In April 2017 I started looking around for a project to support during my university summer holidays. By chance, I stumbled on an interesting project in Costa Rica run by VISIONEERS e.V. a few weeks later. The charity has been supporting the building of a vocational school there since 2015. A group of German volunteers had already travelled to Costa Rica a couple of times before to work on the school alongside the inhabitants of Límon 2000.
Patrick and Isabel, two German volunteers from the weltwärts development programme, have been living in Limón since March 2017. With their help, additional social projects are carried out locally. I therefore had the opportunity to stay on for another two weeks after the ten-day building project to support them with their work.
As a teacher in training, the project was a perfect fit for me—and so I landed in the Costa Rican capital San José on the sixth of August. Linda, an intern for VISIONEERS, was already waiting for me with two staff members from the partner organisation Coalition Ministries. They greeted me warmly, and after a night in a hotel to recover from the tiring flight we travelled to Limón together the next day. There we met other volunteers and the host families we would be living with for the duration of the trip.
In the following week we worked together towards completing the bathing facilities for the school. Plumbing and heating foundations were needed to make these usable. Together with the local workers we laid the water pipes to and from the toilets, showers and sinks. To connect these to the town’s water mains we dug a trench nearly 1.5m deep across the grounds, in which we then laid more pipes.
Inside the facilities, we filled the floor with dirt and gravel, flattened it, and finally mixed concrete to pour on the prepared surface. We had a lot of fun cooling off with a water hose after a hard day’s work! A further success the same week was the laying of electricity cables and the installation of plug sockets and light switches. As a result, all the rooms in the school now have lighting.
We tired ourselves out digging through clay and pushing around heavy wheelbarrows of gravel in the blazing sun. Fortunately, the Tico-Mamas (“Ticos” being what Costa Ricans call themselves) provided us with tasty breakfasts, lunches, coffee and biscuits, as well as sweet drinks. In the afternoon, we sat at a long table together and got to know typical Costa Rican dishes. We also had interesting conversations with the local inhabitants, who were friendly with us right from the start and shared stories about their lives and families. My favourite place to go after lunch was the hammock under the palm trees at the edge of the grounds. On the occasions that some of the locals joined me, we taught each other a few words of German and Spanish. Now and then one of the Ticos would pick some coconuts and we’d enjoy the delicious juice inside. But when we volunteers had a go at trying to pick the coconuts, we found it wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked—which just made us prouder when we managed to open and drink from them ourselves.
Once the time for the group trip was up, most of the volunteers left. In the following two weeks, I supported Patrick and Isabel with the planning and delivery of English language courses, which were offered to the residents of Limón 2000 in the evenings. Although my Spanish is limited, the participants were very happy when I could help them with things like the pronunciation of English words. On top of that, they had a lot of fun challenging me to name the words they were learning in English in Spanish. I’ve never met people who laughed so much while learning another language before.
Aside from the demanding work, my stay in Limón 2000 gave me time to get to know Costa Rica better. During a walk through a nearby rainforest I tried Malay apples, picked limes and cocoa beans, and got to see monkeys.
My time in Limón went by so quickly, and is now at its end. I’m glad I got to be there. It reminded me to enjoy the little things in everyday life, to laugh a lot, to set about the day without letting stress and hassle get to me, and to enjoy life.