Community Service is a key element to each of our student programs. Each international service project is based within the local community of Turrialba, which allows us to directly affect our homestay communities and collaborate with local organizations throughout the year to complete, sustain, and support our projects as they evolve. We are able to keep a pulse on the current needs and provide year-round support to our community service partners.
Service Projects are designed to leave an everlasting and positive affect in the community and in the hearts of the student participants. Immersion projects allow for authentic cultural exchange and interaction between the students and the community members.
They are funded by a collaboration between the student groups who raise money in their local community and the community in which they are serving. Projects are predetermined by the needs of the community. The ultimate goal is to make a positive impact locally and globally and to give students the tools they need to continue making a positive difference in others’ lives after they complete the Costa Rica Explorations student immersion program.
The three main goals of our Community Service Projects are:
- Assist in the advancement of community development in order to obtain a safer and more comfortable living conditions for residents
- Improve learning environments and accessibility to knowledge and educational opportunities for preschool, school-aged programming and adult continuing education programs in the community
- Support environmental sustainability efforts by helping to provide information and infrastructure to educational and community-based facilities
Our Community Service Projects are Unique to each Program
Costa Rica Explorations customizes each international community service project to meet the unique needs of the group. Our program managers collaborate with host teachers during the planning stages of the program to define the service project based on the current needs of the community and the desires of the participating student group. We have over 15 years of experience working hand and hand with the Turrialba community and have long-standing relationships with community members and our community service partners.
Selection of Service Project based on:
- Focus of Service Project
- Current needs of Community
- Skills participating group bring: level of Spanish, construction abilities, artistic or athletic skills, and specialized knowledge around a specific content area
- Total funds donated
- Amount of hours dedicated
True Service-Learning Experiences include three essential parts:
- Pre-planning and Education about Service Project and Community Needs
- Participation and Collaboration in the Service Project with community partner
- Reflection and Application of experience and learnings to design future projects
Part 1 – Pre-planning and Education – Before Your Group Arrives
Costa Rica Exploration Responsibilities:
- Identify Community Service Partner – The selection is based on the desires of the participating group, the participating homestay community and the current community needs.
- Select and Design Service Project – Our Community Service Partner will present their proposed project needs and the resources they have to contribute to the completion of the project. We will in turn present the allocated budget towards the project and skill set that our participating group is able to contribute to the project. The project and/or projects will be selected and service goals will be set.
- Coordinate Project – In collaboration with our Community Service Partner and Participating Student Group we will design the ins and outs of the program, create a detailed budget and timeline of the project, purchase needed materials, coordinate the internal schedule for the service day, contract specialized workers for technical jobs such as electricians and welders, and prep the work site for the participating group’s arrival.
Participating Group Responsibilities:
- Fundraise for Service Project Donation
- Gather specific donations to contribute to the project such as BINGO prizes, Sports Equipment, Arts supplies, etc.
- Prepare informational PowerPoints to share with the local community
- Research and prepare workshop ideas and educational development seminars for community members
Your Costa Rica Explorations program manager will coordinate these activities with your host teacher / chaperone in preparation for your trip.
Part 2 – Participation and Collaboration – During Your Program
Costa Rica Explorations maximizes your group’s time and resources during your designated Service Project Days within your program. Within each group’s designated service project, there are typically a few sub-projects to be completed. Your will most likely form smaller work groups and rotate between the various duties in order for everyone to get a chance to try each task. Any technical jobs will be subcontracted by local specialists in the field of welding, construction, electricity, etc.
Work jobs may consist of light carpentry work, gardening, cement work, sanding, cleaning, painting, and/or teaching English or other relevant topics to local community members.
All of our programs are completed in collaboration with our Service Partners. Your students will be working hand-by-hand community members to complete the project. Participating students will have the opportunity to educate students and community members through educational powerpoints, prepared workshops and games. You might plant trees together or work together to create a school garden or paint a motivational mural.
Our goal is for your group to see a completed project, so the students and community members can celebrate their accomplishments together.
Part 3 – Reflection and Application of Learnings – After Your Program
Participating Group’s Responsibility:
At the end of your program our guides will lead a reflection discussion around the service project experience. We also encourage host teachers and chaperones to continue the conversation upon arrival to your home town.
Some reflection questions to consider might be:
- Do you feel you made a positive difference in the community? Why?
- What strengths did you bring to the project?
- Are there any areas in which you would like to improve?
