Fifteen-year-old Gabriella Hakim, insightful for her age, says that "a constant sense of guilt for all I have" compelled her to press her parents to join a volunteer vacation so she could give back to people who live with many fewer resources than she enjoys. The insider perspective she gained on her Central American journey reassures her, she says, that people are the same the world over. Learning about the day-to-day struggles and joys of life in the Monteverde Cloud Forest region of Costa Rica, Gabriella discovered that "Pura Vida”—Costa Ricans' traditional greeting meaning "pure life; as in walk lightly and enjoy life”—typifies the attitude of the resourceful village leaders who transform meager resources into innovative programs improving community life.
Mom Amy Fardella said the family learned about Global Volunteers, a nonprofit, nonsectarian development assistance organization in special consultative status with the United Nations and UNICEF, from her brother who recommended the program. "They said it was a way to give back and see results that affect people's lives positively," dad Cliff Hakim recalls.
"I wanted to contribute to a culture which needs (our help) and to expose my daughter to all of this, and to teach her service like my brother did with his family," Fardella explains.
Gabriella says that, in the end, working one-on-one with local people reassured her that people (despite their culture or home country) are much the same. "Although we are all so different, all people have the same basic needs and we can communicate and relate to each other even though there are language and cultural barriers."
The family and their three teammates refurbished and painted a classroom and built school furniture for special needs children at Centro Educativo in Santa Elena. The community is struggling with scarce resources to comply with a national special education equality law passed in 1996 mandating equal public education for all school-aged children.
An enlightened Gabriella says she'll no longer take her own school facilities for granted. "I have gained an appreciation for my school buildings...I'm going to try to actively be thankful for my school every day."
Global Volunteers has been working in partnership with local village communities in Costa Rica since 1992. The work projects vary by season, but they usually include building and repairing community facilities, landscaping and gardening, helping painting walls and repairing windows and doors, assisting with building-maintenance tasks, and supporting local women with crafts and capacity-building projects.
"We've done so much work with the volunteers," says Don Nicho Suarez Canitas, another community leader. "We would not have our health clinic and fence surrounding it—nor the school or community center if it wasn't for the Global Volunteers. They've been such a gift for our community. As a small, poor village, we don't have all the means for completing the projects we need so much."
Global Volunteers' singular philosophy of service requires volunteer teams to work "at the invitation and under the direction of host community leaders, and one-on-one with local people" to ensure that long-term development needs are addressed in culturally appropriate ways.
Now in its 27th year, Global Volunteers has pioneered short-term, community-driven service opportunities (volunteer vacations) in 1984. Since then, the organization has served more than 120 communities in 32 countries on six continents to advance its peace and justice mission. Some 160 volunteer teams support host communities annually through direct service, while child sponsorships and project donations also support long-term sustainability.
No special skills are necessary to join most Global Volunteers service programs—only a curiosity about the world, a desire to be of service, and a high degree of flexibility. Work projects are determined by the host communities, directed by local leaders, and focus on services for at-risk children and their families.
Global Volunteers measures its long-term success against the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, addressing the serious consequences of poverty and improvements in the standard of living for millions of people. In South Africa, volunteers help local people accomplish these goals through projects aimed at achieving educational milestones, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and supporting capacity-building projects to stabilize local commerce.
Summarizing his volunteer experience, Cliff Hakim says he "especially appreciated the warmth and open hearts and hands of the Costa Rican people, and the opportunity to enjoy my family and other families in an effort to create a better life."
Families, couples, student groups, and individuals of all ages and backgrounds are urged to serve in this unique way—to give back and make a genuine difference by working with and learning from and about local people in their community. To join a team, call 800-487-1074 today or visit the Global Volunteers website. Service program fees, which help support the local community's long-term development projects and cover the volunteer's food, lodging, local transportation, insurance, program materials, and a team leader, are tax-deductible for U.S. citizens. Airfare and visas are extra.
Cliff Hakim hard at work (Global Volunteers)
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