Jesuit NOLA Students and “Shovelfuls of Service” in Juanilama, Costa Rica

We stayed in a little village called Juanilama, which was the site of a completed court that we helped paint and finish off. It was also a place that we became attached to. Even though the locals spoke an entirely different language, we made friends (shout-out to Jeremy and the gang) and got to know them. We spent a week living like they do. When we signed ourselves up to go on this trip, we did not realize what it would involve. There was work, and quite a bit of it, but it was almost as if more time was spent learning to accept and understand a different culture. However, we also learned a lot about the nature of work itself.

Although there was some work to be done in Juanilama, we spent many hours of work in the neighboring community of San Martín, which was just up the road. Before we arrived, the community had torn down the central Salon, and our work area was located near some woods just behind where the Salon had once stood. Our work consisted of mixing concrete by hand and delivering rocks to different parts of the work site. Understand that we are in high school. The work we do at school appears on paper, not in a wheelbarrow. Many of us carried a certain bias toward people who work like this. For instance, picture a typical construction worker and imagine him on the street. He’s dirty and he smells bad, and he hasn’t shaved since last week. To take this man’s stereotype and fill it ourselves changed our attitudes. At the end of the day, we were filthy and we smelled terrible, but we stepped back from our work with comfort. Every shovelful was filled with service. The builders are the people who get things done, and, lately, I can hardly look at any structure the same. Someone had to build that house, car, or bench. Someone had to take materials and put them together with his hands, and the whole time he sweat and maybe hurt. We stood in those shoes, if only for a short time.

As we worked in San Martín, we learned to admire the tenacity of the Costa Rican people. They are hard workers, and their strength and stamina impressed us. In San Martín, there were several local workers who caught our attention – Carlos, who appeared to be the foreman, and Sara, a woman of age who lifted pails of heavy stones better than we could. There were also many others who pitched in to help, but not all of these people participated in backbreaking labor. We were thankful to members of the community who simply lent us tools. Never before had any of us realized the importance of one extra wheelbarrow. Never before had the addition of a single shovel been so powerful.

Why were all these people bent on helping us? There is a second part of our experience that provides the answer, and it begins with a small story. Early into our stay in Juanilama, a group of us came upon a group of local boys who were using a hollowed out apple for drug consumption. That occurrence initially struck us as humorous, and we made many jokes about it. However, that night the subject came up during our group reflection, and we talked about the issue. Discussing what we witnessed brought to light the real reason why we were in Juanilama at all. Later in the week, I spoke with an elder named Don Tulio, and Jordyn told us that he was one of the community leaders and a member of the sports committee. Don Tulio was one of the people who was really pushing for these courts to be built, and his reasons fit in perfectly with the story about the apple. We were in Juanilama because the locals there recognized that there was a drug problem that needed attention. Learning about the problems this community faces also helped us understand why the locals tore down the Salon in San Martín – having a court in a wooded area behind such a large structure might have worsened the drug problem instead of solving it. The locals there were willing to destroy a whole building because they recognized the importance of having a court where children could play sports, rather than wasting their time on substances. We arrived in Juanilama not knowing exactly why we were there, and we spent a week finding out.

– Written by Alexander and Matthew,Jesuit Nola Students

“There were many great memories made with my fellow classmates during this trip. However, my favorite memory includes holding a monkey for the first time. I also was able to hold a one day old lamb and watch a goat give birth. Those were my favorite memories from this trip.” – Stephen

“Before the trip, I assumed that all Latin Americans wanted to immigrate to the US. Now, after seeing how much these people enjoy their communities, it is clearer to me that Latin Americans are fleeing violence as opposed to poverty.” – Owen

“I learned that the USA is not the norm. Many USA residents grow up in a bubble, but in reality, the world is a large place and cultures can vary greatly, all united through a sense of humanity. I learned that while the world is different and some people struggle, humans can always come together to make a change.” – CJ

“This trip made me realize that all of the small, temporary things that bring pleasure in my life do not matter in the long run. The relationships, experiences, and memories are what matter the most in this world, and this trip helped me realize that. Seeing that these people have so much less than me but still live a happy life humbled me. I sometimes felt that these kids were even happier than me with how much less they have.” – Matthew

“Something about this small community made me feel and grow closer to not only my classmates, but also to Jordyn, Brian, Taina, and the locals and my teachers than I ever thought possible. To me, leaving this completely different way of life, even for a short period of time – just to immediately leave – seems odd to me. The stark difference between a big city and Juanilama will forever amaze me. I will never forget this trip.” – David

“Before this trip, I had many fears about if I could adapt to a new environment. Could I eat on this trip? Could I do the work? Could I cope with no schedule and be flexible? At the end of this trip, I can confidently say that I have overcome all of my worries. I can adapt. I can sleep nearly on the ground with no AC. I can take cold showers. I can work hard. Most importantly, I can do all these things without yearning for home.” – Miller

“Given that most of the community is dancing behind me and around me right now, I’ve learned that happiness is not material, that life is free and careless and dirty and good. I’ve learned that it’s the small things that matter – a frisbee game, tossing around the volleyball, a smile on the road.” – Alex