INDIANAPOLIS — Four IUPUI Honors College students collaborated with community members in Costa Rica to give schoolchildren access to fresh vegetables and a new place to play hopscotch.
The IUPUI students spent their spring break at the Escuela de Guatuso, a primary school outside Cartago, Costa Rica, as participants on a service project, an investment that yielded memorable experiences for all.
“The week was priceless,” Caily Wolma said. “Working at Escuela de Guatuso was an honor. From the mountains surrounding me to the voices of sweet children that carried from the classroom as we worked in the garden, I found myself humbled each day. It was a privilege to play even the smallest role in helping to impact these children’s lives.”
Wolma, a journalism major, along with exercise science majors Marion Gore and Aaron Sparks and biology major Victoria “Tori” Rarity, traveled to Costa Rica as part of a service learning course that included community service with local colleagues.
The students were accompanied by Dawn Michele Whitehead, Honors College Costa Rica Service Learning Program director and director for Curriculum Internationalization in the IUPUI Office of International Affairs; and Emily Clossin, Honors College assistant director.
The IUPUI students laid the foundations for new gardens later planted by the Costa Rica students, installed a fence, cleaned the area and laid mulch for the school’s greenhouse. They also painted a playground area for hopscotch; worked with the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes; and supported the school cook, who prepares meals for the 120 students daily.
Their much-needed service efforts helped build a better environment for the younger students.
“The schools are already tight on funds and for students like us that come in to volunteer our time it helps them out greatly,” Rarity said.
The service project also yielded dividends in their own personal development, the IUPUI students said.
“As we worked at the school, it become evident to me that in Costa Rica, the value placed on education is expressed differently than I am accustomed to,” Wolma said. “Because of this, I found myself questioning and challenging my own values and beliefs about how a child should be taught. It stretched me and forced me to open my mind. This, combined with the work itself, the passion of the teachers and the enthusiasm of the children created one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences I have ever had.”
The IUPUI students were warmly received and appreciated by the younger students and the school’s staff.
“I couldn’t believe how excited the students were when we arrived,” Gore said. “The staff was also very welcoming and eager to facilitate the projects we were working on. I am very proud of what we accomplished in our time there and I am now eager to participate in more service opportunities,” Gore said.
For Rarity, “directly engaging with the students had a direct impact on me and made me realize how much they do appreciate our company and all that we do. It was a great experience to travel to Costa Rica and participate in this service event.”
“Our trip to Costa Rica was one of the most memorable events in my life so far. It was so much more than I expected, both culturally and spiritually,” Sparks said. “Having the opportunity to help out the community, more specifically the elementary school, was the highlight of my trip. I am so thankful that we were able to help the students have something that they wouldn’t have been able to have without our time. I am also thankful that I was able to meet all of the wonderful people that were a part of the program.”
The trip did have one downside: It was too short, the students said.
“My only regret was that I wasn’t able to be there longer,” Sparks said. “A week just isn’t enough time. My time in Costa Rica was amazing in so many ways, and I will cherish the memory for the rest of life. I only hope that I get the chance to go back in the future.”