Copey, Costa Rica stole the hearts of the participants of the New Orleans Jesuit High School group this July. Seventeen high school seniors, one alumnus, two teachers and one Courts for Kids representative traveled to Costa Rica on July 5th where they arrived in time to catch the second half of the Costa Rica – Netherlands World Cup game. Everyone was super excited to watch the match with local Ticos, but sad when they lost. After the game, the journey continued into the twisty roads that lead them to the mountain town of Copey. In Copey the group was welcomed by their host families and taken in pairs to their houses which they would consider home for the next week.
The group was in for a hard week of work. The court was to be built next to the high school in the Central Plaza of Copey, and had been a dream of the community for over a decade. Eve Solomon & Joseph Meyers, the two Peace Corps Volunteers in the site, had reached out to Courts for Kids to help the community achieve this longstanding goal. The group did not work alone, they were joined by community members and other Peace Corps Volunteers who donated their time to the project. Five days followed of hard work lifting buckets of sand & rock. Carrying heavy bags of cement, digging the holes to set the goal posts in, and wheel barrowing like there was no tomorrow. Everyone was sore, but they kept coming back to work. Community members would show up before the 7 a.m. start time to make sure everything was ready to go for the day. A few elementary students even helped with shoveling and wheel barrowing the cement to the proper place. Near the end of the week as spirits were falling low, and muscles were aching, the group found the power to keep going. Even when the end was near, Joseph & Mauricio, the local contractor, became famous for saying, “Just One more.” So much so, that the group never knew if that truly meant one more batch of concrete, or if they should keep going. At the end of the week they were all pros. Ask any person who was at the worksite that week how to make a batch of cement, and they will rattle it off to you “6 buckets of sand, 6 of rock, 1 bag of cement, 1 cap of sealant, water & 2 handfuls of fiber” without any hesitation.
The group worked so hard over the course of the week, but they didn’t let that stop them from enjoying Copey & the community. A group of high school students who had helped with the construction also had arranged for cultural integration activities for the students. The students learned how to dance salsa & make local tamales. The group got to go to a coffee processing plant and drink their coffee which was voted one of the top ten places to have a cup of coffee in the world! They were also able to enjoy the landscape by taking hikes through the lush hills of coffee, apples and avocados. They enjoyed fishing in a local trout farm, having adventures at the nearby river, and lastly what most students enjoyed… playing soccer with the locals. The language barrier did not stop them from participating in the “Costa Rica vs. The United States” soccer game, or the countless pickup games that happened over the course of the week. Two students sustained injuries from playing soccer, one that even warranted a visit to a doctor in the capital of San Jose and a cast, but were both courageous enough to stay for the entire length of the trip and be moral support for the whole group.
Sunday was a special day to get together and celebrate the accomplishments of the group & community. The group was recognized by the priest at mass. After mass the host families, community members who worked on the court, and the group gathered for a delicious lunch of pork chops. The Mayor of Copey also stopped by to hand deliver certificates to the Jesuit Team to show his appreciation, and one of the elementary students who manned a wheel barrow all week, sung a song that he wrote about Copey a cappella to the entire group of nearly 50 people. Unfortunately the rain moved in and deterred the community from playing on the court that afternoon, but that wouldn’t stop them before they left town.
Monday morning when the group was getting ready to depart, the principal of the high school gathered the entire school around to thank the group for what they had done in the community. She was nice enough to even give the high school students a brief recess so they could play their first game of basketball with the group from Jesuit. After the games concluded the group from Jesuit was very sad to get on the road back to the states. There were many hugs from the host families, community members who helped with the construction, and of course a handful of selfies. This trip is a great example of Courts For Kids’ purpose; these trips are not solely about a basketball court, they are about the cultural exchanges, and reflections of the service each of us can provide. This was one exchange that will never escape the minds of the community of Copey or participants from Jesuit Nola.
My favorite memory from the trip was the American vs. Tico soccer game on the final day of the trip. Since I do not study Spanish, one of the only ways I could interact with the locals was soccer. Although the soccer game was fun, seeing the basketball court being used by many students of the local high school was the most memorable because the court is greatly appreciated and a contribution to the community.
This trip has changed me by making me more culturally aware and sensitive. Before I never understood what it was like to live in a small community without constant access to things that make modern living so easy. The most difficult part of going home is leaving behind a group I now consider to be family.
Over the past 10 days I feel that I’ve grown incredibly close not just to my fellow students but also my host family and the town of Copey. I never would have dreamed that I could become sl close to such a vastly different community yet feel like such an important part.
The community taught me many things but most importantly it taught me to be humble. Humility is a very important trait. Just because you don’t have many things does not mean you can’t be happy. One does not need earthly riches to live long and prosper. I now realize that more is not necessarily better.
I feel like this trip granted me a greater appreciation of the value of manual labor and the importance of family in the community. Before the trip I didn’t have much respect for those who work with their hands but after having actually lived a week in their shoes my perspective on what they do has completely changed. Additionally, the importance of the family in Copey really touched and moved me because back home my relationship with my family is nowhere near as good.