On 5th December we observe International Volunteers Day which celebrates the work and achievements of volunteers and organisations around the world. The work of volunteers, while deeply appreciated by the communities that they work with, can often go unnoticed and unappreciated by the wider world. This is why the UN started recognising this day in 1985, to give a day where volunteering organisations and the volunteers who work with them can shout out proud about the incredible work that they are doing and the positive impact that they are having upon the communities and the wider world.
This year there is a special focus on community work as the theme is “volunteers build resilient communities”. As community resilience is one of the cornerstones of Raleigh projects in Costa Rica, we have a lot to talk about, particularly with the fantastic work our volunteers have been doing in the indigenous community of Uluk Kicha where they have been building a cafeteria for the local school, which was also previously constructed by Raleigh volunteers, so that children have somewhere safe to eat and prepare themselves for class. The dining room will also allow the community to receive meals funded by the Costa Rican government which it was previously unable to distribute due to a lack of adequate facilities.
Upon completion of the cafeteria the group working in Uluk Kicha held an opening day for the local community where they engaged in a series of activities and games with the locals. The day featured arts and crafts with Raleigh volunteers showing the locals new ways to braid hair and make bracelets as well as painting rocks with the locals’ names on them. There were also plenty of sports going on with lime and spoon races, sack races and a Costa Rican game where people compete to climb a smoothed down and oiled wooden pole to collect a bag of money from the top. Additionally, there was an international game of football between the locals and the Raleigh volunteers on the new football pitch that had been built by the Raleigh volunteers for the school.
Of course, our projects would be impossible without our amazing volunteers and we are very lucky to have an incredibly international group of Expedition volunteers and volunteer managers from eleven different countries, including many host country volunteers from Costa Rica and neighbouring Nicaragua.
One of the main benefits of having such an international group is that it provides the volunteers with the chance to learn more about other cultures. It also prompts the volunteers to reflect on their own culture and even themselves, and many volunteers feel that they have developed a lot from this and will take this into their lives and communities back home.
“It helps me to improve my English skills and gives me the chance to share more about who I am and my culture. Especially in the groups people share so much about themselves.” Michelle, Costa Rica
“I will probably enjoy more of the little things about living in Belgium. I used to be a bit lazy about doing small tasks but now I am much better about just doing them.” Charlie, Belgium
“I learned more about myself than I thought I would. I was on trek the first phase and learnt a lot about how I deal with situations and how much I can push my limits.” Chloe, UK
Additionally, the volunteers have learned a lot about the importance of teamwork and supporting each other. This will help them to create resilient communities not just where they are volunteering in Costa Rica but in their own communities back home as well.
“When on trek we were all tired and would help each other but at times you had to hold back and support them in a different way which I think has made me more empathetic.” Honami, Japan
“You can’t do everything alone so you have to be able to work with your team. I have learned to be able to rely on others instead of trying to do everything by myself.” Margin, Nicaragua
While gap years and volunteering have become rather common in the UK this is not the case in many other countries. For some of our volunteers it is very rare for young people in their countries to volunteer with companies like Raleigh.
“I am one of three kids in my grade that took a gap year (out of 500). It was a bit difficult as I see all my friends going off to college and it felt weird that I was not doing the same thing as them, but I don’t regret it.” Becca, USA
“Gap years are not well known in Japan. I could come to Raleigh because I am a senior at university and already have all the credits I need to graduate. I think the Gap year system is really good for young people.” Honami, Japan
We are extremely grateful for all of our volunteers particularly for those who are coming from countries where volunteering is not as common.
Written by Ross A. Photos by Michelle J. and Jasmynne B.