Students at River East Collegiate recently served a number of organizations in Costa Rica.
A group of 23 students, two teachers, and principal Jim Beveridge travelled to the Central American nation from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7, and helped out at four local organizations. Organizing teacher Anita Maharaj Kumar explained the trip was developed with an eye toward creating a lasting link between River East and the Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo orphanage near the national capital of San José.
"What we were hoping to do was go to Costa Rica and establish a connection, a relationship with an organization in Costa Rica where we could come back to Winnipeg and further that relationship," said Maharaj Kumar.
All 23 students on the trip were female, with one in Grade 10, and the remainder fairly evenly split between Grade 11 and Grade 12.
Bailey Krahn volunteered in the orphanage’s Happiness Centre, noting the children were very glad to meet her.
"The kids would see you when you first walked in, and they would get super-attached to you and they’d always want to be playing with you," she said. "They wanted to go for piggy-back rides, play races and fun little hand games."
Lauren Scott noted that though there was a language barrier between the Canadians and the Costa Rican children, as many of the River East students didn’t know much Spanish going into the trip, they were still able to forge a connection with the kids.
"Each one seemed to cling to a different person — they each found their friend, I guess you could say," Scott said. "It’s a strong connection, only for about two hours. I cried when I left.
"They had a lot of fun with us."
Additionally, the students volunteered at an animal sanctuary where they cleaned cages and tidied the grounds, helped sort donations in a local warehouse, and played soccer with kids at a school, to which they donated school supplies after the game.
Megan Winkler noted she plans to adopt the Costa Rican phrase "pura vida" — pure life — in her own life. The phrase is used as a greeting and as a thank-you, but is also used to mean "full of life," expressing the cultural zest.
"It had many different meanings, but it’s always positive," Winkler said.
The students agreed that they became closer as a group over the course of the trip, even though several of them had gone to school together for several years. Scott added she was encouraged by what she was able to accomplish, even as a high school student.
"We’re still kids, basically, and we were able to go over there and make a difference," she said.
When they weren’t volunteering, students got the chance to take in the country, including getting the opportunity to go horseback riding.
Maharaj Kumar said she foresees taking the trip every two years to maintain the connection to the orphanage, working to help the volunteer staff at the centre with donations and training.