(Written by Yamileyka Rojas) Mount Wachusett Community College student volunteers recently completed the school’s second annual civic engagement and volunteerism trip to Costa Rica. The trip included numerous service-oriented projects but students said it was they who benefited from the trip.
“I was able to take everything I did in Costa Rica with me. It changed me as a person and made my outlook on life completely different from how it was before,” said MWCC Student Volunteer Morgann Kirker.
The week-long trip with host organization True Nature Education took place in the second week of May. It consisted of side-by-side service with local people, exploring Costa Rican culture, and numerous service learning projects. Student volunteer work included service at an animal sanctuary, participating in a beach restoration project, and serving at local schools.
MWCC students Thomas Berger Jr., Cristen Comptois, Morgann Kirker, Stevie LaBelle, Jana Murphy, Mary Remillard, Eden Shaveet, and Rachel Vargeletis made the trip. LaBelle, of Hubbardston, said that it was an opportunity for her to expand her experiences.
“I knew this trip would consist of conquering my fears and I was ready to make every bit of it count. Our host organization made sure that we were partaking in meaningful experiences and assisted us every step of the way,” she said.
LaBelle’s first service experience in Costa Rica began when she volunteered to make compost out of twigs and leaves with a wood chipper and was challenged to overcome her phobia of spiders. But the trip was not just about personal growth, but learning from the people she was interacting with.
Kirker, of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, said the trip balanced service work and fun activities. She took part in a number of different service projects. They included beach cleanup, cleaning and building cages at a monkey sanctuary, planting trees, and painting a house for a family in need. The group also participated in activities such as zip lining and horseback riding.
“This trip opened my eyes to the many opportunities that are out there to give back to any community, no matter what the circumstances are,” Kirker said.
MWCC’s Associate Dean of Students Gregory Clement and Director of MWCC’s Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement Shelley Errington Nicholson accompanied the students and saw first-hand their hard work. According to Errington Nicholson, Costa Rica is recognized as a country in need of service and economic revitalization with poverty and deforestation being two of the major issues faced by the country and is therefore a prime location for service learning.
“The most meaningful aspect of these trips is witnessing the impact a group of people can make on global issues through local service,” she said. “Each of our students pushed themselves out of their comfort zones and filled the need that was at hand.”
The trip supplements the service learning that takes place in student’s classes, she said, building on that service and through volunteerism that is encouraged on and off campus.
“Every student who attended the trip has contributed to the community on a local level before the trip and will continue to be involved on the local level,” said Errington Nicholson.
The MWCC Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement plans to continue these global service learning trips annually and is in the workings for a trip to Peru in 2018.