I had an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with some high school kids from my church to refurbish a community center. Each of the communities around San Jose (the capital city) has a community center, but many of them had been taken over by drug dealers and were unsafe for kids. The particular community center we were to take care of was in serious disrepair. It had been abandoned for several years and it took two days just to clean up the yard and make repairs to the building (including adding an interior wall to cordon off one end for a police outpost).
As we worked on the yards and made repairs, some of our kids walked through the neighborhood meeting people and telling them we were reclaiming the community center from the drug dealers. We set up a couple of tables and some games as kids started spilling in from the neighborhood. While we painted the building, kids played in the freshly cleaned yard and/or colored pictures at the tables. Neighbors brought food and we ate together – it was great!
The person who set this up for us was a kind of renegade missionary – not really affiliated with an organization, just trying to make a difference among people who need an advocate. He took us to a local government meeting one evening (with the mayor and city council) and made a pitch for them to hire people to run after-school programs at the community center. They were very kind and told us they would consider the request (we found out later that they had some people in place within just a few weeks).
By the end of the week our work was complete and the police were in place in their new office, so we were free to do some sightseeing. One of my goals had been to hike in a rainforest, and I had convinced the rest of the group to take a short hike. We found some tour guides to take us into the rainforest (but off the touristy, beaten path). It started raining about five minutes after we stepped out of the vans, rained for the next two hours while we hiked, and stopped raining just as we were getting back into the vans. It was a fantastic experience as we hiked through lush jungle, along beautiful streams, and past small waterfalls. This was the only time it rained while we were on this trip and it just seemed fitting that it was while we were in a rainforest (I don’t think anyone was upset about getting wet).
Following our hike, we toured a butterfly farm and I bought a blue morph. The farm only boxes butterflies that have died, so no butterfly was harmed in the making of my memories. The one funny line from the staff, however, was that butterflies are not sold to be pets – they are sold to be food. How odd.
A couple of goals met, time spent with some great kids, many new friends, a sense of accomplishment… good times – great trip.
I’ve added some photos – not mine, but they look just like my memories. Thank you to http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/photo_gallery.htm