One Student’s Reflections on Coffee Farming and Character Growth
Every year, Dream Volunteers takes hundreds of students on international service trips to Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Vietnam, and Ghana. Genevieve, a high school student at Woodside Priory, was one of those students. She and her classmates traveled to Costa Rica on a spring break service trip where they helped establish more sustainable coffee farms and repave the one-way-in-one-way-out road that connects Providencia to the markets, supplies, and schools in the neighboring towns of Santa Maria and San Gerardo de Dota. Upon Genevieve’s return, she shared her reflections on the experience in her blog. What follows is an extract of that recap (reprinted with her permission), highlighting some of her takeaways.
“I want to start by sharing that I was very skeptical of the impact this trip would have on my life and on the community in Providencia before I left. This was a school trip, doing service in Costa Rica for a week, and it all felt very ‘cookie-cutter.’ What difference could I, or four of my other classmates, make by helping out for a week? It turns out that any help is good help, and sometimes the best help is just to listen.
“We did a lot of that during my week in Costa Rica – listening, that is. Probably more than actual hands-on work. Most of the time it was listening to David, our trip leader. Other times it was listening to our homestay siblings and parents, though they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Spanish.
“Priory, my school, has the expression, ‘listen with the ear of your heart,’ and this felt particularly relevant on this trip. Our trip to Providencia was primarily to familiarize ourselves with the methods of ecological coffee plantations through hands-on work, and get to know a handful of locals through home stays. We turned compost piles of brossa, the outermost coffee shell, and formed assembly lines to fertilize plants, and even got to explore, first hand, the drastic differences between conventional and organic/ecological coffee. It’s really clever program planning, actually. You come with the draw of experiencing a new place and lending a helping hand, but you leave reinvigorated and reconnected to your priorities, how your food staples are grown, and a better grasp on the things you want and the things you actually need. Learning through experience at its finest.
“I mentioned above that I felt skeptical of the program touting that we would make a difference in a community by coming for a week, and I want to elaborate on that. What I failed to recognize prior to the trip was that the scope of the work I was going to do spans beyond myself, or my group, or even the last month of volunteer groups. All I am, in the view of the organization, is an indispensable slot that needs to be filled week-by-week in order to make the change happen (and this statement isn’t intended to devalue or minimize the efforts of volunteers). What I’m trying to point to, and maybe this is obvious for everyone besides myself, is the importance of people like David, Arturo, Jonathon, and Brian (the man who runs Dream Volunteers which connects student volunteer groups to organizations like Green Communities). It’s their commitment to a life-long goal of making their community and beyond sustainable, and I, as a volunteer, am merely a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
“But for being merely a drop in the bucket, a single volunteer out of hundreds that have come and gone, I gave and gained a lot. By opting in to just a single week of service, I helped community projects keep momentum, projects like road-building and converting conventional coffee farms into organic operations. By participating in a homestay, I contributed an extra income that helped my homestay family of four have more economic security. By experiencing the processes of conventional and organic coffee growing, I was connected to how my food staples are grown, and can now make more wise consumption choices. By going to the zip-line/ropes course park, I helped make a plot of untouched forest economically viable that would alternatively be cut down to grow coffee.
“I would’ve never learned or appreciated any of these things hadn’t I participated on this trip. And even during the trip, I was discounting experiences because they felt ‘touristy.’ So this is a lesson for my future self, and for any of you if it applies: give it a chance. Give them a chance. Give yourself a chance. Get out of your own way, and give whoever or whatever a chance to change you.”
For more about Genevieve’s trip, check out her blog, WILDhER, here.