- How will your efforts improve the lives and town of the community members?
- What went well about the service project?
- What would you change about the service project?
- How can you use your experience gained to help your local community?
Many of our former students have been inspired by their service work during our programs and have created local service initiatives within their school community or hometown community. Participating in Student Government and/or Service Clubs are wonderful options to keep passion for service active.
Other students have continued their focus of study in the university in topics such as environmental sustainability, public health, urban development, law, medicine, and international relations.
Costa Rica Explorations Responsibility:
Costa Rica Explorations continues its relationship with our Community Service Partners after your group returns home. We give them the support and collaboration needed in the future to ensure sustainability with the service project’s efforts and long-term goals.
Community Service Partners
Our community service projects are typically located within the host family community in which your group is living. This creates a powerful experience for all involved as the students and host family members will work together to improve and directly affect their local community.
We partner with community organizations in order to optimize the amount of community members reached.
Examples of our Service Partners are:
- Local Elementary and High Schools
- Community Development Associations
- Local Water Companies
- Community Soccer Plazas and Parks
- Community Centers
- Local Churches
- Local Farms
Specific Service Partners and Achieved Projects
Barrio San Rafael Community
We have been partnered with the San Rafael Neighborhood for over 10 years and have collaborated with various organizations within the community in helping with international service projects throughout the years.
Escuela Barrio San Rafael
Escuela San Rafael is a local elementary school serving neighborhood students from kindergarten to 6th grade. The school’s enrollment has fluctuated over the years, but the school serves around 50 students. The students are taught by 3 homeroom teachers – a kindergarten teacher, an elementary teacher that serves 3 grade levels, and the school director that serves the other 3 grade levels. Students participate in specialty classes of physical education, English, art, and music one day a week. Many of our host families children attend and/or have graduated from this school. Our company works side-by-side the school director, teachers, and school board in order to help this institution achieve needed projects for the school.
Examples of Service Projects:
- Helping to improve the educational environment of the school and classrooms by painting interior and exterior of the building and kitchen.
- Painting Murals within school grounds to teach students about historical past of neighborhood and motivate environmental sustainability culture
- Donating a playground for the school yard
- Improving kindergarten play space with a picnic table, sandbox, and planting a flower garden
- Collaborating to replace electrical wiring and ceilings of classrooms
- Helping with purchase of gutters to prevent flooding within school walkways
- Painting walls and lines of basketball court in gymnasium – replacing basketball hoops & donating sports equipment for class and recess time
- Patching holes in chain-linked fence & replacing front gate to increase security
- Donating BINGO prizes and food for school’s bi-annual fundraisers
- Creating recycling bins and organizing informational workshops around recycling
Community Development Association of Barrio San Rafael
Every community and neighborhood in Costa Rica has a Community Development Committee or Association that is in charge of working with government organizations to maintain and develop an safe infrastructure for its community members, such as water drainage, roads, bus stops, sidewalks, lamp posts, etc. The committee is also in charge of maintaining the neighborhood’s Community Center.
Example of Project: There is a bridge and speed bumps within in Barrio San Rafael that needed to be painted as it is a dark corner and was a safety concern for drivers and pedestrians. Our group worked with the highway road patrol and the local development committee to paint the bridge.
Barrio San Rafael’s Catholic Parish
Each community in Turrialba has a small Catholic parish. The parish is very important to community members as 80% of turrialbeños practice catholicism. This is the site in which children participate in 1st communion classes, confirmation classes, and various church groups meet throughout the week. They host weddings, wakes, baptisms, and funerals. Many times the local parishes don’t receive enough funding to maintain their buildings. Interested Catholic middle and high schools have had interest in partnering with local parishes to collaborate on proposed service projects.
Example of Project: We worked together with a local construction worker to repair walls of the outdoor kitchen area of the church. We also installed a new and stronger sink and improved their wood-burning stove and added a chimney. The smoke from the stove was entering local houses. The group also refurbished there benches and tables for the dining area. A second group repainted the church inside and out and fixed electrical wires for the cross on the steeple so it would light up again!
Sitio de Mata Community
Sitio de Mata is a rural community that rests on a mountainside about 20 minutes from the center of Turrialba. It is the site of one of our homestay communities. The community members here take pride in their community and are very organized and supportive of one another. If you drive through the community, people will give you a wave and a smile. However, due to its location from Turrialba, this community doesn’t have the same access to resources. There bus schedule is limited, there is no city trash collection, and community support services are not readily available. Costa Rica Explorations enjoys collaborating with this community to help them achieve their goals.
