I Left a Little of Myself at Hogar de Vida in Atenas
Last November, I read in The Times of London about a marketing executive who had taken time out of her busy life in the United Kingdom to work on a community project in Latin America with the help of i-to-i, a company that offers volunteer and other meaningful travel opportunities. The idea interested me very much.
I am a trustee and volunteer for a children’s charity with special needs in London’s wonderful RichmondPark. I had always wanted to spend time abroad and to visit Central America, so I decided to take two months out of my normal life and volunteered to work at Hogar de Vida, a children’s shelter in the coffee town of Atenas, northwest of San José. It turned out to be one of the best ideas I have ever had.
Three months after reading the article, I was on a plane to San José, with a certain amount of anxiety and doubt about what I was doing. I was used to traveling alone, but had never been to this part of the world; I wasn’t sure how good my Spanish really was, and I wondered how I would cope living with an unknown family – obviously with customs different from my own. Also, would I find it difficult working with children who had been abandoned or badly treated in one way or another?
My first hurdle was over as soon as I met the young family with whom I would stay. They were charming and helpful, and really made me feel at home and part of their family.
I immediately explored Atenas and liked it; the layout of the town makes it easy to find one’s way around and the green square in the center of town (I later realized this is a characteristic of most towns in Costa Rica) made it very attractive.
I was also immediately drawn into the family life at Hogar de Vida.When I walked onto the grounds on my first day – with some trepidation, I must admit – I was greeted by shouts and waves from about six little children playing outside one of the houses. I could not believe my eyes at how beautiful they were, but, more than that, how welcome they immediately made me feel. I knew that the 25 children in the shelter were separated from their parents, perhaps because of neglect, abuse or abandonment, and some had been through traumas about which I could only begin to guess. I thought it might be difficult to break the ice, but it wasn’t.
It was a really exciting time for me – arriving in a country about which I knew little and where I knew no one. My Spanish and my knowledge of the country improved dramatically, as I set off most weekends to explore a different area, ranging from cloud forests and volcanoes to beautiful beaches, not to mention learning about wildlife totally unknown to me before.
I realized that Costa Rica is a great holiday destination, and the combination of undertaking a volunteering activity and exploring the country is something I now strongly recommend.
It would be hard to say which was my favorite place – I loved the way the rain forest meets the beach in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast, and the sunsets in Tamarindo, farther north, were some of the best I have ever seen. I also loved the lively atmosphere in the southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo, and the excitement of waking up in Arenal, in north-central Costa Rica, to see the volcano.
When I left Hogar de Vida and Costa Rica after seven weeks to return to the United Kingdom, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach – I left a little bit of me there with those vulnerable children and their sparkling, expressive eyes, their welcoming smiles and their waves and cries of “hola” and “adiós.” And I knew I would miss the beauty of the country.
I felt I wanted to do something for those children. I decided that a swimming pool, incorporating a paddling pool for the toddlers, would make a real difference to their lives, so I am starting to raise funds to build one for them.
Not only would a swimming pool enhance their lives considerably, it would also help them acquire an important life skill and be therapeutic in helping them overcome their ordeals. I am now raising funds in the United Kingdom for this project, and I hope a local school in Atenas can use it.
I hope also that Tico Times readers might like to contribute to the project; if so, please contact Tim Stromstad at Hogar de Vida in Atenas at 446-6212, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
You may be interested
At UN, Costa Rica defends international fund to alleviate economic blow of pandemicAFP - September 23, 2020
The president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, defended Tuesday before the UN the creation of a fund financed by industrialized…
Travel uncertainty cancels Costa Rica’s upcoming soccer friendly against MexicoAlejandro Zúñiga - September 22, 2020
The Costa Rican Football Federation (Fedefutbol) on Tuesday announced the cancellation of the men's national team's planned friendly match against…
Costa Rica coronavirus updates for Tuesday, September 22Alejandro Zúñiga - September 22, 2020
Costa Rica announced 15 new coronavirus-related deaths over the last day for a total of 760, according to official data…