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Volunteering In Costa Rica – If An 80 Year Old Woman Can Do It, You Can Do It!
I’ve only been back in Arizona for a few days and my mind keeps going back to the orphanage in Costa Rica. I sat down again and started looking at the pictures countless times and my eyes got watery and I smiled and then I stood up and wiped my eyes again. With so many memories, have I done enough or is there anything else I can do.
When our bus dropped me off at the locked gate in front of their building, all these little kids were standing there…with arms outstretched…waiting for one of the Tias to open it from the kitchen and let me in. They would be hanging on me legs and feet, and if they were tall enough, would hang over my shoulders begging for a ride or out of the clutter, asking me for paper and crayons to demonstrate their artistry. Daniel and his sister were brought back from the hospital by the Red Cross, where they were severely abused by their family members. Daniel really knows how to give a meaningful hug. He drew a picture for me. He wrote in Spanish, I love you, tourist. In his view, we are either teachers or tourists. One day he got into trouble with a pair of sunglasses and was sent to his room. He was so angry that he tore down his room. They told me to go back and have a look but leave him alone until he calms down. I sneaked back a few minutes later and sat on his bed and we were all crying and hugging. He looked up at my tears and I could tell from his eyes that I was probably one of the few people in his life who cried for him.
Little ones have different ways of expressing…and seeking affection. A preschooler likes to brush my hair and she puts on fake makeup and turns my face to her like I’m pretty now. They like to put their bodies on my lap and let me stroke their backs. Meanwhile, one or two will sit on my ankles and feet and let me give them a ride. I know it’s good for the abs, and when I look at some pictures from that time, I should be doing it more.
Doctors come every Thursday to check on the children. There was a boys orphanage and a girls orphanage, and then I was there for a few weeks as a mix of boys and girls under 12. One day he sat and held 17-month-old Jefferson and we had a nice conversation. He told me these kids need a lot of love, and he takes one day a week out of it. He told me he worked in the emergency room at a local hospital…always had emergencies…as he said “life isn’t perfect” so he’d go and be with these little kids and then everything else would leave him Some of the older boys came back to play with these little boys as soon as they had time, and one boy came back and mopped the floor several times. I asked him why he did it and it was a simple and clear answer. I just want to help!
One of the little guys, Erasmo, goes to preschool and every time he “comes home” he runs up to me…his eyes wide open and mouth wide open…and gives me a HI-FIVE. He came back from school one day, gave me a normal high five, said “book” in English, and jumped on my lap, very excitedly showing me all he had in that book Achievement, marked with an asterisk, and he turned to MICKEL MOUSE and asked me to read him a story about Mickel Mouse. Several other kids gathered around us when he acted so excited that they wanted to share the moments. I read the English version of Mickey Mouse and it’s clear they don’t understand a word, but I did the next best thing, I did voice changes, facial expressions, I guess it could be called exaggerated animation. Regardless, they seemed to be having a great time, and we ended the story on a good laugh.
I worked for 12 weeks in Costa Rica for an organization called Intercultural Solutions. I have attended several schools, worked with women’s empowerment groups, been invited to teacher conferences twice to help English teachers with pronunciation, visited a senior daycare center and a children’s daycare center (2-6 years old) where they learn about handwashing and Brushing my teeth while I still have time to go on weekend trips with other volunteers, and yes, even horseback riding. I missed the zipline on purpose! ! ! !
Even though I feel like I have a full life with 5 kids, 14 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren, a successful career and a 51 year marriage, turning 80 this year is another high point in my life. I’m still looking forward to tomorrow and next week, knowing that there are other things waiting for me. I look forward to it.
That’s the best description I can come up with when asked how I feel about my experience.
It’s like sitting in your favorite chair after your favorite meal, in your favorite room, listening to your favorite music, with your favorite friends by your side.
When I decided to work for 12 weeks at Cross Cultural Solutions in San Carlos, Costa Rica, I made a very good decision. Some volunteers come in for 2 weeks because that’s all they have available. Everyone who leaves at the end of their time wishes they could have stayed a little longer. Several girls arranged to extend their time for another week. They are very excited about it. They told me how lucky I was to stay longer. They didn’t want to leave their new friends, very warm and helpful staff and “their kids” in different schools. More tears were shed as they talked about leaving “their baby”. They want to make sure they are in capable hands. Can’t tell you how many hugs and tears there were when the last day came. They don’t want to leave. I can still see their faces looking out the window of the van, tears streaming down their cheeks, waving, waving and kissing to all of us standing inside the gate. From my most recent email, someone told me that the worst moment of their life was when they were going home from the airport.
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