Sunday, August 19, 2007

Post-trip reflections by Jacob

Wow, what a trip! ¡UURica! was an outstanding success in every respect. We did some important work for the community of La Promesa. We bonded emotionally with Costa Ricans of every stripe, from our host families to the people we served to the guides on our boat trip, and we shared each others’ culture and knowledge. We connected deeply with each other in the group, and there were no major conflicts between anyone as far as I could tell. We learned, saw, and experienced a great deal. We lived our UU values and have returned home from a voyage that none of us will ever forget.

I can’t begin to summarize all my thoughts and feelings about the trip, but here are a few comments:

Among the Costa Ricans, I was constantly impressed by what UUs would call respect for the interdependent web. From my host father expounding about global dependence on oil, to the shaman apprentice describing the medicinal uses of every plant, to the excited children who wanted to look for critters under rocks with me, I was constantly reminded of the importance of nature. These enlightened attitudes and values of ordinary ticos are reflected in Costa Rica’s progressive national government, with its universal health care, widespread system of parks, and no military. Our country could learn a lot from them.

I am so proud of all of the youth who went on this trip. I am always amazed by the magnitude of their hearts, brains, and spirits. They stepped out of their comfort zones to interact with both children and adults. We didn’t always have detailed instructions for our construction projects, but the youth always rose to the challenge and figured out what to do, then worked hard to get the job done. They made sure everyone in the group was getting along and having a positive experience.

So many of the people we met have led such inspiring lives. The women of La Promesa who have risen above oppression, family abuse, drug addiction, and a host of other problems to form their increasingly healthy community. Gail, who has dedicated her life to serving the poor, and who seems pulled in all directions by the many commitments she has made, yet keeps her sanity and remains smiling. The indigenous people, who are facing the very difficult task of holding onto their traditional wisdom while joining with modern society. Perhaps most of all, the children such as little Keyla, who have already faced so much injustice, and yet keep their spunk and positive attitude and keep on growing.

The departure scene on Wednesday was touching. It was Mother’s Day in Costa Rica, and everyone had gotten flowers for their host mother. There were many, many tearful eyes as we said our goodbyes. I was struck by how closely we had bonded in two weeks with people of another culture, with whom some of us could barely even communicate verbally. It occurred to me that I was observing what peace looks like. If two distinct groups of people can become so connected in our hearts in so short a time, there is hope for the world.

Finally, as biologist I was overjoyed at the sheer diversity of life in Costa Rica. If anyone is interested, I’ve written in more detail about our encounters with wildlife during ¡UURica! on my blog, Salamander Candy.

A few photos:

Heather with toad

Amanda and Emily shoveling

Starting the roof

patting down the dirt

soccer stars!

waiting for the grapefruit

the fruits of our labor being used

Thank you so much to everyone who made this trip what it was!

Posted by Jacob

The "Mama Ticas" with the flowers we gave them for Mothers Day.

This is our group at La Promesa where we worked

This is after we all played soccer

This is at Las Musas

We all arrived safely back from a wonderful trip.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Writing from Tortuguero

Hello all,
Here we are in Tortuguero - our expedition outside of Piedades. For the last two nights, we stayed at a place called Hotel Happyland! It was wonderful to travel from there to meet the indigenous people, hear their language, buy their crafts, and see their way of life.
I don't feel that I've heard altogether new information, but to actually see and hear about it in person is amazing. To meet a man who makes $2 a day working for Dole in order to feed nine children is so different. This is so much more human than hearing about people who are starving or in poverty through the media. We constantly hear those stories, but on this trip the reality is bringing connection rather than guilt. Here, we also see these people happy where they are -enjoying a different culture and often more spiritual way of life. Money goes so far for some of these people we are meeting, but the connection is different than just making a donation from home. We also see many schools sponsered by the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation - which I have noticed directly translates to being sponseried by Gail. Gail's guidance on this trip is inspiring to me. I love this group and all I experience in beautiful Costa Rica.
Much love,

