Not your typical classroom for students learning in Costa Rica

    Sometimes the best teachers are those we serve. Through ucalgarycares, 21 University of Calgary students travelled to Chira Island, Costa Rica, in early May to learn about community-based rural tourism and to teach English at a local school, a rewarding experience for locals and students alike.

    The ucalgarycares program is a unique service-learning opportunity focused on ethical international engagement. Students are placed with host families and participate in a service project that allows them to directly help the community.

    This year, students helped build a computer lab at the rural school, having undertaken their own fundraising to provide an air-conditioning unit for the classroom. Students also spent time teaching English classes at three schools.

    “This was our fourth year of working with the Montero and Palito School and a local women’s co-operative. For us, it is critical that local leaders define the needs of the community, and select the projects for our students to work on,” says Erin Kaipainen, manager of Leadership and Student Engagement.

    Beyond their service work, learning about sustainable community-based tourism was a major focus of the trip. Experiential activities led by local co-operatives included spending one night at La Posada Rural La Amistad in locally-owned eco-cabins and participating in a jewelry-making workshop with local artisans. Students also toured the island’s mangrove forest and learned how the community is protecting this delicate ecosystem.

    “My experience in Chira has really encouraged me to think more critically about certain topics and it has also taught me to be more aware of my actions, especially when travelling to a different country,” says Maja Lucero, an undergraduate science student.

    On their final day, the group was treated to a thank you assembly put on by the school. Emotions ran high as the trip came to a close and students said goodbye to their host families.

    “We left behind a classroom so that kids on Chira can learn, and in return, they have given us memories to share for a lifetime,” says second year health sciences student Peter Liu, on the impact of the program.

    Dzifa Agbemabiese, left, (3rd year Economics) and Sarifa Lakhdhir (first year Biological Sciences).Dzifa Agbemabiese, left, (3rd year Economics) and Sarifa Lakhdhir (first year Biological Sciences). Photo by Erin KaipainenCelebrating its fourth year, the program has offered an invaluable opportunity to over 60 students to experience the realities of a developing country, preparing them to be socially-minded leaders in future volunteer activities and cross-cultural work.

    The program is run in partnership between the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning, Students’ Union Volunteer Services, the Asociación VIDA in Costa Rica and two communities on Chira Island.

    Article taken from Universtiy of Calgary. By Arunan Sivalingam. UToday. June 5, 2013.

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