Seven Waskaganish youth and their four chaperones embarked on a very special trip down to Costa Rica June 21-28 to learn about life abroad and to help out where they could.

Cree-youth-costa-rica-5 The trip, organized by three high-school teachers – Sarah Sarvis, Kylie Simard and Virginia Wabano – brought out graduating and recently graduated students as well as some students from Secondary 4 to experience this beautiful Central American country.

According to Sarvis, the passion for Costa Rica demonstrated by students Neesha Shecapio and Kevin Weistche, who wrote the school board to petition to go to the luscious, green paradise, made this destination an easy choice.

Also on the trip were Carla Hester, Marcus Moses, Scott Wabano, Melissa Gilpin, Mikayla Gilpin and Clark Shecapio, who served as an additional chaperone.

While the trip came with a hefty price tag of about $32,000, those taking part in the event spent several months fundraising and the group was able to get a wide variety of local sponsors to contribute about $11,000. The students fundraised the other $20,000 through a raffle that garnered about $6,000 and with food sales, car washes, yard sales, flea markets and other work.

“It was a lot of work for these kids to raise this money, it was almost like having a second job but it was so worth it in the end. All of the students participated with these fundraising events and if they couldn’t make it to one, they came to the next. They worked very, very hard to make this money,” said Sarvis.

The trip was not all about enjoyment and indulgence however. There was also a desire by the trip organizers to see the kids have the opportunity to do a bit of work, experience the culture and get to know the life of the people there through volunteering.

This was why the group from Waskaganish decided to book their tour through Explorica, a company that specializes in educational travel and student tours, and specifically selected what is called a “make a difference tour” so that the youth could get a well-rounded experience.

Cree-youth-costa-rica-9“We would spend half of our days volunteering with families, on farms or with different groups across Costa Rica and spent a lot of time driving to different communities or we would be visiting different tourist places like beaches and volcanoes and things along those lines,” said Sarvis.

The Explorica tour guide set up volunteer work and the group went where they were needed. One day they helped a farmer fix his chicken coops. Through this the students were able to get an understanding for this man and his family’s farm life.

Other days were spent volunteering at an animal rescue shelter, helping the employees pour cement and clean cages and then helping out at a shelter for the needy.

The shelter was founded by a Catholic priest in the capital San Jose to care for single mothers and children on the street with a soup kitchen and orphanage. It also offered free daycare for poor working parents.

“They had this huge network of service through this foundation in San Jose and so we did some volunteering to help clean up and look at the kind of services that they provided to the kids in the school age programs so they could learn about that,” said Sarvis. “We heard a lot of stories about the children in this shelter, one about how a boy had been adopted and then was returned six months later – this really impacted the kids, and they were very emotional.”

The Cree youth also spent a day teaching English to children in a rural school, where they played soccer and other games with the younger children, who were excited about Costa Rica playing in the World Cup that day. They also learned a little Spanish from the older students.

Sarvis said that all of the volunteering experiences addressed specific needs in each community as they travelled through Costa Rica.

“Our goal with this trip was for these kids to experience other cultures and see how other people live, how they treat their environment and how other people are treated so that they could bring that back home,” said Sarvis.

Cree-youth-costa-rica-4The only disappointment was their intention to volunteer with the Indigenous communities of Costa Rica didn’t work out because of a communication mix-up with Explorica.

But, this didn’t take away from the many glorious experiences. They had all sorts of fabulous adventures that included zip-line tours, hiking up a volcano, a beach trip, kayaking and a hot springs visit. According to Sarvis, the youth seemed to enjoy the zip-line tour the most.

“It was a very extreme experience for these kids as we only had a few with us who had ever travelled to countries other than the United States before going. They all loved how beautiful and green it was and a lot of them enjoyed the beans and rice we ate every day and all of the fresh fruit. We could pick mangoes off trees on the roadside and just eat them right there. They also loved seeing all the different animals like the moneys, sloths and lizards,” said Sarvis.

According to 17-yearold Kevin Weistche, the trip was a “crazy” experience.

“I really liked all of the volunteering work we did in Costa Rica because it really gave me a sense of these communities and what they are about and we were able to make their lives better,” Weistche said. “It was really crazy to see the difference between our lives and theirs and to see their housing conditions.

“I will never forget looking into these people’s faces because you could see that they didn’t need big things to be happy, that it was just the simple things that mattered to them.”

Neesha Shecapio said she went on this trip so that she could see another part of the world and that was what she got.

“I really liked kayaking because it was just so peaceful and the scenery was just so beautiful. You could see the mountains and everything was just so green and the water was so calm. We got to go swimming off an island right after, it was beautiful,” said Shecapio.

After coming home from this trip Shecapio said she wants to be able to get out and see more of the world, she hopes that Europe is next.

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