we will be flying to the beautiful country of Ecuador. We will be spending eight weeks in Archidona, partnering with the non-profit Fundación Runa to help build gardens and guayusa (a tea-like plant) nurseries as well as teach classes in first aid and hygiene, nutrition, computer literacy, and English. Fundación Runa is a new organization, but they have made leaps and bounds in helping secure increased and more stable incomes for farmers in the Napo valley. Through their partnership with Runa, a for-profit company that is trying to create a greater market for guayusa, they have been able to fashion a fresh and so far effective model for social entrepreneurship.
Although we have a plan for this summer, we understand the importance of being flexible and fulfilling the actual needs of the community rather than trying to force an ill-fitting agenda. We are not there to help but to empower. We hope to give those with whom we work some tools to improve their own communities and create the foundation for a self-sustaining environment. Fundación Runa began their project by recognizing the strengths of the Kichwa people with whom they were working, and they used their own knowledge to create an organization that would help share and preserve indigenous knowledge while alleviating poverty in the area. We hope our summer exchange will allow for both parties to learn and grasp new understandings.
Thank you for following this special journey; we cannot wait to share our adventures with you.