This was my first ever experience Packing for a Purpose as a traveller, but I’m confident it may not be my last. I’ve always been interested in a voluntourism travel experience (and I’m sure one day I will find the right opportunity), but since we only had a limited amount of time on this trip, I felt that this was the perfect way to get involved in giving back. I had read other travel blogs about travellers doing their part by dropping off school supplies, pencils, and soccer balls at local community centres and schools in some of the countries they visited. This idea interested me and I began to research ways to give back to the travel community. I came across an organization called Pack for a Purpose through a Twitter search – it was exactly what I was looking for. The website was extremely helpful and provided a detailed list of the most needed supplies, along with drop off instructions and directions to-and-from the airport. I was excited and eager to help out in any way I could, so I sent out a few messages via text, email, and social media to see if anyone else was interested in contributing. I was really surprised and happy to see friends and co-workers reach out offering their help. Whether it was a pack of pencils, or some old soccer equipment, it was greatly appreciated. With the kind contributions and a couple trips to the dollar store and the office supply store, we were able to fill a sports bag with 27lbs of school supplies and sports equipment. This included: a couple soccer balls (deflated for travel), two air pumps, and other small but useful school supplies (pencils, pens, gluesticks, scissors, rulers, calculators, crayons, etc.).
The drop-off and meeting point was in Alajuela at Pura Vida Hotel. Here we met up with our gracious host Berni, who I had been emailing with from Canada. We arrived at a good time in the afternoon and he invited us to head up the road and down to the school to drop off our supplies in person. Our cab driver Oscar, a native of Alajuela, was more than happy to take us on our journey. We arrived at the school a kilometre away from the hotel. We walked in and asked to see Yendry, the school’s English teacher. Her bright smile greeted us warmly. She welcomed us and offered to take us on a tour of the school. We went in to see her Grade 1 class, a small room of about 30 kids. The classroom had no lights, but there was just enough sunlight making its way in so that you could read and work efficiently without straining your eyes. Today, the children were learning the different names of animals in English. Colouring in pictures of livestock and ocean mammals. The class was shy but they greeted us in perfect English and recited for us their version of the Lord’s prayer. Yendry asked the Grade 1’s if they wanted to ask us any questions. The kids were all extremely cute, but most of them were too shy or simply just too busy having fun with their Tuesday afternoon colouring lesson. We said goodbye to all the little faces and Yendry led us into the courtyard to visit another classroom.
Next we were brought into a classroom full of Grade 3 English students. The Grade 3’s were not shy at all, and very excited to see us. Right away when Yendry asked if they had any questions, at least a dozen hands shot up into the air. They wanted to know what kind of food we had in Canada, and what it was like in the winter time. “Are you allowed to go outside when it snows?!” one boy asked. I smiled and told him: “yes, but only with your snowshoes on”. We told them a little bit about Canada, Polar Bears, and what it was like to play sports in the winter time (since none of them had ever seen snowfall before). Their curiosity grew and grew with each question. I loved hearing their responses, but we knew we eventually had to move on and let them continue with their lesson. We said goodbye to the kids and left them with a postcard from home so they could see what Ottawa and the Rideau Canal looks like in the winter time. Next Yendry took us to visit the computer lab and library.
“Excellence is our goal.”
This is the motto which resides on the front of the elementary school at Tuetal Sur, Alajuela. The school supports around 500 students throughout the year, mainly all from the surrounding community. The school provides a safe haven for children who have experienced the hardship of living with families who have struggled through poverty and drug abuse. Education in Costa Rica is beautiful thing. All the kids seemed happy to be there, learning and interacting with one another. Education at this level is mandatory for all children in the country. If they lack the money or transportation, government sponsored agencies will step in to provide a better opportunity and the essential school supplies (backpack, pens, and pencils, etc.). Attendance is also important because the schools provide daily meals for the students. Usually some fruit, juice, and the traditional Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans.
Alajuela is one of Costa Rica’s largest cities. The school does receive some local support, but generally they rely on an American financier to support the school’s infrastructure. Yendry refers to this American as the school’s “Angel”. In the garden lies a beautiful monument dedicated to the wonderful support from him and his family. The rest is up to people like us – travellers from far and wide. The entire library collection of text books and reading material is almost completely supported by the donations of travellers. I will always remember Yendry, the kids, and our visit to Tuetal Sur. The warm welcome from the staff and students will be with me always when I am reminded of Costa Rica. I highly encourage everyone to think about what kind of a difference you can make on your next trip. Pack for a Purpose has opportunities all over the world (see their interactive guide map here). I found the website to be a wonderful tool bridging the gap between the ordinary traveller and the opportunity to experience that heartwarming fulfillment no amount of money or tour can buy. The most important thing I learned through this experience is that ANYTHING helps. Whether it’s one book, or ten. You can never underestimate how a little act of kindness can go such a long way.
Here’s a great video of the school made by some wonderful travellers who were also Packing for a Purpose:
After about an hour and a half of touring the school, Yendry thanked us one final time and we said our goodbyes to her and the wonderful staff. I then wondered what other adventures lay ahead of us. We were now 4 hours into our trip and already I was beginning to feel that sense of joy and fulfillment. We had time for one last picture before hopping back into the cab with Oscar, then it was off to our hostel in San Jose to begin the rest of our Costa Rican adventure.