Pura Vida: Leadership & Community Development in Costa Rica

This is the post excerpt.

This is the official blog of the Pingry School’s June 2016 travel course to Costa Rica, where middle school students will learn about their own leadership styles and how to affect positive change as they work with Escuela San Rafael in the town of Santa Maria de Dota on a community project.

Members of our enthusiastic 2014 trip



Day 7: Christian

Today we left Cabina Cecilia in Santa Maria de Dota and relocated to Dominacal. The bus ride to Dominical was about 3 hours and we ate lunch and snacks on the bus. The climate in Dominical is significantly warmer and more humid than in Santa Maria de Dota. Dominical is also nearly at sea level whereas Santa Maria de Dota is about 5000 feet above sea level. After checking into our new location, we headed off too the ziplining course. We went on a 30 minute hike to reach the actual course and then ziplined across 8 cables. We learned about eating termites as a last resort if stuck in a forest, and using soldier ants as a stitch for wounds. When we returned to our cabins, we went swimming in the pool in front of our cabins. We played sharks and minnows with Dean Fulton and the rest of the group. We left for a nearby restaurant and ate dinner there at 6:30. After dinner we did our daily A.N.C.H.O.R. on the bus.

Day 6: Lucky and Helen

Today we learned about the very rich environment of Costa Rica and what is has to offer. In the morning, we visited The Paraiso Quetzal Lodge. This is a family business that has been passed down for four generations. The lodge has a hummingbird garden in the back where people can view and interact with hummingbirds. Over time, two species of hummingbirds have begun to trust humans around the lodge, the fiery throated hummingbird and the magnificent hummingbird.


We then went on a four kilometer hike through the Cloud Forest around The Paraiso Quetzal Lodge. We were lead by a tour guide that showed us the smaller things in the forest that we would not otherwise have seen. We participated in an activity that heightened our sense of awareness about our surroundings, then we discovered how the Cloud Forest extracted nutrients directly from the clouds. After that, we visited a waterfall in the forest named Cascada Bromelias. Lastly, we hiked by the remains of a plane that crashed in the forest named Adventure. After the hike, we had lunch in the lodge next to a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a Quetzal due to a lack of fruit bearing trees in the forest during this season.


After taking a break at Cabañas Cecilia, we visited a local waterfall. We waded in the water and climbed over rocks. Then we were rushed out by our bus driver who said we were trespassing. Turns out we weren’t but we still had to get out because a storm was approaching. We then got snacks, such as shakes and nachos, from a local restaurant and headed home. We then had a wonderful home made meal prepared by the staff. We then conducted A.N.C.H.O.R. and wrote this blog.


¡Pura Vida!


Luc and Helen

Day 5: Grace and Noah

Today was a day for learning about eco-friendly practices that takes place in Costa Rica. We started the day with a cup of coffee from the Coopedota coffee factory. We were given a tour of the factory. The tour first started in the roasting part of the factory where we were told that the factory took a practice in balancing CO2 emissions. The first practice we witnessed was the recycling of the coffee bean husks in which the factory would collect the husks and use them in several eco-friendly ways. In the roasting section of the factory the coffee bean husks were as fuel to power the roasting machines

The roasting part of the factory consisted of machines that were solely operated by man. The next part of the tour was to see the drying process of the beans. One of the ways that they dried the beans was using greenhouses and the sun instead of heat made by burning fuel. This process helps to off set the carbon footprint of the plant. Once we finished viewing the drying process we took a route to the coffee trees. We were taken by surprise when we found out the amount of time a coffee tree would have to grow to produce a decent crop would be four to six years. When the trees are harvested the factory has to wait another ten years to get a decent crop.

In the coffee trees is where we learned more about the balancing act of CO2 emissions. The factory offsets the amount of CO2 by planting more trees in the place of old coffee trees that cannot produce anymore coffee beans. Also our tour guide explained that most of the bean husks and the old flowers and cherries would be later turned into compost to help further grow the trees. In the afternoon we went to a local family’s house for an eco-friendly art class. We used crushed egg shell to display gravel on the road and stones on the ground. We also used coffee grounds to create the effect of leaves on trees.

Later on, the group did ANCHOR and reflections where we learned that the farmers get paid by the Coopedota factory to use more eco-friendly practices. This creates motivation to become more eco-friendly in the community of Santa Maria de Dota. While reflecting on energy usage in Santa Maria de Dota as a whole community many learned that the energy in the town is usually 65% to 70% clean energy. And sometimes the town goes a month on 100% clean energy, maybe two months. The three main ways to collect power in Costa Rica is by solar, wind and hydraulic power. For the hydraulic dam they create four generators and one open pass for wild life to pass through. Today we were taught many eco-friendly practices in Costa Rica that we might want to apply to our daily lives when we get home.


Day 4: Callie and Anthony

Today we had a breakfast of eggs, fried cheese, bread, peanut butter and jam at the school. After we had finished eating, we  did work on the construction site.We made a lot of progress on the construction. Today, we arrived at completing 2 and a half sections of cement by the end of the workday. After we finished. The students of the school there us a thank you party consisting of a Doc McStuffins piñata filled with Costa Rican candy and homemade ice cream with rainbow marshmallows. After our fiesta, we made our way to our homestay families and gave them our gifts that we brought from the U.S. The families were very thankful, and unfortunately tomorrow is our final day with our family. Today, we got even closer than we already are with our homestay families. Callie played a lot of Connect 4 and UNO with her host family, and taught the eldest son how to play Go Fish. Anthony watched television and Emma and Lailah got their nails done by their homestay sister.  We then went back to the Cabinas, and walked to the same forest where we planted trees. We played Infection Tag and Sniper, a game that Pingry students played the last time they were here. After playing, the group walked back to the Cabinas, and chilled out until dinner. It consisted of potatoes, salmon, and salad. We led ANCHOR (appreciations, news, concerns, hopes, obscurities, and readings), and then introduced a Japanese psychology game that Callie saw in a BuzzFeed video that was meant to reveal parts of your personality that you may not have known. The results were pretty accurate! Ms. Lear also gave us a personality test that was very funny and the results were cringe-inducing. And then we we arrived at this moment, as we were typing the blog post.