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I feel so into the routine of being here already, I don´t think I can leave. Getting to know my host family has been so much fun. Our family has two sisters, Angie and Cynthia and a brother, Steven. Joy and I have gotten to know Steven and his cousin Diego very well. We´ve played uno and monopoly or Monopolio en spanish with them. It´s been amazing to find how much you can communicate with mostly body language. I feel like we´ve gotten to know them really well in such a short time. This seems amazing to me especially with the language barrier. Us speaking little spanish and our family speaking little english has showed me the importance of body language and how much you can say to a person just with the look on your face.

Working at la Promesa has been very inspiring. The first day when the women shared there stories was very emotional and really motivated me to help them. One thing I´ve noticed working with the children is how curious they are about cameras. When they see one of us with one they want to use it themselves and even the mothers love to have their pictures taken. Gail explained to us that none of the mothers have pictures of their children, because it was just be to difficult and expensive to buy the cameras and film and then have the pictures printed. I like most or all of us have grown up with cameras and have always had pictures of our family and friends. I wasn´t surprised that the children were curious about cameras, but the mothers´interest made me realize that there are so many things we take for granted. Overall it´s been so inspiring to see that these women have changed so much and to see how happy and grateful they are for all the things that they do have and for how their lives are now.

Something else that has shocked me is how beautiful it is everywhere you go. For example looking out the window of the building at la Promesa you see this gorgeous green valley just covered in trees. Just above the valley there are powerlines. My first reaction was that they shouldn´t be able to put powerlines in such a beautiful place. Then I realized that the whole country is so beautiful, and they have to put them somewhere. Overall this trip has been an amazing experience, and we´re only halfway through.

Emily Simmons


What a great week it has been so far. It is so fun to finally have all the different members of the group that has worked so hard together this past year on fundraising, planning and all the others activities that needed to happen to make this trip possible. I am so impressed by all the youth on this trip. They are such a kind, thoughtful, inciteful and hardworking group. They also know how to have fun!

We have seen both poverty and riches here, often all in the same place. The struggles of the women of La Promesa are hard to hear about, but it is also so wonderful to see all they have accomplished. Our project in their community is really going to help them and their families even more. It will also make their neighborhood a more beautiful palce to live in. Their children are really fun to play with, and it is riot to see Alex and Will horsing around with the little kids. It is also impressive to see Troy, Byron, Nathan, Emily G., Alana, kayla, Elise, Aiden, Heather, Hazel, Elena, Joy, Colleen and Adriel handle rocks, shovels, pick axes and more. Sarah, Emily S., Emily B., Barry, Amanda and Ana are great with projects and activities the kids. Gail Nystrom is an amazing human being. I think we are all learning how much is possible when you have a passion for something in life, what ever it may be.

Thanks to all the members of UUFC, families and more who have made this amazing experience possible.

Kayla´s perspective at this very moment...

Thirty-one of us here in Santa Ana...we´re doing so much together and the question does come up ¨how is it different to be here as UU´s than in any other group?¨ After just finishing a full group discussion I´ve got just a couple of thoughts to share on the subject. Some of us came here never having heard of a chalice before. Some have been in R.E. programs for years. And we also have those in this group who are leaders in the fellowship and have chosen to be Unitarian Universalist so deliberately. So we´re all in our own places with what it means to be UU, but we´re also here through that connection.
Gail Nystrom tells us that this group is different because we have worked all year for this experience! Apparentely she often works with ¨troubled youth¨or whatever term applies for those who are sent here to do community service work. But we are here so differently. We are excited to make this progress, to be here, to see so much! And I am loving all of it.
The work at La Promesa is extraordinary! The plants here have so many colors! We went to a beautiful waterfal yesterday and swam under it. So I am enjoying my time here. I love these people I am with and am learning so much. Never before have I been on an international trip where my perspective is changing and my eyes are opening to another culture so much. I really love where I am!