In 2010 I was a senior in high school completing my final year. I felt unsure about my life and and my post secondary plans. I had no ambition or motivation to be successful in school and graduate. It did not seem too important in my life at the time. My parents urged me to take a year off, but I was reluctant because I did not want to have such a big change occur in my life. Finally coming to the decision to travel and take time to figure out what I want out of life and my education turned out to be the best decision I have made. When I decided to make this transition and travel, I had no idea that along the way I underwent many other transitions that brought me to one that has significantly changed my life.
In September, I embarked on a volunteer program In Costa Rica. The program allowed you to choose whether to volunteer for as little as one week, or as long as three months. I decided that three months would be most beneficial, since I wanted to volunteer in more than one project during my stay. The two volunteer projects that I attended, was a day care in La Carpio, and turtle conservation in Playa Ostional.
My first transition was travelling by myself. I can still remember the nervousness and fear, as I said Goodbye to my aunt and Mom at the airport. As I was preparing to say my farewells to my family for 3 months, my mom handed me my binder with all my important documents, what I need to have with me at all times, and what I need to do once I arrive in a foreign country all by myself. My emotions got the best of me, and I burst out crying at the gates. My Mom had always taken care of everything when we went on family vacations; I always depended on her as my safety guard. I had also never been that long away from home, not seeing my family and being unsure if I would have contact to them frequently terrified me. I felt like a big child as I grasped onto her and bawled my eyes out, not wanting to leave, let alone let go of her. But she calmly helped me get it together and sent me on my way. Once I walked through those gates all by myself, for the first time I knew I had no one to rely on but myself, no giving up, because there wasn’t anyone to fix it for me this time. After that I became very independent, very fast. I learnt how to stand my ground when I arrived in Costa Rica with cab drivers trying to take my luggage to their car. I learnt how to travel and commute publicly in a country that I knew very little Spanish. I learnt how to use my instincts on how to know who to trust, and most of all; I learned how to hold my own ground.
After successfully transitioning from a terrified lost traveler, into a confident, some-what Spanish speaking member of the community, I was really able to start observing my surroundings, and how different my new home was from Canada. If you asked me what I thought about my living situation the first week in Costa Rica, I would have said it was torture. No hot showers, beans and rice for breakfast lunch and dinner, no cable, and no high speed internet. It was not until I started my volunteer project the following week at La Carpio.
The only knowledge I had about the project in La Carpio before arriving there was that it was an impoverished area with orphaned children. But as the street bus entered La Carpio, nothing could describe, or hide the real truth of what was going on there. It was in fact a temporary childcare for parents who could not afford or provide for their children.
Carpio has about 40,000 residents, with half of them who are immigrants from Nicaragua and other Central American countries. Most of these immigrants come to Costa Rica looking for a better and safer way of living, but unfortunately end up in Costa Rica’s landfill. Carpio is a small area of 296 square kilometers, which is surrounded on two sides by rivers. Since most of these immigrants came and started living here illegally, the government has done very little to assist these refugees into making a life and real home. Instead, they made the most inhumane trade off with the people of Carpio which ultimately turned their homes into a big junk yard. After repeated pleas by the residents to the government, the government finally relented to pave one road to the impoverished area, so automobiles could get there and back easier. Conveniently, the only road they paved was the route for the garbage trucks to dump garbage in the resident’s home. This has left the area, dirty, unsanitary, and squeezing out valuable living space for families.
In an attempt to stop the poverty and starvation for kids and adults, our program started a soup kitchen that was held every Wednesday for the town. We would arrive in Carpio around nine a.m., buy food necessary to make a meal, such as rice, beans, and some sort of meat at a local store, and start to prepare a meal to feed 50 people, at the least.
I, along with other volunteers, learnt a couple of new things while cooking this meal. First, a fancy kitchen is not necessary to prepare a meal, of any size. All you need is heat, a grill, and a cooking pot.
Secondly, we realized that to make a big meal and deliver it to its destination does not need any caterers, or trucks. All you need is willing and determined people to make a difference, even if it’s only a temporary fulfillment. And lastly, the most important thing we learned was that, you don’t need expensive meals, fancy dining areas, to truly enjoy a meal.
After leaving that project and realizing how simple it is to survive, i started relating that to other parts of my life. Will we die if we cannot use the internet? What will happen if we had to hand-wash our dishes instead of using our dishwasher? Why is it so easy to buy a pack of cigarettes for $12.00 to satisfy our needs, but so hard to donate or spare change for a homeless person on the street? This culture shock and change helped me to see how grateful and thankful I am, and we all should be about the lives we live. If you are complaining about how hard your life is because your blackberry broke, or the wrong food was given to you at a restaurant and you demand a new plate, remember that your problems could be way worse, and be happy with what you are given. When you are happy with the things and people in your life then that positive energy can only bring in more good events to you.
I could go on for days about how many people and experiences helped transition me into the person I have now become; but some things remain the same. I bawled my eyes out when I was leaving Canada, and I also bawled my eyes out when I left Costa Rica. This time, the tears were filled with happiness and love. I was filled with a feeling of accomplishment; a feeling that I understand who I am now. What started out as something so scary, turned out to change me for the better. I left for Costa Rica trying to find myself, and what I want in life, and I came back alive, and ready to put all my plans into action. My mom has quoted one of my favourite quotes in her earlier blogs by Martin Luther King junior, that I live by every day. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Article submitted by my daughter, Priya Hecktus, a part-time student based in Toronto with plans to go back to college in a few months to pursue Hospitality Management.