Community Development Association of Sitio de Mata
Sitio de Mata’s Community Development Association is in charge of the maintenance of the town’s Community Center, Plaza, roads, and infrastructure in general. We have collaborated with them on various projects working with them to identify priorities and match budgets in order to complete desired tasks.
Examples of Service Projects:
- Constructed First Two Bus Stops in the Town – The community had extra cement drainage pipes and donated their time and expertise in digging the trench, laying the pipe and creating the walls for the bus stop. Our group helped finish the cement floor and painted the bus stops. This community can be rainy, windy and cold. It can also be sunny and hot. Having a shelter to stand within was a necessity. Now they have been inspired to create more bus stops throughout the town!
- Collaborated in the construction of a bathroom, storage room, and shelters for the soccer players on the communities central plaza or soccer field. Improved drainage on field and planted shade trees for spectators
- Made improvements on town’s Recycle Center – labeled the sorting bins and work with community members to educate and increase the number of community members who recycle and formed a subcommittee to support further recycle efforts.
Escuela Sitio de Mata
The local elementary and kindergarten serves over 70 Sitio de Mata youth. The school grounds have five classrooms, kitchen and dining room, playground and basketball court. This is a rural school that gets support from the Ministry of Education, but sometimes this support falls short. The school community welcomes added support and collaboration to improve the school’s infrastructure and educational offerings.
Examples of Service Projects:
- Recycling initiative and grounds maintenance
- Extending fence around basketball court / soccer field – There was a problem with the soccer balls going into the sugar cane fields and neighbors homes
- Improving dry storage area for the school lunches
Catholic Church Sitio de Mata
It is a challenge to find a seat on Sunday in local Catholic church in Sitio de Mata. Along with the soccer plaza, school and community center, this church is a cornerstone for the local community. Although mass is well attended by its church members, the church was in dire need of maintenance. A Catholic High School in the United States has partnered with this church over the last 4 years and has worked together with its members to make significant improvements on the aesthetics of the building, the safety and access to the church and its group meeting center. The international service help from Catholic high school students has helped to motivate the local community to organize and raise funds locally as well. They have broadened their annual fundraising efforts and their earnings have multiplied. This is an example of how joining forces – collaboration in its finest – can achieve great things.
Pavones is a community that runs alongside the highway that connects Turrialba with the Caribbean Coast – Port of Limon. The community houses were built by the large sugarcane and coffee farms that lined the roads and many of its members worked these farms. Today, there are still farms, but many of jobs of the citizens of Pavones have diversified. This community is also about a 20 minute drive from the center of Turrialba and also lacks services. This is where Costa Rica Explorations has come to help assist where needed.
CEN-CINAI en Jabillos, Pavones
The CEN-CINAI is a government organization that provides lunches and milk donations to pregnant mothers and their children up to age 7. It also has a preschool, where children can attend in order to prepare them for kindergarten in the public school. The CEN-CINAI in Jabillos did not have enough spaces for mothers and children to sit to receive their meals, so we helped donate benches and chairs. Also there was an abandoned lot next to the CEN that belonged to the building, but was not being use. We worked with the CEN and the Community Development Committee to help transform the lot into a playground for their kindergarteners!
Parquecito el Botecito
This is a park located in the neighborhood where one of our host mothers, Damaris, grew up. The community needed to secure the grounds of park. The side of the park bordering the river left a hole under the security fence, which posed a great danger to the children playing there. Also part of the fence in the property needed to be enclosed as teenagers were entering in the evening and damaging the property. Our students worked with the local community to make these needed improvements.
Parquecito del Silencio
This park is located in a central neighborhood of Turrialba. It has a problem with litter and also the playground equipment has not been maintained. Our student group worked in collaboration with the town’s Development Committee to help clean up and make safe the park for its community members.
Escuela del Carmen de la Suiza
El Carmen de la Suiza is a neighboring town of Sitio de Mata. Our company was put in touch with this school through the superintendent of the school district. They were in dire need of help with improving handicap access to their students and putting in a security wall along with overall maintenance of the property. This school serves a small population of students and therefore does not receive much funding through the Ministry of Education. Many times our company provides a bridge or the added support for local school communities in order to complete their proposed projects. This is international community service at its finest. Students across borders called to support their global neighbors.