Good night!

Day 3: Emma & Marcus

Greetings from Costa Rica!

Today we had our first traditional Costa Rican breakfast (Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, and fresh watermelon).  We then continued work on the school’s new  indoor play area,  mixing  cement and setting the floor.   After a few hours of working we had lunch with our homestay families.   Marcus’s homestay family made sugarcane juice and made a visit to their farm and banana plantation, and Emma’s homestay family made homemade French fries and met the son’s friends.

A new activity we did today was a Costa Rican cooking class,  which was led by Rafa and his business,  Casa Parra. We split into 3 groups to make empanadas,  piccadillo, and tortillas. We also got to taste mango pineapple juice and hot sugarcane water.

Quote of the day “when it’s solid it’s good day” (on Javier’s shirt)


“Hi. Mom”  (Marcus and Emma)

Day Two- Natalie and Lailah

Today was the second full day in Costa Rica, and the first day of community service. We started the day with pancakes in the local school, San Rafael. After breakfast, we split into groups. Some of us met the children in their classrooms, and the rest went outside to start work on our project, the covered gym. In the classrooms, we experienced education in Costa Rica, firsthand. The experience was heart-warming and humbling. The students of San Rafael have limited athletic facilities and few teachers, but their campus is beautiful and they are welcoming. The students also made an effort to communicate with us, despite our limited Spanish, and even taught us a few new words and soccer tricks. Those of us who were outside working on the service project quickly learned that cement-laying and the surrounding process was hard work, but rewarding. It was hot, humid, gritty and exhausting labor, but having already seen and interacted with the children of the school, gave us more of an effort to work on the project and give the children a place to play and have fun. We worked hard during our shifts outside, and many of us even came back for more of the work! After finishing the project for the day and cleaning up, we found our Homestay partners and walked by ourselves to our host families’ houses. Now that we had broken the ice yesterday, we found it easier to communicate with our host families. We played games, talked, and ate delicious lunches of rice, beans, and other common foods of Costa Rica. It was a fun time and also a good learning experience to see how people in Costa Rica live. We realized(for the most part) that despite language barriers, communication is possible with effort on both sides.

We said “Adios” to our host families and all met up at the school. Our next stop was a nearby rainforest, where with the help of Rafa, our guide, we planted fruit tree saplings in the forest. We got our hands dirty, but we learned the significance of what we were doing. Rafa told us that planting these trees would help to offset our carbon footprint and purify the water in the area. After we finished planting, we walked through the rainforest, with Rafa explaining to us the sights and sounds around us as we went. One incredible sound was the call of a Motmot, a bird of the rainforest. We also came across a gigantic strangler fig covering a tree. We were able to go inside the hollow tree and look up into the heart of the tree. This was an incredible experience for all of us. Back at Cabinas Cecelia, we learned about the importance of communication and cooperation through a leadership activity. We also learned more about our personal leadership styles, and were able to clearly see the differences between all of us. Today, we saw and heard some incredible things, we put in some serious elbow grease, and we grew to know Santa Maria de Dota and its people a little more. We don’t think we’ll forget this day anytime soon!

Fifteen Strong, All Day Long!


Happy Birthday, Dad! My real dad, not Ms. Lear. (Love, Natalie)

Day 1:  Matt and Henry

The first day in Costa Rica was a blast for the group. We had lunch with our host families. At the beginning of the day, we woke up at around 6:30 in San Jose. From the hostel, it was about an hour and 40 minute drive to the Cabinas Cecilias. It is a really cozy place high up in the mountains. Once we got here we took a bus ride to the local school San Rafael. We met our host families and they did not speak English. We had lunch with them and had a blast getting to know them. After that we relaxed at the hotel. We then had a scavenger hunt while it was raining, but it was still fun. We had Oreo milkshakes at a cafe. They were called “fiestas” which was ironic because it was like a Costa Rican fiesta (party) in our mouths. We went back to the hotel, and we hung out a little bit and some of us showered before dinner. Dinner was rice, beans, chicken, plantain chips, and a potato salad. After we ate, we played a game where we threw around a ball and answered questions that were on the ball. We are currently the ANCHOR which is a leaderships role just for the day. Our job is to take care of everyone and make sure we are all prepared. 

Arrival at Last

We landed in San José at 20:30 last night and spent the night in a sweet little hostel called In&Basic. We left in a bus by 7:30 to avoid the taxi strike blocking up the traffic–uber is causing a stir in CR. We were driven safely through the Talamanca mountains to Santa Maria de Dota and the Cabinas Cecilia, which are beautiful –full of Cecilia’s artwork. We have already played games, met the students of San Rafael School, and had lunch with homestay families.  We’re taking a quick rest and then doing a scavenger hunt in town. There was sun this morning, but now we are enjoying light rain and a fresh breeze that carries the bird and frog songs.

From now on, students will be writing the blogs.