During this past winter break, 12 FDU students, along with chaperones Dean of Students Brian Mauro and FDU Women’s Lacrosse Coach Adrienne Carr, traveled to Manzanillo, Costa Rica, for a volunteer trip that they would never forget. I am one of the lucky ones to have been chosen to embark on this service trip, and I must say, this experience truly changed me.
When we set off on this journey, none of us expected that this new place we were staying for eight days would become a place that we would consider home.
Our main task for the duration of our stay was to rebuild and paint two of the local bus stops. Due to the harsh rainy season and the fact that this community is directly by the beach, local homes and businesses truly take a weathered beating.
First, we had to scrub all of the dirt and sand off of the bus stop, and we replaced much of the wood that keeps it together. We also attached a new tin roof, and painted the entire structure.
Two of our team members, Victoria Francavilla and Katie Rolwood, cut out fun stencils and had the local kids help them paint turtles, hand prints and sunsets along the length of benches within the bus stop.
Joseph Getts, one of our team co-leaders, said, “Getting to know the local townspeople and children gave us the motivation to truly want to help and work hard for them.”
We also re-painted the fence around the local school, and another big project was to re-position, clean and paint cement cylinders along the beach. These cylinders are just a couple of feet apart, so that cars cannot drive up onto the beach. Many of the cylinders had sunk into the sand since the previous year, and were coated with dust and mud.
When we were finished, they looked pretty remarkable. We painted them green, red and yellow with white stripes, and not only did they do their job of keeping vehicles off the sand, but they were also a bright and cheerful way to add color to the town.
Not that the town lacked color; the people here are quite colorful themselves. Aubrie Rahman, one of our team members and a senior at FDU, recalled one of her favorite moments during the trip.
“Without a doubt, my favorite memory is when the guy on a bicycle stopped, while we were cleaning the second bus stop, and said … ‘We may not be millionaires, but we are still rich.’ That expression was the best way to describe the Costa Rican people. Their hearts are so rich and pure, although they are not considered financially fit. Their values in life are not material values; they are the family and friends that surround them.”
Although our service work was our main priority, we still had some wonderful opportunities to experience this amazing culture. We took turns for little side trips, so that there was always at least half of the group working on the bus stop.
Leslie Martinez, team member and sophomore at FDU, and also our translator by default, since she speaks fluent Spanish, recalls a moment during one of our extra excursions that became a learning experience.
“During the jungle hike we went on, I remember falling 75 percent of the time but I never gave up, thanks to everyone’s encouraging words. On that same day walking back to the Cabina’s Something Different, where we were staying, we found two locals who got their car stuck in the sand. With teamwork we were able to lift the car and get it unstuck.”
She added, “I think the whole motto of the trip was teamwork, because without it, we could not have accomplished as much as we did in a few amount of days.”
It is true, teamwork seemed to be what made this group of students so strong and empowered.
Getts said, “As a team leader, I thought that our group of students did an exceptional job of coming together as a bunch of strangers, and forming a team in the truest sense of the word. Everyone had his or her own set of strengths, and was able to complement the group in areas that may have been lacking otherwise.”
He added, “Because our team was so diligent and worked seamlessly with one another, we were able to accomplish the work we had set out to do in only three days. This allowed us to go above and beyond for a community that we fell in love with. No one minded the extra work; in fact, everyone insisted we do more. That attitude created a positive tone for the rest of the trip.”
It seems that with this uplifting energy, all of us were open to this new way of life. Many of us really surprised ourselves in the situations we were put in. Rahman felt that she really, really surprised herself. She said, “I came into this trip with an open mind, and tried many new things I never thought I would have the chance to try. I honestly never thought I would have the opportunity to be in a cage with monkeys, taste a fresh, authentic coconut, or just take a stroll in the neighborhood and see a toucan along the way!”
Nick Maccarrone, team member and junior at FDU, said that this trip changed his attitude about life immensely.
“I realized how fortunate I am to have what I have, and I plan to look into visiting and helping out more communities like this in the future. I enjoyed helping out very much, not only because of how beautiful the scenery was, but because of how friendly the locals were too,” he said.
Other highlights of the trip involved visiting an animal sanctuary, going on a dolphin watch and visiting Dan and Rose Twomey.
The Twomeys are former FDU professors who now have a home in Manzanillo, Costa Rica. They spent much of their time at FDU bringing students just like us down to this community. They were both very welcoming, and were just as excited to share their experiences with us as we were with them.
Along with the efficient service work we did in Manzanillo, what surprised me most about the trip was how much we bonded with the community. It did not feel like we were visitors at all.
We were welcomed by the members of the community, and instead of making us feel like outsiders, they helped us immerse ourselves into the culture.
I think I can speak for all of us who went on the trip when I say that leaving Manzanillo, Costa Rica, was hard for us, not only because we were leaving extraordinary beaches and the rainforest, but because we were leaving a place that had come to feel like home.
The friendships and memories we made here with the locals, and with each other, are now a part of our lives that we will always hang onto.