“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” said Winston Churchill once. The best way to teach that to your students or children is by gifting them the learning and growth opportunities of a community service trip.
We at Costa Rica Explorations believe that service is a two-way street. As Churchill said, by giving through service or donations we help others to make a living or improve their way of life. But at the same time, the powerful teachings that this process gives both parts of the process makes those receiving and those giving better human beings.
But a successful community service trip, especially when those traveling are youngsters like high school students, will depend on choosing the right place, the right program, and the right partner to help you connect with those that actually need and appreciate the service.
Why Costa Rica is Perfect for High School Community Service Trips
Costa Rica is actually the perfect setup for service learning trips for many reasons. First, consider that Costa Rica is a country with a lot of experience in the tourism industry; therefore your lodging, food, and transportation will be of high quality.
Costa Rica is a very secure country that declared its commitment to peace and education when in 1949 abolish the army and dedicated all of that budget to make elementary school free and mandatory. Therefore, Costa Rica is a very secure country to travel with young people.
Another thing to consider is that Costa Rica offers a great variety of types of service, from looking after wild animals in wildlife rescue centers to teaching small children English, or a combination of services. And in Costa Rica, you can also make your community service trip a Spanish immersion experience.
In the end, what you are looking for is a positive experience that will help your students grow and learn the importance of service. In Costa Rica, you will also have the best setup for making the experience positive, because even though there is a lot of necessity in this small country, Costa Rica is not a totally undeveloped country that could shock and alienate your young students. Students, teachers and parents will feel very welcomed here.
What to Look for When Researching Community Service Trips
The most important thing to look for is a strong local partnership that will ensure that the time and money your students and donors dedicate to the service trip will be valued and will make a real difference. You need to make sure that the service your student group will provide is authentic, valuable for both the volunteers as well as the local community, a collaboration, and that there is follow through after the trip is over.
Unless you have hands-on experience in the location you have chosen, or you have many old and reliable connections, it is challenging to achieve this on your own. Therefore, look for an experienced and trustworthy company to help you set up your international service opportunity.
Our Costa Rica student travel programs get to the heart of the needs of the local organizations we have partnered with. We help schools, community development organizations, senior centers, churches, the government-run daycares called CEN-CINAI. A lot of these organizations receive funding from the government, but not enough funding to fulfill all their needs. Therefore, it is left up to the organization or the institution to raise the extra funds required to complete projects through BINGOS, raffles, food sales, etc. Costa Rica Explorations works together in collaboration with these organizations to help them reach their goals through donations and volunteer work.
All of these local organizations are thankful for the help because it shows them that people care and believe in their cause. Giving them an extra “boost” with a donation makes their goal easier to achieve.
So, if you are organizing your community service trip, we suggest you ask the following questions:
- Who will the local service partner organization be? It should be a recognized organization or institution (like Costa Rica Explorations) that will be responsible for their part of the work to make sure the service transcends smoothly.
- How long have you been working with this local service partner organization? The longer the partnership, the better they work together and achieve their goals.
- What are their exact needs? The company should know what the local service partner organization needs so you can decide if the service is right for your group.
- What efforts has the local service partner organization put forth to start to achieve their goals? Don’t just give fish, teach them how to fish! That is how you make a difference.
- Who would be benefiting from the service? Why is the service so important? The company should be very clear about this answer.
- What kind of ongoing support does the local service partner organization need to make sure the service work/donation is utilized to its full potential? The last thing you want is to have your time, effort and donation go to nothing.
- Who will be in charge of following up / monitoring progress? This is extremely important. The company you work with should be able to follow up with the local service partner organization and make sure the process you started keeps moving forward.
What Type of Community Service to Consider
This is such an important question to ask yourself and your students. Not every group can work with senior citizens or with sheltered dogs and cats. Before committing to any community service trip, ask yourself the following questions and discuss with your partner company to decide what would be the best option for you:
- What makes your students’ hearts beat? Try to discover what inspires the majority of your group, what are they passionate about it. Of course in the process, you must also bring to light what set of skills they have to offer and what kind of resources they can objectively secure.
- Besides the service component, which is the core of the trip, what else do you want your students to learn from the trip?
- Do you want your trip to be science-focused? Then consider a project that relates to conservation, reforestation, water quality, national park maintenance, botanical garden maintenance, school gardens development, recycling program development, etc.
- Do you want it to be educational-focused? You can do your service about teaching English, giving recycling workshops, developing conservation workshops, etc.
- Do you want it to be animal-focused? Consider then finding a company that partners with animal shelters or wildlife rescue centers.
- Do you want it to be community-development focused? Then your trip could concentrate on improving local parks or soccer fields, roads, community centers, sidewalks, bathrooms.
As we told you before, Costa Rica offers opportunities to develop community service trips that focus on any of those themes, and Costa Rica Explorations already has strong partnerships with local organizations in any of those lines of actions.
How to Ensure that the International Community Service Program is of Value to Participants & Volunteers
A community service trip can aim for many goals, but in the end, the most important thing is that volunteers are able to understand that with a little effort they can help make a big difference in the world.
To achieve that, volunteers must be active participants of the entire process of the trip, from preparation to follow up. At Costa Rica Explorations, we implement the Service-Learning Model, which acknowledges that the impact of a community service volunteer experience has three phases: preparation, action, and reflection.
Costa Rica Explorations’ program leaders work with visiting teachers and students throughout all three phases. The preparation phase starts before the group arrives and involves teacher and students learning about the service experience they will participate in. During the program, they engage in the project, and each day they reflect upon their experiences and observations they are having, and lastly, they reflect upon their experience and set goals for future service work. These steps are essential to help plant the seed within volunteers to become life-long volunteers and to understand the positive impact they can make on the global community.
The hope is that through an international service experience, students and teachers and volunteers are empowered to find their own passion and seek out local service opportunities to make service an integral part of their daily life. The hope is that they are empowered to become community leaders.
Molly has 10+ years of experience as a classroom teacher and service-learning coordinator planning student trips to Costa Rica, and has lived and worked in Costa Rica for over 15 years. In 2006, she fulfilled a dream of hers and co-founded Costa Rica Explorations, an authentic cultural-immersion, service-based educational student travel program, that continues to be one of the most respected and trusted High School and Middle School student programs offered within Costa Rica.