Posted: October 11, 2012
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SFS Reaches Out to Local Community

Costa Rica


Name: Trygve Madsen
Position: Student Affairs Manager (SAM)
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

SFS has been operating in Atenas for over 15 years. As part of our curriculum, we squeeze in at least six outreach opportunities per semester—chances for the students to get off campus, interact closely with the community, and do some good. Our first outreach of the semester was a real success. We split the students into two groups, sending them to a local elementary school and to a turtle sanctuary.

The school—Altos de Naranjo—was extremely excited to receive us. The students painted a beautiful mural in the kitchen for the students and staff to enjoy. The center of the mural is an impressionistic macaw, instantly recognizable as such despite being composed entirely of fruits and vegetables. It’s superimposed over a fiery sun, which fades on either side into sunset colors punctuated by bright garden scenes filled with fruits and vegetables. The colors really brighten up the room and make the dining space a scenic place to eat.

The students who weren’t painting spent the morning working with the third graders, practicing simple English by playing games and doing hands-on activities. It’s a small school, so the third graders were essentially paired up one-to-one with SFS students. To learn body parts, a student would lay down on some butcher paper and his/her partners would trace the outline of the body. We spent a good bit of time drawing and labeling, finally hanging the drawings on the walls. This was interrupted briefly by an impromptu speed-up-as-you-go singing session of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The group also enjoyed playing bingo and charades, and playing a sort of spelling relay race that involved each team running from desk to desk, carrying one letter at a time, trying to spell out various words before the other team. And of course, everyone got prizes: new pencils, sharpeners, erasers, and glue.

At the end of our time at the school, the principal thanked us profusely and invited us back to help with more projects and keep up the English instruction. We said goodbye to the students and then were guided up a hill behind the school to a house where snacks were prepared for us. This was not a staff member’s house, nor a PTA mom’s; rather, the whole community was aware that we were coming and found a volunteer to feed us a traditional meal as a way of saying thank you. We watched the woman whose house it was grind corn by hand for her homemade tortillas, which were served on a banana leaf (as a plate) and topped with a scoop of refried beans and a fried egg. Delicious.

Tortufauna is a turtle sanctuary—the only one of its kind in Central America—dedicated to protecting, caring for, and educating the public about land and freshwater turtles. SFS provided some much needed manpower, doing lots of maintenance and upkeep of the turtle habitat, ensuring that the turtles can live happy and healthy lives. Students cleaned the pools, scrubbed down the habitats, and even got to handle the turtles and clean up their shells. Doña Wilma runs an excellent organization with a good cause, and students were very excited to help out.

For our next several outreach days, we’re looking at doing some watershed/stream cleanup, language exchanges with local college students, and work on a coffee farm. Integrating community service with the curriculum enriches the student experience and increases SFS’ already longstanding ties with Atenas. This first outreach was both fun and productive, and I know everyone is looking forward to more opportunities to get their hands dirty in the name of community building.

Check out photos from the day below…

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