Monday, December 8, 2014

By Girls for Girls

By Girls for Girls
By Senior Girl Scout Maggie M.
This summer I, and three of my sister Girl Scouts, Emily, Dana and Keira, had the unique opportunity to make the world a better place when my Troop went on a service trip to Costa Rica.   

We flew into San Jose, the Capitol city, and spent our first day touring the sights and staying in a fancy hotel.  The plush surroundings just weren’t what I was expecting on a service trip, but, hey, I wasn’t complaining.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, we set off for our next destination, the tiny village of Zapotal, in the clouds of the rainforest.  As we climbed up into the rainforest, the landscape began to become more rugged and signs of civilization become harder to find. It was becoming a little more in line with what I was expecting.  I was starting to get a bit nervous…I hadn’t seen another town, house, or even a person for many, many miles.  Finally, we arrived at Zapotal, up in the clouds at 8,000 feet.  The entire village—from the youngest to the oldest—came out to greet us!   We had come to help these strangers with whom we could barely communicate.  “So how is this gonna work?” I wondered.  We were led into their Community Center, a simple room with some cooking facilities and bathrooms.  The women and children danced their traditional dances for us in full costume and shyly, but warmly, welcomed us to their village.  For the next four days, we would arrive at 8AM and begin work, priming and painting the elementary school, planting indigenous trees around the schoolyard and playground, and building stairs down to Zapotal’s fútbol, (soccer), field using “eco-bricks”.  Then, after a short mid-morning snack, we would work until lunchtime when we would drag our sweaty selves back up the huge hill to the Community Center for a delicious, traditional Costa Rican meal prepared by the women.  It was during our lunch breaks that we began to truly get to know the people of Zapotal.  The little children would swarm us, sitting on our laps, playing with our hair or just holding our hands.   The highlight of our days, however, was quitting time, when we would join the Zapotal men and teenagers and play fútbol until dinnertime.  On the fútbol field, we communicated without words.  We split evenly into teams, so we mixed with the locals; it wasn’t us against them, but all of us together having fun.  We made friends over high fives, helping hands up, and team cheers.  There was lots of laughing and teasing, but the Costa Rican’s take their fútbol very seriously.  I’m happy to report we Girl Scouts held our own.

At night, we would drive 45 minutes to our eco lodge, El Toucanet, a very rustic lodge with no television, computers, clocks, or other modern conveniences.  Groups of three or four of us shared cabins in the forest; unfortunately, we had to share our rooms with an assortment of Costa Rican bugs.  Every once in a while I would hear a blood-curdling yell and our fearless Leader would come running to remove an unwanted visitor, usually a spider the size of my hand!  None of us missed our technology, and found that we had more time to hang out and talk with each other.  Being unplugged for a few days made me realize how much attention is required to always be “connected,” and I think the other girls found it just as relaxing.

The last day of our stay in Zapotal was as wonderful as it was difficult.  It was wonderful because we organized games and races for the 13 elementary school children whose school we had painted.  After a game of kickball, we played some relay races.  We were having so much fun and laughing so hard that the moms asked if they could join in.  It was really something to see, with everyone screaming and cheering in English and Spanish!  Then, we presented the Principal of the school with an entire suitcase full of school supplies.  We also had an extra special gift—we had collected four teams worth of unused CYO soccer uniforms.  The Zapotal villagers were speechless, and their excitement and gratitude was one of my proudest moments.  Leaving these open and warm people was very hard.  We had forged a bond, in spite of the language barrier, and made friends with the people of Zapotal.  There were many hugs, kisses and tears.  That night, our group was a little more subdued than usual, as each of us tried to absorb some of the life lessons we had learned from our amazing experience.  The warmth and openness of the people of Zapotal and the friendships I made are what I will remember most about my Costa Rican adventure.

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