University of Texas student-athletes living ‘a cachete’ in Los Chiles, Costa Rica

Nine student athletes from the University of Texas and two staff members arrived in Los Chiles, Costa Rica not knowing what to expect from the days of work ahead. With one of the smallest numbers of volunteers in Courts for Kids history the team of athletes and faculty would exert themselves along with local municipal and community workers. As an almost endless stream of shoveling dirt and gravel proceeded as the concrete sanctuary was being created, smiles were shared by volunteers and workers alike. When the last strip of concrete was laid on May 27th, after 4 long days of labor a sense of accomplishment set over the community of Los Chiles.

With the newly formed court locals of all ages would be seen enjoying all the new gifts it had to offer, from basketball games and soccer drills to a place to simply congregate and be with friends. The community of Los Chiles’ sanctuary has been long overdue considering the court was originally scheduled to be built in 2020, however due the pandemic the court building was postponed.

As the trip came to a close, volunteers from the University of Texas athletics and faculty left Los Chiles with a newly found home away from home. Being fully immersed in the community, volunteers connected with locals through days of construction, sand volleyball games and the desire to learn each other’s languages and cultures.

Los Chiles’ welcoming atmosphere allowed for the volunteers to form close bonds with the community and each other and feel loved by those around. Through soccer matches with the local Los Chiles team and salsa dancing the group felt a part of something much bigger than themselves and their sports.

However, the trip was not simply work driven, but challenge oriented. As the construction days proceeded each volunteer was met with a challenge to complete by the end of each day. These challenges could be things like finding out historical facts of the community, having a meaningful conversation with a local, or having a thumb wrestle with a newly found friend. The challenges allowed each volunteer to break through their own boundaries and exceed their comfort zones while impacting the community in ways they didn’t even know possible.

Volunteers also had the experience to indulge in authentic Costa Rican cuisine, such as arroz con pollo, which is a rice infused chicken dish. The term “a cachete” , meaning cheeks full , was frequently used amongst the group to describe how delicious the food was.

As the court was completed a celebration of native Costa Rican dances and dessert was shared amongst the community. In addition, the team and a few locals from the community toured Caño Negro national park on a boat to view various wildlife like caiman, iguanas, and an array of bird species. With a new court at the core of the small community of Los Chiles and a new piece of the community found inside of each volunteer an impact was created far greater than anyone could have anticipated. As Courts for Kids’ time concluded in Los Chiles with glassy eyes, goodbyes were exchanged and long lasting friendships and memories were created in their place. ~Jess Smith, UT Rowing

I learned how much I love Latin American culture, community values, beautiful language, a variety of delicious cuisines, and great people. It motivates me to learn Spanish and continue to explore other countries in these regions. ~Alvin Jiang, UT Swimming

A common stereotype of people in Central America is that they are quite poor. While that may be true for many, it does not seem to bring them down. What they lack in tangibility, they make up for in spirit. ~Megan Hogate, UT Soccer

This was such an eye opening experience because I realized how blessed I am. But only that, also realizing to let things go and just to live in the moment. Pura Vida! ~Deandra Pierce, UT volleyball

I learned so much from this community and have a new found meaning for what a close-knit community looks like. This community showed me what it really looks like to love your neighbor and to support those around you. I hope to look back on what I’ve learned and use it in my everyday life. ~Molly Phillips, UT volleyball

This trip has changed me in a lot of ways. I had expectations coming into this trip, but I never knew I’d be humbled this much. This community is so happy and content with what they have, that it really puts into perspective how ungrateful we can be sometimes. ~Savannah Madden, UT soccer

(…) I created a stereotype that nobody works hard or suffers in this country. I thought the people would be more individualistic and enjoy relaxing by the beach. But coming to Los Chiles taught me that Costa Ricans are hard working, humble, inviting, family and community oriented individuals. The community members I was fortunate to meet taught me that joy can be found in the finer things. Some of the community may not have material wealth, but they are rich with love, joy, and generosity. I hope to bring some of these ideals back with me to the USA. ~Cameron Auchinachie, UT swimming

The difficult part of going home is knowing that I’ll probably never see a lot of the people I’ve met here ever again. ~Isaiah Hookin, UT football

This trip just reminded me again of how much I don’t know and that there are still so many aspects of life that I can grow in. It’s easy to assume that you have a good grasp on someone’s job or way of life but once you actually immerse yourself in someone’s day to day you realize how much you didn’t know.  ~Madisen Skinner, UT volleyball