3 Months of Change: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Written by Bonnie Ditlevsen

When we arrived in Potrero, it was in late August and in the throes of the rainy season.


Bonnie, Adam, and Ian arrive in Potrero with school supplies to donate to the students

When we left for Portland, it was Thanksgiving back home, but in Potrero, many of the little rivulets, creeks and potholes had gone from gushing with mud to completely bone dry, dusty like somewhere in the American Southwest.

This change came about quickly, after a long period in which the norm was for us to make our way through the village in sandals coated with mud. All of a sudden, Potrero sprang into summer season: Tourists began arriving in greater numbers. Businesses that had been closed for the green season opened up. The afternoons became less rainy and more conducive for walks, a swim at the beach, or an excursion to somewhere fascinating.


Drew, Adam, and Ian searching for baby sea turtles on Playa Ostional

And so it was for the Abriendo Mentes program. When we arrived, there was the miracle of the Salon Comunal having been given a beautiful terra cotta red coat of paint, and this open-air facility made for convenient large-group lessons. As our weeks with the program continued, we found ourselves witnessing the inauguration of the new Kids’ Club next door, an indoor classroom with electricity, greater whiteboard space, room for computers, and a spacious storage area for program materials. The children were very excited about this new learning space; what only needed work was the sound-damping of the classroom, particularly for such young learners who have not learned to modulate their voices.

The donation of Casa del Sol office space to Abriendo Mentes was, and is, a huge step for the program. During our stay in Potrero, we often walked by the new office.

Yet electricity was still something out of reach; a series of bureaucratic hurdles needed jumping. I was reminded of a funny, tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker I saw in the village: “Costa Rica: We Make Easy Hard.” In Western countries, people too often take for granted how electricity service can be initiated or closed out in the space of a day and with one phone call. Abriendo Mentes didn’t have it so easy. But we saw how they never gave up.


Bonnie leads a group class using an interactive ESL program in the office

In our last few weeks, the office came to life. Electricity service meant that an oscillating fan could keep temperatures bearable. Better yet, the program could begin to offer small-group lessons using language learning software. Seeing the kids try their hand at using laptops and professional language software was a great thrill for us teachers as well as for the kids. Computer literacy, after all, is an essential component of the developing tourism industry; combining it with regular English as a Second Language instruction will serve the youth of Potrero on both fronts.


Ian, Adam and Bonnie on Playa Ostional for Adam’s 10th birthday

We left Potrero after having seen all of these changes—in nature as well as and in the program—and gained an appreciation for the power of both. It is an honor to have served with and learned from the patience and perseverance of this literacy program, one which Potrero, Guanacaste is indeed very lucky to have.

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