This past April we had an amazing volunteer group compiled of players with the Richmond Strikers from Virginia, Unionville High School basketball teammates from Pennsylvania, and a few parents who set off to Ortega, Costa Rica. Ortega is a tight knit community of about 700 people in the north western part of Costa Rica.
Ortega’s local community council members and local Peace Corps Volunteer, Daniel Saunders, had been working hard for months coordinating every aspect of this project before we even set foot in town. Everyone in the community pitched in to remove trees, level the ground, and obtained all of the construction material prior to welcoming the Courts for Kids volunteers. This community and their partners truly turned this opportunity into a reality. Their community spirit, motivation to improve their own community, and the eagerness that they exhibited made the Courts for Kids team pumped from the start.
The heat really hit us on the first day of work. I don’t think any of us had ever had to drink that much water in just one day! The team worked flawlessly with the locals as if they had been a part of the community for years. If one group of workers needed more manpower, then without hesitation someone would step up to the plate and give it their all.
We really got to know and understand our new friends in Ortega. It is incredible how well our group was able to bond with the workers, community leaders, and local families through the days that we spent working together.
After three long excruciating hot days of intense labor, the community was able to have an inauguration to celebrate the completion of the court. During the celebration, we were honored by the locals as they presented us with choreographed dances designed to demonstrate their unique customs. Afterwards, we couldn’t have been happier as we played hours of basketball and soccer with the Ortegan youth.
“The looks of wonder, happiness on the very young kids (4-8) when they saw the possibilities for the court. The looks on their faces when they made their first basket was PRICELESS!” – Parent volunteer
As we were able to finish the court construction in three days, we took a short but well deserved trip to a local beach to swim and soak our sore muscles. The warm water was the perfect medicine!
Our group’s Easter Week trip couldn’t have been better timed. There is an Easter tradition in Ortega in which the people gather together on the banks of the river to watch the local crocodile hunter team take to the water. Using only a net and a few sticks, the crocodile hunters tried to capture the largest crocodile possible to put on display for the Easter festival. The hunters walk through the water slapping the surface with sticks to scare the crocodiles into a large net. This year they captured a 10.5’ crocodile!
From the moment that we arrived to the community, their hospitality was truly incredible. During the week, friendships were born and mutual respect was created.
Courts for Kids is so proud of this east coast group for stepping out of their comfort zone to create memorable moments filled with laughter while working under difficult conditions. They exhibited strength, courage, and respect throughout the week.
“If I had to pick, I would say my favorite memory of the trip was the Friday night that we left Ortega. Though it was sad, it was clear how much we meant to the community. By seeing this, I was able to see how what we were doing was much more than building a court for the community; it was a way for the community to become even closer-knit. I also enjoyed meeting new people, both gringos and ticos.” – Richmond Strikers volunteer
“My favorite memories from the trip were working side-by-side with people from another culture, from another language and yet we all bonded together for one common purpose. Even though the language was different we were able to find a way to communicate and connect at a very deep level.” – Parent volunteer
“There were so many memories from this trip that I will remember, but my favorite is probably seeing all the locals use the court that we built. Whether it was soccer or basketball all the locals wanted to play or at least attempt to play. Seeing all of the kids and adults come together to play basketball was a beautiful sight to see.” – Pennsylvania Student volunteer
“I learned that we can lead by example and teach others new things just by our actions. Everyone was open and willing to help no matter how small their contribution. It was amazing to see not only people from the community of Ortega, but others who were willing to jump in and help.” – Parent volunteer
“This week has had an effect on me and how I see the world. I’ve learned that people can find joy in the simplest things, whether it be making a basket or eating a Reece’s Peanut butter Cup. I have also learned how fulfilling work like this is and that I loved building a court with this community.” – Richmond Strikers volunteer