Costa Rica February 2023 February 28, 2023

Posted in on February 28, 2023

Blog Post by Aaron

Life is a dance…

It’s impacted by the music that’s playing, your environment, fame of mind and the energy of those you are dancing with.

And as I sit here on my last night in Costa Rica and watch the sunset, I reflect on the dance we just had.

Costa Roca Feb 2023 Volunteer Team

18 different people with different backgrounds, ages, race and geographies all came together in Costa Rica under the banner of service for the villages south of Siqueirres.

People arrived on different days, trickling in throughout the weekend, finally coming together over Monday morning breakfast as we prepared for our first day of work. 

You could tell people were anxious, curious and excited, but all grounded in our common mission  with DWC.

What I wasn’t expecting … was just how perfect the next week would come together.

We had the right music (our mission), the right environment (costa rica), the right mindset (service) but did we have the right people?

We had leaders to help push the project forward, we had worldly sisters to help with translation while selflessly helping others.  We had selfless team members that cared more about the outcome more than their role in achieving it.  We had the OX that never stopped working.  We had the care takers making sure everyone was engaged, healthy and felt heard.  We had the jokesters to make sure we didn’t get to serious when things got hard.  We had the engineers that helped make sure we were efficient and we had the motivators that keep our spirits up.

You couldn’t have picked a more amazing group of people.

We managed to accomplish amazing things together, all the while experiencing local culture, learning about each other, and equally as important, learning FROM each other.

We made new friends… no wait… we made long term GREAT friends.

But the BEST moments for me were the “out of the blue” moments.  Dancing with locals at a dinner turned night club.  Dancing on the party bus with everyone singing.  Playing games to get to know reach other … some of them I can’t repeat #Cinderella. Sharing our experiences to help mentor others through life’s insane situations… and don’t get me started on how many times the team banded together to find something someone lost…

Hell we even changed a restaurant into a nightclub and became famous in Jaco (you will have to reach out to hear that story)

In the end we accomplished our mission, helped the people of Costa Rica and created amazing memories that will last a lifetime…

We danced.

Volunteers in Costa Rica with a local

Blog by Kathleen Simard

How do I capture in words or pictures the extraordinary experience of traveling to a remote part of the world with a team of 18 people to build resources that will create more possibilities for Indigenous communities along the Encinitas trail???   

The shared experience of working side by side with locals and volunteers to lift people up forges new friendships that are hard to describe.  Experiencing a way of life so very different from your own and realizing how incredibly lucky we are but also realizing that there is JOY in every way of life is such a profound gift. It is an experience that changes you. 

Post By Rick

DWC volunteers in white shirts in Costa Rica

Squirres, Costa Rica volunteer trip with #DevelopingWorldConnections was a huge success. Kathleen Vernon Simard (K2) and Kathleen DiSilva (K1) we’re our fearless leaders and did a fantastic job! It was so awesome to spend that amount of quality time with K2 and her daughter Noelle who is as lovely a person you could ever hope to meet. ❤️ In addition to enjoying old friends I made a bunch of new ones! @DanieleHughes (Bad,Bad,Bad ringing in my ears), to Meredith & Marla whom I loved for their dry wit and general awesomeness, Mily & Stephanie our translators (Thank God!) who are adorable and bright lights, Canadian Stephanie our quiet engineer who was a love, Jim our DWC guide who was amazed by our groups ability to keep a positive attitude in difficult circumstances. Rick Rittmeyer who I could write a book on – he is so amazing and has so many qualities that would serve everyone well to incorporate in life & business. I thought I was a hard worker but he tops the charts and kept us laughing the whole way through. Deniz, Katrina, Heather-all intriguing and special in their own way. 

The variety of personalities within these 15 people were all over the place but we all pulled together for a great cause-building a one mile long water pipeline through the jungle to create eco-tourism opportunities for remote, poor villages that would otherwise not have ways to earn income. In other words, we were changing lives.

The eco-tourism is based on a hiking trail recently established called the “El Camino.” A man named Marco and his wife came up with the idea and is implementing it. He is from the area. His village pulled together to send him to university in the United States. He became a successful engineer in Washington DC. His daughter is a lawyer who clerks for the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He’s come a long way from his humble beginnings and wanted to give back to the community who gave him so much.

Our work was to benefit the Cabecares tribe who are native Costa Ricans who have never been conquered or colonized. As hunters and gatherers to this day, when the Spanish came through they withdrew into the jungle. The Cabecar are the most isolated of the remaining indigenous society. They speak their own language “ca-beck-kin”(phonetically spelt) instead of Spanish. They haven’t had access to the basics in life. Our Cabecare guide Marina who was originally from Sweden but married and settled here with her family has spent the last 30 years advocating for them. She has had 5 schools established in the region and had to take it to the Supreme Court twice-once to get the right to the schools and once to enforce that right. Cabecare just got the right to vote in 1994! 

The people are very shy. As a group we were a lot to take in all at once. The high schoolers met us blasting and dancing to “Gonna Make You Sweat-Everybody dance Now!” (C&C Music Factory) while passing cinder blocks 1/2 mile in a long human line. We no doubt were horrifying. 😂 The good news is they warmed up to us when we played futbol with them that afternoon on their home field complete with a cow that had to be run off, pigs, chickens. Griffin was his athletic self, Ethan was the “intimidator” towering over them at 6’4 (they are a short people). I held my own as the Goalie. I wanted to be out there running and tearing it up but my foot still recovering from surgery said no. I discovered I can still kick a ball far so that’s good enough for now. The funniest moment was Richard Rittmeyer going for the ball, slipping and taking a full on mud bath in a very wet pile of God knows what! They called time and then they played for us…I thought we were really good until watching them play full throttle. Apparently they were being polite. Lol. 

