Written By Cesar Armas
Primary school is where we first learn how to interact with other students, learn to read and write, and start to find things we enjoy doing. Having the privilege to visit a primary school in Costa Rica gave me the opportunity to return to my childhood by playing a game of “Helado” with the local kids, all while making a difference in their lives. While visiting the primary school, we had the opportunity to paint it. Painting the school with 16 other UC Irvine students gave me the chance to impact the future of the community members of the small town that had allowed us to stay with them for a week.
In our everyday tasks here in the United States, one doesn’t realize what it takes to paint a school, because for the most part, our Unified School Districts do that job for us. We hardly ever see the work and effort that it takes to maintain a school, nor do we stand up and appreciate the work that has been done. The children of the San Miguel primary school gave me a new perspective on the importance of the little things that make a school run.
We started off the day with scrapping paint and dust off the walls, allowing for the new paint to be absorbed by the cement walls. Painting the outside of the building, the only two classrooms they have, and the cafeteria was an all-day challenge. We each separated into different groups taking on different tasks that included everything from laying out newspaper to painting the walls. We all recognized the importance of our work and we were eagerly ready to take on whatever task was thrown our way.
While painting the outside building, we surrounded students trying to go on with their routine of learning the daily lesson. It was extremely difficult for us to concentrate on painting because we all wanted to interact with the kids and they wanted to talk to us. As we continued on our work, we then had the opportunity to rotate out of what we were doing to interact with the students. While some participants had lunch with them, other participants (including myself) got the chance to play a couple of games with them. When I got the chance to hang out with the kids, they introduced themselves to me without any nerves and wanted to know who I was. They quickly invited me to play a game of “Helado” (freeze tag) and I along with the other Costa Rica Participants didn’t hesitate in joining in.
As the day went on, we took a lunch break and the students eventually left for the day. After our lunch break, four Costa Rica Participants returned to finish the job we had started while the other participants went on to work on different duties around the farm. We returned and went straight to work trying to race against the sun to finish painting before it went dark. We quickly finished painting and as we left back to the farm, the principal of the school couldn’t stop thanking us. He was so pleased with all the work that we did and couldn’t put it into words how much he appreciated all that we had done for the school.
When I look back at the work that we all did, I can’t help but feel accomplished and in awe of how much was done in just one day. We were able to completely paint a school for students that helped us feel welcomed and we created an environment that will inspire them to learn every single day. When you look at the literacy rate of Costa Rica being above 96%, you can only imagine that their schools are some of the best in the world. In reality, the passion for teaching the students about the world triumphs that of the actual condition of the school. Many schools in Costa Rica are left to be handled by the people of the community, which can be a big burden as they try and support their own lives. This made our work that much more meaningful because we essentially gave the students something that they would not have otherwise received. I, along with the rest of the participants, know how wonderful it was to see the faces of the children smiling with glee because they had the opportunity to interact with us and also received a new update to their school. Seeing this project from start to finish made us realize that we were not leaving behind a bad taste of tourist in the community, but a great share of what it meant for us to give back and a “thank you” for allowing us to be immersed in such a beautiful culture.