Category: Volunteer Vacations in Costa Rica
VOLUNTOURISM A new way to travel and give back!

Costa Rica Orosi Valley

orosivalleyVOLUNTOURISM A new way to travel and give back! Costa Rica Orosi Valley About an hour from the city of San Jose, in a gorgeous, hidden valley (Orosi) rests the tiny community of El Yaz known for its clean water, rich soil eternal, spring-like temperatures (about 75 degrees every day) and organic, agricultural way of life. Although the villagers love their natural paradise they have struggled to make ends meet as even low paying jobs are rare. Most Villagers are not in abject poverty, but have no access to hot water, cars, or the quantity or protein sources to which a North American may be accustomed. Volunteer vacationers in this paradise location stay in one of two side by side mountain top houses.

Built In traditional Costa Rican style, furnished with fans and comfortable beds. These include Western-style bathrooms and showers, and hot water. On the 9-acre property are many fruit trees, spectacular views, hiking paths, many tropical birds, a covered Gazebo social area, basketball court and hammocks.

Volunteers are fed plenty of fresh, healthy, abundant, Costa Rican dishes, heavy with fresh fruits, vegetables, rice and beans, with some chicken egg and beef dishes. Electricity is available, though on a more limited basis than you may be used to at home.

While traveling for business in the late 1990’s, Kimberly Haley-Coleman often found herself in foreign countries with free time on her hands, and a desire to see beyond the traditional tourist attractions.

On one trip to Brazil she remembers looking for short volunteer opportunities but could only find multi week options.

“I found that so many people wanted the same thing I did, but once you’ve got kids, a mortgage and a busy lifestyle, you can’t go and take three weeks off,” says the former global strategist and business development officer whose portfolio Includes “Everyone dreams of going Into the Peace Corps. but that’s a two-and-a–half year commitment.”

In 2000, Haley-Coleman founded Globe Aware, a nonprofit specializing in weeklong service-inspired vacations around the world. Since then, the voluntourism movement has taken hold, and many of the nonprofit and for-profit companies are offering shorter trips catering got busy Westerners with limited vacation days. Most of Globe Aware’s programs are built around a predetermined service project that can be finished In seven days. From installing concrete floors in the homes of Guatemala single mothers to building wheelchairs for Cambodian land mine victims, participants spend 30 to 35 hours working in an immersive environment, with the option of visiting the area’s important attractions in their free time. But even the traditional tourist activities are designed to promote cultural awareness.

“Our volunteers come away with a real understanding of both the beauties and the of a culture,” says Haley-Coleman. “I would argue that’s more Important than the physical projects we work on-being able to make that human connection and understand each other’s view of the world.”

A Volunteer Vacation can be a life-changing experience

Seventeen-year-old Madison Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica with Globe Aware. She relates her remarkable adventure with the  Morris Daily Herald of Morris, Illinois:

MINOOKA — When some people go on vacation, they think of relaxation — but not 17-year-old Madison Leatherwood of Channahon, a senior at Minooka Community High School.

This summer, Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica. She could have opted for working with turtles on the beach in Guatemala or a surfing vacation.

Instead she chose a remote village, high up in the mountains, with only 60 residents scattered around a tiny “town” called El Sur.

The residents of El Sur originally lived deeper in the rainforest, but were forced to relocate as part of a movement to preserve the land.

“A lot of people left (the community) because they didn’t want to re-establish their lives,” Leatherwood said. “They are very poor.”

As they try to rebuild in a different area, residents are aided by volunteers through an organization called Globe Aware.

Leatherwood used the opportunity to work with Globe Aware so that she could travel. In this way, she can satisfy her travel bug and help people around the world at the same time.

“I really wanted to experience a different culture and felt like this was the best option for me,” she said.

There is only one phone, a pay phone, in El Sur. Just five years ago, they got flush toilets; seven of them serve the community. They have electricity, even some TVs, but the power goes off and on.

The town has a church, a store that doubles as a tavern with an adjacent make-shift pool hall, a one-room school and a town hall building used for community dinners and meetings. The library inside the town hall is a single shelf lined with books.

Leatherwood stayed the first week in a large (by El Sur standards), one-bedroom cabin built for Globe Aware volunteers, along with a small group from three different states. The bathroom and shower, sans hot water, were underneath the raised living area.

The other volunteers went home during Leatherwood’s second week, so she stayed in the home of Gilda, a resident and representative for Globe Aware. Because she is underage, Gilda and Leatherwood’s guide Mario worried for her safety.

Gilda’s home was much smaller and more run down than the volunteer cabin. An opening between the walls and roof allowed air to circulate, but it also made it easy for critters to get inside. A huge spider didn’t faze Gilda as she swatted it off Leatherwood’s bed, saying it was nothing.

Two of the nights she was visited by a vampire bat while she was in bed. She had to keep shining a flashlight on it to startle it away.

“I didn’t sleep much,” she said.

The work Leatherwood did to aid the people of El Sur was varied. She milk cows and learned to make cheese from it. She worked at the town sugar mill, helping to prod along the oxen as they walked in a circle, turning gears that ran rollers to pulverize the sugar cane.

Some days she worked directly with the cane, straining it as it liquefied or stirring it as it turned to a consistency of syrup.

She dug shallow drainage ditches alongside the roads and helped construct small wood boxes that were used as frames and filled with cement. The cement squares were then embedded with water pipes to use in homes, protecting the pipes from swelling and bursting.

