Sun and Fun With a Volunteering Twist

Volunteering on Vacation
Roberta Lang, left, and Monica Bolin present a parent with school supplies for his child’s school.

Zip-lining through a cloud forest. Yoga in a butterfly sanctuary. Local, freshly ground coffee strained through a burlap filter.

What’s not to love about a weeklong vacation in Costa Rica?

As Roberta Lang, 59, and Monica Bolin, 54, sorted through their options, the friends from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, found a vacation package that included a service project at a Cost Rican elementary school.

Bolin was hooked. She liked the idea of interacting with kids again and seeing a non-tourist part of the country. Lang, a grandmother of four, thought volunteering would complete their itinerary.

They packed crayons, drawing paper, watercolor paints and construction paper along with sunscreen and shorts, and set off on their adventure.

I am also enamored of volunteer work alongside yoga, zip-lining and escaping from Virginia’s snowstorms. Several tour companies offer volunteer vacations in locations around the world, which include service projects and time to explore your surroundings. It’s a great way to meet  people like Bolin and Lang who have the volunteer spirit.

The three of us first meet outside San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport baggage claim in late February to start our vacation experience. After a night’s rest and breakfast in a cloud forest, we drive to Centro Educativo Angeles Norte, an elementary school near San Ramon, for our volunteer service. Sixty little boys and girls, dressed in white shirts and navy blue pants or skirts, giggle and stare at us curiously. Our job? To teach yoga to third-grade boys (yikes!), plant an organic garden and help the children paint an outdoor mural.

Luckily our yoga instructor, Ronaldo, accompanies us and instructs nearly two dozen 9-year-old boys on the benefits of downward dog. Our job is to encourage them, praise them and try to balance on one leg at Ronaldo’s command.

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Next we build and plant the garden. We hammer boards and netting to construct an above-ground bed and canopy, fill the bed with organic compost (worms and all) and plant baby lettuce seedlings.

Finally we paint a tree on an outdoor wall with English and Spanish directives like “Exercise” and “Wash your hands.” The kids love dipping their hands in paint to make yellow, red, blue and white handprint-flowers under our painted tree.

Seeing the joy on the kids’ faces brings joy to Lang and Bolin, too. “That’s the reward,” Lang says. “We take so much for granted.”

Photo: Jim Damalas

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