As we arrived in Sabalito, Costa Rica, we weren’t sure what to expect over the next eight days. We were a group of 20 high school students from Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, plus four chaperones, and many of us had never been outside of the States. But what we found in the small town seven kilometers away from the Panama border changed our lives forever.
The project started out as a dream of some incredibly dedicated Tico high school students from who formed a group at their school called Sports Max to address the lack of sports and recreational activities for themselves and their peers. They wanted to give the people of Sabalito something to be proud of, and a safe space for the youth of the town to congregate and play sports in the center of town. With the help of Peace Corps volunteer Darien Combs, the students worked with Courts for Kids to bring down a similarly civic-minded group from Jesuit. What is particularly great about this project is that it was initiated and built by high school students for the benefit of all students! How awesome is it to see the dreams of students come true when they apply vision and hard work!
Both the Jesuit students and the people of Sabalito bonded immediately, helping each other learn Spanish and English, playing soccer, teaching each other songs, and of course, learning how to dance Cumbia and Bachata. We were also welcomed by the greater community, being invited, on two separate occasions, into private homes for dinner, once for a delicious spaghetti meal and impromptu dance-off, and once to enjoy delicious chicharones.
We also bonded with our Tico buddies on the construction site. It was tough work, especially after the heavy rains left the site muddy, and made transporting the wheelbarrows full of cement particularly tricky. It was messy work, but, working alongside our Tico friends, and with the help of some very generous townspeople, we were able to finish the court on schedule.
The inauguration ceremony was an incredible event, with what felt like the whole town coming out to share in the accomplishment. Speeches were given, dance routines were performed, songs were sung, and then, when the court was inaugurated, some serious ball was played.
It was hard for us to leave Sabalito on our last day. Many of us, who at first weren’t sure if we had made a terrible mistake in coming, were contemplating signing up for the next semester at the technical high school in Sabalito. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to the wonderful community, but we knew that the bonds we forged were strong enough to last our lifetimes. The experience in total meant more to us than can be explained, but as our bus rolled out of Sabalito, we took with us several gifts: newfound dancing skills, a sense of our own abilities to change the world, an appreciation for the generosity and kindness of the human spirit, and finally, an awakened sense of gratitude and wonder.
I know that for me, I am going to reevaluate the things in my life that I think I need to be happy. I spent more than a week without the modern conveniences that I used to hold so dear, and during that week I experienced some of the happiest memories of my life. I know I don’t need Facebook and my iPad and lots more to be truly happy, and I know that the quickest road to happiness is love. – Daniel
This trip has impacted the way I view others. No matter what disability, life experience, or personality someone has, each person is important and has the ability to change lives. I have also learned that when you open yourself to others, they accept and love you back . . . This trip will change the way I see the poorer people. I will think about how loving they are and remember that everyone has a story or part of their story that I don’t know. – Katie
A lesson that I learned was just that wealth is not based on money or material things. They were so rich in their love and just enjoying the moment. The changes that I am going to make are to not allow material things to define my happiness and try to live in the moment and enjoy the time I get to spend with my family and friends. – Maggie
This trip has helped me become more open minded to new ideas and cultures. I have learned more about myself and the world around me. I have realized that material items are really not what make me happy, rather the relationships I make with others is what gives me the most happiness and sense of fulfillment. I was really struck by the simple lifestyle the people lived with as well as challenges they were able to overcome. I want to be able to go home and share my experience with others and teach the message about true happiness and how to encounter it. I truly experienced true happiness on this trip. – Mika
I have been changed by this trip in many ways. I will never say that I can’t do something anymore because to be honest after the first day I thought there was no way that we would finish the court in time. I was inspired by Isaac (who is deaf) to never make excuses and that there is no boundary too large that can’t be overcome. I learned what true hospitality is from Walter and what it means to be welcoming and accepting. I learned what it means to be true friends from all of our Tico buddies. I will take what I learned here and use it in my everyday life. I have definitely changed for the better and this trip has helped me discover myself and gain a broader understanding of the world. – John