“I tried pretty much all the jobs,” Leatherwood said.

Every bit of supplies were used and re-used, she said.

“We took all the nails out of the wood, scraped the cement off and reused it,” Leatherwood said. “We also reused all the nails. That’s how limited they are.”

Leatherwood learned an entirely different way of life in El Sur. She awoke at 5 a.m. to get her work done before the rains set in around noon. During the down time, residents did a lot of relaxing, she said.

By late afternoon, the sun came back out and it was time for dinner and a little fun, like a community soccer game most nights.

Leatherwood often went horseback riding when she had free time. One day her group followed a stream through the rainforest to a waterfall. They jumped into the lake below and swam.

The locals chose a specific horse for Leatherwood to ride — white with black spots.

“They said it was like me because it had freckles,” she said.

The best part of her adventure was the many people she met and came to care about. Like her guide Mario, who did much of the construction around town; and Robert, the town carpenter who built amazing pieces of furniture with not much more than an electric saw and a few hand tools.

Gilda taught her to make cheese, peel cocoa beans for hot chocolate and strain fruit from the rainforest into delicious juices.

“Everyone was so nice. I met friends I would like to go back and see again,” she said. “(But) there’s also places like Australia. Someday I want to go to Ireland or New Zealand. I want to see how different it is from here, in as many places I can afford to go.”

The pros and cons of paying to volunteer on your holiday

Writer Maureen Littlejohn considers the pros and cons of paying to volunteer on your holiday in a recent feature article titled Goodwill or Good Vacation? in Monthly Developments magazine.

Examining the growing trend for volunteer vacations, Maureen considers many of the motivating factors, effects and viability of volunteer vacationers. In her research, Maureen examined the numerous trips and destinations managed by Globe Aware:

Globe Aware, a 12-year-old American nonprofit voluntourism organization, has a mandate to promote cultural awareness and promote sustainability. “Since 9/11 and the economic turndown, people are starting to want vacations where they can give back,” explains Aubrey Roberts, the company’s director of social media and outreach. Globe Aware operates 17 programs in 15 countries and sends approximately 1,000 people a year to an assortment of projects, from building schools in Ghana, to assembling wheelchairs in Cambodia, to building an eco-ranch for tourists in Costa Rica. The trips are around $1,200 for one week and include food and home-stay lodging. Flights are not included. “Volunteers do six hours of work a day. People really like our concept. Repeat business is between 40 and 50 percent:’ notes Roberts. Globe Aware partners with local NGOs and communities,    relying on their input before projects are undertaken. “We don’t require expertise from the volunteers, since we mostly are just looking for able-bodied workers, but if someone has certain skills we try to use them. Our coordinators oversee the projects and make sure they move forward as each new volunteer team arrives;’ explains Roberts.

The article in its entirety can be viewed Goodwill or Good Vacation Monthly Development June 2012

Bethel University – From San Jose to El Sur De Turrubares

March 22, 2012

As we were getting ready to land at our destination, I was like a kid at a Christmas looking out the window grinning ear to ear. I never really knew how to picture Costa Rica but I could have NEVER imagined the hills, mountains and volcanoes or the greenness of everything. The green looked as you would imagine the lush fields of Ireland looking. It was absolutely breathtaking.

We arrived at San Jose airport at 6:03 a.m. The airport was so small compared to Nashville’s BNA and Denver International. It had shops and a restaurant as well as a little coffee shop but it was nothing compared to the “mall” inside Denver’s airport. Once we got our luggage and went through customs we headed out front to meet our guide, Federico. We all introduced ourselves and talked amongst each other as we waited for our bus to arrive. As we waited a van full of nuns pulled up and exited the van and stood at the window looking in. I never figured out what they were looking at or who they were waiting on but the possibilities running through my mind were endless. It was a very spiritual experience for me as I have never seen a nun in real life except maybe on Halloween.  When our bus finally arrived Fed and the driver threw all of our bags in the back through a window.

So now we board the bus and head out on our journey. It was a bumpy ride to say the least. Everything in the city was brown and dusty which I could not believe from the breathtaking view I had from above.  It didn’t take us long to get out of the city. We stopped at a farmer’s market right on the side of the road. The first thing I got was a coconut. The man chipped a hole in the top and gave me a straw. The milk of the coconut was so cold and refreshing. It was so much better than anything we get around here. A man offered me this “thing” called a granadilla that looked almost like an orange but when you peeled it open it was like a sac full of slimy seeds. I ate it and it was so delicious and sweet and very crunchy. It was quite possibly one of my favorite things I had while in Costa Rica.

El Sur de Turrubares, Costa Rica

El Sur de Turrubares, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in all of my travels. The people were so sweet and humble. The food was rich and full of flavor. I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Costa Rica and was impacted greatly. A group of seven students and two professors from Bethel University branched out to impact the lives of people in a glocal way by taking an Alternative Spring Break trip to Costa Rica. Each day we learned the culture of the locals as well as working to better their small village. Five families were involved in a group sponsored by Globe Aware called EcoSur. These five families were the the sweetest, most loving people I have ever met. Being away from home for a week and leaving a daughter, fiancé, and family behind was tough, but these people made El Sur feel like home and made the homesickness not so bad. They became our family for the week and showed us the true meaning of family, love, and community.