Month: April 2014

Costa Rica Volunteer Experience – Abriendo Mentes

Some of you know I went to Costa Rica for four and a half months this winter. I got back a few weeks ago, in time to start my busy wedding season in the Okanagan, and I wanted to pause and take a moment to post some photos of the awesome volunteer experience I had while I was there. I volunteered for a small non-profit organization called Abriendo Mentes in the beautiful beach-side community of Potrero, Guanacaste. They give free English and computer classes to locals to help them take advantage of the tourism jobs in the area which can pay up to 5 times more than other jobs available. They also help fill a gap in the local public education system as kids go to school for an average of 3 hours a day, 85 days per year. There are private schools, as well, where children obtain better education, but they are expensive and most families are unable to afford them. When it comes to economy, Costa Rica is still doing much better than most countries in Central America but there is still poverty. You wouldn’t know it to meet people in the communities, though. Costa Rica has been ranked as the happiest country in the world and it really shows in a wonderful, contagious way. Potrero, where I lived, has about 450 people and everyone has a smile or a friendly wave for you when you pass by. You can feel the positivity in the air and it’s a wonderful thing to be around. I just want to quickly give a shout out to Costa Rica with a few other fascinating facts about the country that double as reasons why I love it:

* Costa Rica hasn’t had a military since 1948.

* The country only claims about .25%of the world’s landmass but it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity making it the most bio-diverse country in the world.

* Around %25 of the country’s land is protected national parks and protected areas – the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.

* Over 90% of its electricity comes from renewable energy sources. They might be at %95 percent now but I don’t have an updated statistic – I know that was one of their goals.

* It plans to be the first carbon-neutral country by 2021.

Yes, Costa Rica is pretty cool. I love that Costa Rica has buckets of charming towns with people who know how to live simply and enjoy life with what they have. The Pura Vida lifestyle at its best. I never once saw a big honking office building on my whole trip there (I’m sure there are some in San Jose, etc but I didn’t even see any while passing through Liberia, where I flew into). It was also so nice taking a breather from constantly being advertised to (apart from the many beer signs. haha). I didn’t walk into a grocery store and be assaulted with magazines telling you all the latest gossip and how to look and live your life. Relaxed sigh. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and I loved getting to work with Abriendo Mentes, capturing the work they do and the awesome people they do it for! I did a little bit of everything. I was only volunteering part time so I made myself available to fill holes when I wasn’t taking photos. I did a little bit of teaching aid to the vivacious kids of Brasilito – my favourite was helping out with Thrilling Thursday, a fun day with the kids that had a different theme each week (water fights, crafts, treasure hunts, you name it!). I seriously love those kids and their crazy fun energy. I also volunteered in “The Shop,” in Potrero where the Abriendo Mentes sister project MAP, sells purses and other items made by the local women. I loved the variety of jumping from job to job. : ) I also can’t fail to mention all the amazing friends I made in my fellow volunteers. Wow did I ever luck out!! There were a few Canadians and several Americans (about 20 of us in total when combining the sister organization of Lacrosse the Nations) and every single one of them is fantastic and incredibly great. I guess it makes sense that we would all get along, seeing as we all are the type of people that would sign up for an adventure in Costa Rica, but it was pretty cool just how well everyone got along. Potrero is so small and all of our houses were a few minutes walking distance from each other so it almost felt like the roads were hallways, our houses were our rooms and we were just a big traveling family. Even a couple of the local dogs adopted the volunteers and followed us wherever we went.

Other than my work for Abriendo Mentes, I didn’t take a ton of photos of my personal adventures with my good camera. I was too busy living them and not wanting to baby-sit my big camera that can’t be left alone on the beach, etc. haha. I did use the tool I had with me a lot though which was my iPhone and I had fun instagramming my adventures with that. : ) I won’t go into that more because, otherwise, this will become a book but if you ever run into me, you can ask and I’ll tell you more stories. : )

Costa Rica has a way of making me completely relax and be in the moment.  I’m so grateful for the time I spent there and the people I met. My batteries are recharged and I’m ready to rock this year’s busy photography season! : D  Here I come!

Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0001Abriendo Mentes did a school supplies drive and this was the day we got to hand it all out. The kids were pretty excited as you can see by the two girls trying to peak inside.Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0002 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0003Same thing but in Brasilito where I did the majority of my volunteering. : )Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0005 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0004 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0006 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0007 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0008 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0009Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0010 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0011 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0012 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0013 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0014 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0015 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0016 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0017 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0018 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0019 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0020 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0021 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0022 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0023This kid was constantly cracking us up with his antics.Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0024Fellow Volunteers (from left to right: John, Mariel and Natalie). Mariel and Natalie were the main teachers for the kids in Brasilito.Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0025Back to Potrero!Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0026 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0027 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0028 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0029 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0030 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0031 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0032 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0033 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0034 Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0035

Other than capturing activities and events for Abriendo Mentes, I also got to take photos for a book that they were putting together to spotlight and interview some of their adult students. I got to follow 3 individuals to their home and/or work to photograph them and later a different woman interviewed them. Looking forward to seeing the book and reading the interviews.  : )


Jose works at a beautiful condo rental property on Flamingo Beach as the landscaper and gardener. He had such a warm smile and personality and I completely adored his daughter. He’s been taking English lessons with Abriendo Mentes in his town, Brasilito.

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Didier takes English classes in Brasilito. He gave me and a fellow volunteer, Becca, a tour around his family’s property in Brasilito and took the time to show us all the edible wild fruit tress and let us sample them.  : )

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Sharon is a multi-talented artist who lives in Brasilito with her son and daughter. She and her son both take English classes through Abriendo Mentes. Her home and yard were so charming and full of treasures. She was so interesting and I love her kids! Her son was really bright in his English classes.

Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0051Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0052Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0053Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0054Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0055Sharon’s painting on the right with an rendition by her daughter on the left. : )Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0056Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0057Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0058Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0059Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0060Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0061Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0062Sharon showed us how she grinds corn into flour. Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0063Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0064It’s so hot in Costa Rica that most people opt for outdoor kitchens to keep the extra heat outdoors. Smart thinking.Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0065Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0066Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0067Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0068Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0069Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0070Costa_Rica_Non-Profit_0071