Between the white water rafting trips and epic jungle treks, our students at Bold Earth frequently have the opportunity to build a relationship with the local communities we travel to. These cultural experiences can become the moments that make the greatest impact on our students.
Our Experience with Siempre Amigos
During the summer of 2022, my Costa Rica Active group worked with the non-profit partner Siempre Amigos in the spectacular cloud forest region of Monteverde. They connected us with a local family living in a lush valley an hour’s drive from town. As we bounced over rutted dirt roads, I briefed the group on our project. We knew our morning would be dedicated to a construction project where we’d learn how to mix and lay cement, but it was only when we reached the work site that we learned why our work was so important.
A young girl around six years old ran out of the house to greet us as we unloaded from the bus, followed by her mother who welcomed us warmly in Spanish. She gathered us in a circle with her husband standing nearby and began to tell us the reason why we were here.
Our aim that day was to help with the construction of a wheelchair accessible bedroom for her teenage boy, Gustavo. His family called him Gustavito, an affectionate nickname that the other community members also used for the boy. Gustavito had recently suffered from sudden and unexpected brain hemorrhage. He’d been in intensive treatment and therapy at the hospital, but had been able to return home to continue his recovery. The bleed had affected several parts of his brain. He was in the process of re-learning how to walk and speak.
As Gustavo’s mother spoke to us, tears welled in her eyes. She told us how important it was to have many hands to do the work of laying down a smooth, cement floor in her son’s new bedroom so he could move around in his wheelchair without fear of getting stuck or tipping over. One of my students stepped forward to offer her a hug and she accepted. We could feel the gravity of this family’s strength and resilience. We also knew the responsibility that we had to do good and meaningful work for them.
The energy of the group was palpable. Gustavo’s father and grandfather showed us where the wheelbarrows and shovels were stored and in a few minutes everyone was ready with their tools. We were taught how to achieve the right ratio of dirt and gravel, when to add the cement, and how to mix it together.
By the time the morning mist had evaporated from the surrounding hills, the floor was laid. We finished the project ahead of schedule because all of my students worked without pause, only stopping to hydrate. Gustavo’s mother handed out glasses of fresh pressed sugarcane juice as everyone wiped sweat from their eyes. The bedroom floor was smooth and filled, perfect for a wheelchair to roll across.
The work was finished, but we didn’t want to leave. Gustavo’s mother asked us to wait a moment while she went inside. When we returned, she was guiding the hand of her teenage son. She helped Gustavito cross the threshold and explained that he wanted to meet us. When he took the last step out into the courtyard, he gave us a huge smile. Gustavito’s little sister, Dana, bounded over and wrapped her arms around one of my student’s waist.
It was difficult to express all of the gratitude we felt to Gustavo’s family for welcoming us in and allowing us to be a part of their story. The personal connections made on that afternoon were a gift and not something that any of us were expecting.
Service Learning at Bold Earth
At Bold Earth, we are an adventure travel camp that focuses on personal growth and development. We are privileged to be able to travel with our students to remote places and interact with incredible local communities. We are first and foremost an adventure travel program, not a service learning program. That being said, we intentionally integrate community service into the vast majority of our trips as a way to give back to the areas we visit, and a way to foster a sense of stewardship and gratitude in our students.
One of the main goals of the service learning portion of our itineraries is to help broaden our students’ perspectives. On Bold Earth trips, community service is important to us because it allows our students and trip leaders to be more than just tourists. We strive to engage authentically with others and give back in some way, no matter how small. Our service projects are short term and the impacts limited. We are not saviors, but humble visitors seeking human connection as a way to encourage empathy and understanding for the communities we travel through.
Our partnerships with local community non-profits are one of the reasons we’re able to create meaningful travel experiences on Bold Earth trips. Our non-profit partner, Siempre Amigos, is dedicated to the families of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. Their mission is to help build homes, schools, and gathering places for the community. To learn more about their operations and see photos of service projects, visit their website or Instagram.
For some students, community service is at the top of the list for reasons they want to come. For others, it comes as an unexpected highlight. For the 2022 Costa Rica Active group, it was life-changing.