So far 2010 has been a pretty good year. It also will bring a lot of changes for me as I will end my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in May and will start business school in August. So here is a brief look at what I have been up to so far this year:
I started the year working on the last minute details for my applications to 3 business schools: Georgetown, Michigan and Duke. It took a lot of soul-searching and reflecting on my time as a PCV and what I have gained from my experience. Ultimately, I have decided that I am interested in social entrepreneurship (or social business, as Mohammed Yunus discusses in his insightful book, Creating a World Without Poverty). I am really excited about studying and ultimately working in this field, which I believe is the best way to improve the lives of the world's impoverished population.
I have spent the last few weeks conducting interviews with the three schools (2 over skype, and one in person with an alum) and figuring out financial aid, scholarships etc. I found out on the same day that I was denied admission to Duke but was accepted to Michigan!!!! Now I am just waiting to hear from Georgetown, and to see if Yale accepts me off the waitlist. I'm not really sure what my first pick is, especially since I haven't had a chance to visit any of the schools…but I am very excited about being accepted to Michigan.
Improving educational opportunities for the youngest members of Cristo Rey
In the last few months I have worked on two projects to help the young kids gain more educational opportunities. First, I just found out that the development association received a grant from the National Development Agency of almost $14,000 to build a kindergarten classroom at the school. We submitted the proposal at the end of December, and the money was deposited last week. This classroom is a big need of the community, as there are currently 11 kids in the kindergarten and they currently have class in the cafeteria, on the dirty floor with the bigger kids coming in to eat, interrupting class. The teachers worked really hard to get all of the documents needed for the proposal, and we are all really excited to have a new classroom soon. I just really hope that I am able to see a finished product by May. I think construction starts this week!
The other educational project, was an idea of the Comite Tutelar, after I asked them what they would do if we received a $500 donation from the organization Kids to Kids. They decided that they would like to buy education material for the youngest kids of the community, to promote reading, cooperation, learning and fine motor skills at an early age. We presented the project "Creative Corner in Cristo Rey" in December and received the money in mid-February. With the help of my parents, I went on a shopping spree and bought 4 small tables and 16 small chairs, along with many wooden puzzles, plastic building blocks, 27 books, a chalkboard, foam letters and numbers and some art supplies. It was so fun to see my colleagues and friends of the Comite Tutelar open the bags of goodies and have their eyes light up as they talk about how they are going to work with the kids. So, last week we showcased the items at the monthly distribution of free powdered milk to all kids aged 1-6 in the community, through a government nutrition program. Lidiana started out by sitting all the kids in a circle and reading them a book, something that most of them have never experienced in their short lives. Then we arranged the tables and set out the puzzles and mayhem began. It was so great seeing the kids' eyes light up, and the smiles on their faces as they played together and put the pieces together etc. This was a great success and a program that will last for a long time, and make a huge difference in these kids' lives. Thank you very much Kids to Kids! (Here is the website if you want to know more: http://www.kidstokids.org/projects/project.php?project=263)
Quality time with Mom and Dad
My parents arrived in Costa Rica on February 1st to spend another month getting to know the country (you may recall that they spent 2 months here last year). We spent the first two weeks driving all around the south and to the Caribbean coast, seeing a lot of Costa Rica. We spent time on the beach, in national parks, seeing quetzals, monkeys, toucans and much more. It was so nice to see so much of Southern Costa Rica without having to spend 15 hours on the bus to get there…I really love rental cars!
Then I brought my parents to Los Chiles and my site, to help out with a Bingo that the youth group was putting on to raise money. They really got to know my host family much better, and experience what my daily life is like in my town. It was so great to share this with them and they were good sports putting up with the heat, dust, and lots of errands I made them run. They also got to practice their Spanish as lots of the kids in town would start long conversations with them, not caring whether or not my parents could understand. As I mentioned earlier, they also helped me (with the use of the car) to select and transport all of the stuff for the little kids. It was fun having them here and sharing Costa Rican culture and cuisine with them.
At the end of January my group of volunteers had our Close of Service conference in a nice hotel in San Jose. It consisted of three days of discussing all that we have to do before leaving Costa Rica; paperwork, medical appointments etc. Then we talked about job and educational opportunities after PC. However, best of all was getting to be all together (all 45 of us) for probably the last time and enjoying eachother's company. I really can't believe that I am almost done. Two years have flown by! We reflected a bit about our service at the conference, and overall I have had a great time and have learned a lot from living in a rural, poor town of 300 people close to the Nicaraguan border. Which leads me to my final point…
Enhancing the relationships I have made
These past few months I have spent a lot of quality time with my host family, William, Isa, Gabi, Noemi and Daniela, and the extended family, which includes 30+ people. One event that brought me even closer to everyone was the illness and eventual death of Ronulfo Lara, the father of my friend (and host mom's sister-in-law) Flor. I went a lot with my host mom to spend time with Ronulfo and his 7 grown kids and their families before he died. I became much closer to the entire Lara family as we all painfully watched Ronulfo die of intestinal cancer. It was a sad but very memorable experience that I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.