Written by: Shannon There
As the Third Session of Abriendo Mentes’ programs has come to a close and our fourth and final session of the year is underway, it is a marker for me to look back at the enriching time I have spent in Costa Rica thus far. I arrived on the dusty roads of Potrero in the beginning of August, just before the the Third Session began. Recently graduated from college, I was full of desire to make real change. I was ready to begin, but truly had no idea the journey I was embarking on.
Potrero at first seemed quite different from the life I was used to, but I quickly fell in love with it. The town is comprised of Guanacastecos, some of Costa Rican origin, others immigrants from Nicaragua. Poverty is prevalent in the region and has a strong hold on many families. But what is even more difficult is the lack of opportunity to change ones circumstances. It is clear after living in the area for a few months that not only is there a deep need for increased education, but also a clear desire from the community. This is what makes Abriendo Mentes such a success: they are addressing real needs and the community embraces them in their efforts.
Of course I was excited to dive into AM’s English classes and the Third Session classes did not disappoint. The youngest classes were always my favorite and I loved all the songs and English games we played with the kids. The older classes reminded me of some of the activities I have done in my own courses as I was learning a new language. From week to week I could see improvements in the students’ English. And thanks to a great idea by past volunteer Linda, AM was able to implement a new attendance program for the Third Session which more then doubled our number of regularly attending students! The impact was immediate and sustained throughout the session, leading AM to implement a new schedule in order to create smaller class sizes.
We celebrated some fantastic holidays during the Third Session including Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Independence Day, and the Festival of Corn. During each event I had a great time with the students and, of course, at all the AM fiestas we threw for the kids. Children’s Day was by far my favorite and, I think, something we should consider adopting in the United States! AM held carnival for all the children in Potrero and included many games and events I always loved in carnivals as I was growing up.
Since I arrived in Potrero the AM family has grown quite a bit! For the majority of my initial time in Potrero there were just three volunteers. Now the team has grown to eleven people in total. The largest Abriendo Mentes team to date!
Looking back on the few months I’ve been here, it is astonishing just how much can be accomplished in such a short time. From the wonderful teaching experiences I have had and the growth I have seen with the students, to the various successes Abriendo Mentes has had. I have built strong relationships in such a short time with community members and the other volunteers alike. And even the changes I have seen in myself: the improvement in my own work, my changing concepts of the community I have become a part of, and my lack of screaming at the various bugs, toads, crabs, and scorpions that wander into my apartment.
When you look at life in Potrero and the immense amount of work Abriendo Mentes does, it can seem daunting at the beginning. But looking back at the past few months, who knows what can be accomplished in such a short amount of time.