Sunday, May 8, 2016

Top 3 Places to Volunteer in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for scenic mountains, beautiful beaches and a wonderful place to vacation, retire and for my family and growing for many families like mine, a place to make a lifestyle change to raise a better family. Living a more simple life brings you out of your bubble and gives you the opportunity to take a closer look at many issues people face especially regarding choices when only we can make a difference and the precious environment where only we can protect. While living in Costa Rica I have taken notice of the many organizations that are changing people’s lives and taking care of the incredible landscape that is Costa Rica. Though there are many, I have chosen the three standout organizations that not only you as an individual can make a difference, but your entire family can enjoy donating your efforts.

  1. La Tortuga Feliz:  This project is located in a remote section of the Caribbean cost only accessible by boat. It is a kilometer north of the Pacuare River and part of the Tortuergo national park which is arguably one the most iconic leather back and green turtle nesting grounds in the Caribbean. This volunteering adventure not only will teach you the importance of turtle conservation but you will see and experience some of the incredible and diverse wildlife and landscape Costa Rica has to offer. Though this project is all about the turtles it would not continue to have success without its efforts in giving the local inhabitants jobs and education so that they no longer have the need and temptation to poach turtles and their eggs.
  2. Kids Saving the Rainforest:  This amazing organization was founded by two 9 year old girls in 1999 that saw the Manuel Antonio rainforest around them deteriorating. Licare and Aislin started off by painting rock paper weights and paper Mache bottles to sell in order to raise money. The money they raised they soon realized was not enough to save the rainforest so they started by making monkey bridges out of rope to give the monkeys a safer way to cross the roads, avoiding the power lines and passing vehicles. 17 years later the programs have grown to save and rehabilitate hundreds of endangered rainforest animals every year. They also call on schools, teachers and students from around the world to educate, volunteer and donate to realize the importance of the world’s rainforests and maintain the health of our planet.  They offer full day volunteer programs for individuals and groups, 14 day seasonal programs and internships of which you will work closely with vets, biologist zookeepers and more where a life changing experience is ensured.
  3. Strong Missions:  This is a faith based community development organization that, through grassroots efforts, is changing people’s lives. Though it is faith based it is not discriminatory and you are accepted even if you are still soul searching as long as you are committed to helping the people, schools and churches of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The programs are endless and I can’t comprehend how director Charlie Strong keeps up the enduring pace. Prayers , money, and teams is the motto and it has been working with great success since 2003 focusing on helping children, their families and deserving people that are economically oppressed.  On a team trip you will experience a great since of accomplishment  in building gardens, teaching kids and people how to grow their own food; constructing  homes and home improvement, relieving them of dirt floors and providing enclosures giving a healthier living environment; building water wells and towers, bringing fresh water to communities without all turn-key for under 900 bucks. The schools in Costa Rica split the day in half to reduce the class room size which is positive but that creates downtime for young minds to stagnate, or worse, occupy that time with activities which we all know will not have a positive outcome. So what is Strong Missions answer? Karate programs, dance programs, theater arts programs, and tutoring programs - all of which are driven solely by donations and of course the time of the amazing instructors. They even have entrepreneurial programs for their employees teaching them how to use the skills they perform in their jobs to start their own business. Here is a video from the horse’s mouth, Charlie Strong, to further inspire.

Growing up in my upper middle class life the only time I saw people in need was on the television listening to Sally Struthers ask me to adopt a hungry child which was important and noble, but the organizations I have described above are life changing adventures. If my Catholic church would have brought these adventures to my attention, maybe they did and I just wasn’t paying attention, I would have begged my parents to give me the opportunity. High school students here in Costa Rica serve their community as a requirement for graduation. Should this be the way rather than a court order when you get into some kind of trouble? The farming neighborhood where we live in Costa Rica has many children and families that are economically challenged and we do what we can with teaching English and giving them a safe and positive place to play.  Our business Carne Rico Jerky participates in a charity event every year to help Hogar de Vida, the orphanage in Atenas and as the company grows I guaranty we will be doing more to help. My son participates in one of Charlie Strong’s karate programs which gives us a chance to make donations and be a part of something positive. Our kids appreciate the value of all life, animals, humans and the living planet.

Next time you plan a family vacation, consider adding a special day to your itinerary and get your family involved in something not only fun but meaningful. You can enjoy nature, help people less fortunate or protect wildlife all while basking in the sun or spending time in the jungle teaching your kids the importance of our life on Earth. So pick your passion - Animals & Wildlife, Rainforests, Jungles & Oceans or a Strong Mission helping people and making a difference!  The folks here need it and you do too. Pura Vida!

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