Adventures in Community Service

Community Service?  What’s in it for me?

On a recent Yoga retreat trip in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to do many fun-filled activities including, white water rafting, zip lining above the rainforest canopy, soaking in hot springs, hiking up a volcano and exploring an organic echo farm.  Costa Rica also offered me a different experience, a community service opportunity, that at first, I decided to decline.  My immediate thought was that I wanted to have fun and not work on vacation.  After several days of contemplation, I slowly changed my mind and that decision changed my views about life and the importance of giving back.

After several days of fun-filled adventures and relaxing yoga, my group was given the opportunity to paint a local’s house in exchange for a homemade Costa Rican meal, made and prepared by the owner of the home. Although I have painted the inside of my own home on several occasions, I had never painted the exterior of a house and immediately felt overwhelmed.  I’m not a professional house painter and the thought of painting an entire house presented as a huge job.  I wasn’t in Costa Rica to work, I was there for rest and relaxation, but part of me felt that if I didn’t go and participate that I would be missing out on an opportunity of a new kind, so I reluctantly agreed to go.

Our group of Yogis piled into a minivan and traveled for miles on rugged dirt covered roads to a nearby village, where we parked outside of our destination, a dilapidated blue house desperately in need of new paint.  We had traveled to Costa Rica at the end of the rainy season.  The skies were gray and it rained the entire week we were there, giving me a new understanding of the term, “Rainforest.”

We jumped out of the van and covered ourselves with plastic raincoats as we split into groups as the interpreter explained the process with the homeowner standing nearby attempting to guide and direct us to old worn out trays and buckets of paint.  I grabbed a tray of paint and chose the side of the house that had a large termite nest on it, although at the time, I had no idea as to what it was.  The paint was watery, thin and runny and ran down the sides of the house.  We painted all day in the moist humid rain.  The homeowner had tarps hung around the sides trying to shelter us from the rain.  When we got to the termite’s nest at the end of the house, we were instructed to paint around it, which I found very amusing.  Having little knowledge of termites or their nests, I assumed that having one stuck to the side of your house, was probably not a good thing!.

At the end of the day, when we had finished painting the house, the owners invited us inside for a wonderful, tasty meal of rice and beans, followed by freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee.  They were very grateful for our help and we, in turn, were very grateful for their hospitality and wonderful Costa Rican meal.  During the meal, we heard their personal story through the Interpreter.  The man whose house that we had painted, had been severely injured one day as he walked along the roadside and a large metal rod fell from a passing truck, causing him significant injuries.  Since then, he had been unable to work.  I was so grateful that I was able to help someone in need, a complete stranger, who had no health insurance and no means of providing for himself or his family anymore and had to rely on friends, family, neighbors and complete strangers.

With full bellies and heartfelt goodbye’s, we piled back into the minivan and took the long, rugged journey back to our Echo Farm.  I sat in quiet contemplation as I thought about how I had almost missed out on an opportunity to help someone in need, and if I had, I would have never had known how gratifying it was to give back in a way that I had never experienced before.  I gained insight into how by helping others gave me a greater purpose in my own life.  Although the paint job that we did on the house, was really poor, as none of us were professional painters, the owner was very happy with the end result and although he couldn’t speak English, his smile alone was worth more than a day of self-centered adventures or excursions but provided me with an opportunity to connect with others in a way I had never experienced before.