There was a lot of hot, sweaty digging that went on. The “K’s” were excellent leaders and broke up the digging with cultural activities like playing the futbol game. The next day we went to the pre-school and elementary schools. These kids walk for hours to get there some up to 4 hours! They stay with a local family (guessing with the teachers who also live on site) and walk home 4 hours on the weekend. When I heard we were going to this school I thought we’d pull up and park-but no-we had to walk a mile down hill, over rocks, past cows, over a creek to get there. The school itself reminded me of a Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie episode. One room, could see through the floors, all grades mixed together. It was eye opening for my sons to see and compare to their educational experiences. 

We brought school supplies and gifts and listened to their lesson. That day the cultural teacher was explaining how the world came to be from their cultural viewpoint. “Sibu” (See-Bo) is their God who created the earth and using animals, stones, and other natural wonders made it habitable for people. Through the animals and nature he taught people how to create a civilization. The teacher gave me a copy of the picture the children were coloring on Sibu starting the earth. Then it was back to digging that afternoon.

Each day we’d break for lunch and eat a traditional meal families would eat in the region. Lots of beans and rice. Plantains and some chicken. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for the dogs who were all painfully thin. Their diet consists of whatever scraps are leftover. There are no “pampered pooches” there. Our group gave as much of our food as possible to them each day. 

That afternoon my foot was really hurting. I asked Marina our guide if the next day I could volunteer at the school instead of digging? She consulted with the teachers and said “yes.” The next day turned out to be my favorite day. I went back to the school and said I’d do whatever needed doing. The teacher who was a native Cabecare (we pronounced it “Cah-beck-in) was new and wanted to clean her classroom which exposed to weather was quite dirty. She was shy about asking this tall white woman to scrub anything and offered up a couple of chairs. I laughed and said I will clean EVERYTHING and I did. I carried out all the desks, the chairs, the plastic cabinetry, anything that was moveable and sat my Irish ass out in the hot sun and scrubbed all day. I’d sit up from time to time and look/listen. I heard the teacher teaching, the pigs grunting and snorting, chickens cooing, the breeze gently blowing. I saw a traditional house (circular with a small fire pit in the middle) attached to a square house the European Union funded not requested by them. The people use the square house to hang their laundry (no furniture) and continue to live as they always have. I also saw the beauty of the jungle surrounding me as well as the harshness of reality in the dog that came and stood in front of me. It was some sort of black lab that was literally a bag of bones with conjunctivitis in both eyes. My heart broke. I gave him my lunch. I talked to Marina about it later. She said the bag of dog food we donated went to him which was a bit of a relief. I decided I’m going to start a program for a dog food for these animals. You just can’t imagine how hungry they are. When I gave my lunch I saw “Shadow” (what I named him) go after it with such intensity it was shocking and heartbreaking. I’ll do a separate post around how that will work. I did my best and thought about how my typical day would have been going-Zooms and more Zooms. It was truly the break I needed having been “heads down” for three years without a real vacation. This time it wasn’t an option. 

We had many beautiful experiences. I loved the traditional Costa Rican dance put on by the high school young women. The visit inside a traditional home with coffee and a local treat. The dance party dinner night. All of it was amazing. Breakfast at 7 am daily and bedtime at 11 pm “Ish” every night, digging in the heat all day, having dinner and fun every night as a group. The funny thing is I never felt tired even with the break neck pace. I think the groups positive energy is why. We had some setbacks but when they happened everyone rallied. The DWC leader Jim was really impressed. Our group had the hard work. Future groups would have it easier. He couldn’t believe how upbeat we were and our energy levels. As a mom I was impressed to hear Griffin lugged 110 lb bags of cement down multiple times for the project. 

What I personally take away from this adventure:

I’m glad I took a flyer and committed. There was a voice saying, “You do not have the time for this right now” “It’s expensive to take 3 people.” (For the record Griffin paid his own way so 2 people). Do I really want to dig ditches on my first real vacation in 3 years?” “What about that foot of yours?” I silenced all the thoughts. I have to say knowing Kathleen (K2) was leading it cinched the deal. I knew it would be fun with her at the helm! I am proud of my sons for committing as well. This was hard work. It was dirty work. It was a lot of togetherness in a bus with strangers (who turned into friends). They never once complained. That made me one proud mama. While we were there to help the Cabecare people they helped me. While they live a simple life, it’s a good life. Family, friends, animals. It made me think about the remaining years I have left and what I want to do with them. Anyone who knows me knows I’m hard driving always chasing a goal. That’s never going to change but what is is spending more time having experiences like these with those I love and who love me unconditionally. I love my life and the people in it. I’m just gonna slow my roll by 5 mph (haha) and pause. Be here now-whatever I’m doing. I went from Costa Rica straight to NYC for a board meeting with Morgan Stanley. I love all of it. Set your ambitions high, don’t talk yourself out of things, and embrace all of it while you can. 

If you read this far you should probably think about doing a trip like this yourself. Thanks for the interest. #DevelopingWorldConnections”

Posted in on February 28, 2023