After completing my grad program at UC – Berkeley, I took a gap year to pause, unplug and rediscover myself. Traveling, teaching, staying at orphanages and working with different NGOs has helped me develop a broader perspective on many areas of life. When I look back, I can clearly see that instead of me helping the kids, they helped me transform in so many more ways than I could ever imagine.
In Costa Rica, my homestay was an amazing cultural experience. I still remember my host mama’s delicious Costa Rican meals. Every day we had our dinner together as a family. The two kids, who were around 10-11 years old, would ask me to help them with their English homework and in return they would try and teach me a few Spanish words.
On my first day of volunteering, my host mama showed me how to use the local transit system. In fact, she was kind enough to take the bus ride with me to the soup kitchen where I was volunteering. Approximately 50 to 60 kids, ranging in age from 2 to 11, would come to La casa de Los Ninos around noon every day.
The first thing they would do was wash their hands and then lineup for rice, beans and milk. Once they would finish their meal, we would hand them their daily vitamins and gummy bear treats. After lunch, it was play time for the children while the volunteers cleaned the kitchen. Some of the kids joined the volunteers and helped us clean up as well.
As we spent more time with the children, we got to know them better and tried to understand their daily lives and family backgrounds. Many of the kids had a very harsh upbringing. Some had been sexually abused and some had been exposed to drugs and guns at a very early age. It makes you wonder where we have come as humanity when a child does not get a chance to experience a “normal” childhood filled with joy and innocence.
At the soup kitchen, these children got a chance to play with other kids, have nice warm meals and temporarily forget about their daily problems.