International Education Week Spotlight: The Kindness of A Community

Nick, a WorldTeach Costa Rica volunteer, shares his experience of living and working in a tiny village in Costa Rica. Hear about the kind-hearted people he encountered, their incredible displays of generosity and how Nick decided to join in the community spirit and give back to these people who had given him so much.

After arriving at my teaching placement in Costa Rica, I didn't see a paved road for the next month or so. One single lane 'highway' was the closest road to the house, and getting there involved a roughly 12 km (~7.5 miles) up and down a dirt road through the mountains. I immediately became immensely interested in the culture and lifestyle I found within this pueblito (small village), and had my world shook upside-down for the remainder of my stay. The village was called Pacuare and the people I encountered there had formed a community stronger than any I had seen within the States. The bi-weekly church services were attended with delight as the traveling priest made his rounds through the region. People were constantly swapping food from their land with others and always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. I soon found it was scarcely necessary to make the full hike to anywhere you were going. Should a vehicle pass by heading the same direction you were walking, they would stop and offer a ride without fail (even if the vehicle happened to be a one seat 'motorcycle' = dirt-bike).

The generosity that I encountered there was overwhelming, and more than that, it was humbling. It was such a simple concept, to help others who are need; yet it seems such an idealistic concept back home, where people help if they absolutely must and find excuses otherwise. But enclosed within an endless sea of mountains and tropical forests, I found a community who had taken their spirituality to heart. They had faith in a sense of the word I had never believed in before. Living in the midst of the jungle, and with no income nor money to speak of, these individuals were happier than any I had any seen. Any favor or service rendered was paid for in fresh fruit picked from the land, and the payment was received just as warmly as it was given. Meals were practically forced upon you, even if you were just stopping by to say hello. They shared everything they had, even when at times there was scarcely a thing to share.

To say I was moved by their kindness is the closest I can come with words, but the true effect was too enlightening and uplifting to accurately depict with words. I needed to do something in return to at least partially share in their generosity, and the perfect opportunity arrived when I noticed some of my students reaching for small gold coins and sprinting out the door one day at school. Naturally I walked to the door to see where they had gone, and I noticed that they were using their coins to make calls to their parents. They were scheduled to go on a field trip to a neighboring escuela further up the mountain, and needed to notify their parents that they would be back late that day. I couldn't help but feeling bad that the children had to use their money to make those calls. I knew it was likely their parents' money, but that honestly didn't make the situation much different. The payphone across the road from the school building was the only phone near the school; the school scarcely had money to keep up on the water and electricity bills as I later found out at a junta (~school board meeting) and clearly had no money to acquire a phone. So I took it up as my goal to acquire a telephone and telephone line for the school.

To my luck, one of my host brothers happened to be the head of the school board and knew the steps involved in accomplishing my task. I talked the idea over with my escuela's director, and attended the monthly junta (school board meeting) to talk over the possibility of putting a phone inside the school. The idea was warmly welcomed and my host brother and I were given the green light to travel into town make a request for a phone line. I took off school the next Monday (seeing as the utility companies were only open during weekdays), and traveled with my host brother to Turrialba, the nearest city. Together we hiked the 12 km road through the mountains and reached the bus stop by the restaurant. After talking for some time with the other locals headed into town, we flagged down the bus and set off towards Turrialba. We reached the city and set off towards the telephone company's office, but upon arriving were met with a list of documents and signatures required to proceed. After gathering the documents we were able to obtain that day, we set back towards Pacuare to get the rest. Though disappointed by our initial attempt, we committed to returning the next day and felt confident our efforts would be rewarded. 

After climbing back down the arduous trail, and waking up at sunrise the next morning (~5:30 a.m. in Cost Rica), we set back out on our initial pursuit. This time we had all of the documentation necessary, and the request was granted without hesitation. I donated the costs associated with soliciting the line along with a modest balance to cover the first few months of use, and then we set out to choose a phone. My host brother and I scrambled around town searching for the best deals on phones and, upon choosing one which fit our needs, sat down for a slice of Costa Rica's take on pizza (which couldn't have tasted better after all of the rice and beans I had become accustomed to). Within a week of our return to Pacuare, a truck pulled up to the school and connected the phone we had purchased to the newly acquired line. The kids were all very grateful for the convenience of having their own phone, but some were puzzled as to why I went through the trouble of getting a phone right before I left. I have no doubt in my mind as to why I went through the trouble though; it was the least that I could do for those kids and the least I could do for that community. I may have given them some of my money, but Pacuare gave me hope. That small, rural mountain pueblito gave me the inspiration I had never found back home. It showed me the true meaning of faith, a way of living which is genuinely selfless and altruistic; that, unlike money, is of immense value in and of itself.

Interested in being part of such a community? Check out WorldTeach Costa Rica programs here!

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