As a female nursing student from North Carolina who had never before traveled outside of the country, I was excited – and a little bit nervous – about my first trip abroad. I am studying to become a developmental disability nurse, so I chose to volunteer abroad in the special needs schools in San Ramon, Costa Rica., through Uvolunteer
This was the perfect opportunity for me to help out the population that I love in a beautiful, tropical country. I signed up with a service called uVolunteer for four weeks, working in a school for young children for two weeks and in an adult center for two weeks. I loved both of the projects and am so glad that I got to work with them, and uVolunteer helped provide everything from my accommodations to car rides to and from the airport, which helped make things stress-free for me.
In the special needs school for children, I worked in two classrooms each day helping the teachers to manage having full classes – it can, after all, be a handful for one teacher to have eight children with special needs all in one class. I helped the students with reading, making crafts, fine motor skills, and even learning how to swim. While I was in San Ramon, I was so lucky that the city had a celebration for the national day for people with disabilities.
We had a parade that went all the way around town and which was escorted by police. My students all dressed up in various career costumes and they all looked so very happy. We were able to have a celebration later in the day with other special needs organizations where there was dancing, singing, snacks, and games. Although the students may not have fully understood the purpose of the day, they certainly left their mark in San Ramon.
Later on during my time at the school of children, there was a fantastic talent show put on by the kids. I got to help my classes perform their songs, which was great fun. One of my groups performed a barnyard song while the other performed a sailor skit. This show was important to help empower the students – they are beginning to learn that they can partake in all aspects of regular life.
After I finished my time at the special needs school, I moved on to Special Needs Adults Center. This is a special needs center for adults after they have finished grade school. This school does not quite have the resources and money that they need, so I was glad I could help them. It was also amazing to see the amount of amazing love that went into the school and how humble the teachers and students were.
On my first day at the school I met a very sweet couple that had just recently become husband and wife. The two told me about how they lived together and everyone recognizes that they are spouses, but legally they could not be married. They never had a celebration, which I thought was crazy, so, without thinking, I declared that we would have a celebration! The teachers and students were all excited and we began planning. We planned for a couple of weeks and with the help of Ligia and Nohelia, two uVolunteer coordinators in Costa Rica, we were able to have a beautiful ceremony. The couple exchanged their vows, we had cake, danced, and everyone had a great time.
Although I loved volunteering while I was in Costa Rica, I also loved the traveling that I got to do on the weekends. I was here for four weekends and I went to nine different destinations around Costa Rica in that time. Some of my favorite travel excursions were to Monteverde, Isla Del Tortuga, and Manuel Antonio.
In Montverde, another volunteer whom I had befriended, Lisa, and I went on a canopy tour which was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We flew through the rainforest, zip lining on 15 different lines. After the canopy tour, we went on a coffee/sugar/chocolate tour in which we got to ride up the mountain in a traditional ox cart. At the end of the tour, we were able to make our own fudge with ingredients from the tour.
In Isla del Tortuga, we went on a boat ride around the beautiful islands of the Pacific. We also stopped in the boat to go snorkeling, where I saw at least a dozen different species of fish. Lastly, I went with a big group of other volunteers to Manuel Antonio National Park. This trip was especially fun, as we booked an inexpensive personal lodging house for only our volunteers. During the days we walked through the rainforest and popped out at the beach, and at night we had fun with each other’s company as we played Spanish monopoly, cards, and laughed all night long.
I am so thankful for the great experience that I had in Costa Rica. Words can barely describe the amount of love I have for that country, its people, all my new friends, and the special needs students that I worked with. I definitely hope to return in the future and would highly recommend volunteering there for any women who may be interested in helping those with special needs while exploring a safe, adventurous country on the side.