When Peace Corps volunteers arrive in their host country, the first 3 months are spent in pre-service training. Every program and country is different but the training includes Peace Corps and program specific classes, safety, language, and cultural training. Usually, volunteers spend these first months living with a host family to ease the integration process and make moving to site somewhat easier. The training in general is kind of like taking the dip-the-toe-in-the-water-first approach to swimming but the twist is after you put your toe in you head straight to the deep end all by yourself. No noodle or nothin’.
The most helpful and relevant thing (en mi opinión) that we did during training was Tech Week. Halfway through training we were sent in groups to visit a current serving volunteer and experience the real deal. On the ground. Hands in the dirt. Experiencing the corps to the core.
For Tech Week, my group went to Puerto Jiménez in the Osa Peninsula to visit a married couple that was nearing the end of their service. Puerto Jiménez is huge in comparison to the majority of other Peace Corps sites in Costa Rica. The population is around 3,000 and because of all the different tourism activities, fairly developed.
During Tech Week, we met with small business owners and artisans, taught English and job skills classes in the local school (Wait…in Spanish? We asked. Yes, in Spanish.) and got to charlar (chat) with our volunteer hosts all about their experiences.
Minus the 24-hour low-point of catching the flu in the sweltering heat when the power went out while staying in a house with a family I didn’t know at all, I loved Tech Week was because it was the first time we got to get down and dirty with some real community economic development work. And, learn more about the challenges that youth and entrepreneurs in Costa Rica are facing today.
One afternoon, we met with an artisan who needed help creating labels for her recycled jewelry. Her jewelry was incredible; made from feathers, seashells, bamboo, dried flowers, and even fish scales (they didn’t even smell bad). This woman had some serious skills and imagination. But, she didn’t have a computer and she never had any technological training so she was limited in what she could do in terms of marketing her product and managing her business with a computer. During our session with her, we brought a computer and helped her set up some simple labels. She picked the fonts, the words, and the design while we guided her through the process. We then helped her email them to a local shop where she could go and print them. Even though it was a small, short-term project, it was rewarding to help her design a tool to beautify and market her products. Like Peace Corps says, celebrate the small successes!
After creating the labels, we finished the day strong with a game of fútbol.
And the next day, “reflection time” at the beach.
Puerto Jiménez, and the Osa Peninsula in general, is one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica and has enough biodiversity to blow your socks off. National Geographic named it “the most biologically intense place on earth” since it includes 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity of the entire world in less than a thousandth of a percent of its total surface area. Whoa!
I didn’t get the opportunity to see all of the amazing flora and fauna that the Osa Peninsula has to offer (I saw Scarlet Macaws!), but we did spent a day at a beach called Playa Plantarenas. The beach is gorgeous, spacious, and totally isolated and probably one of the few beaches in Costa Rica that hasn’t been taken over by tourism. We also spent a day in La Palma, a small town near Gulf of Dulce with nice beaches and a laid-back vibe.
Since my site, Fila Naranjo, is only 3-4 hours away from the Osa Peninsula I will definitely be returning to go to Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica’s largest national park which houses 13 major ecosystems all in one place! Tons of animals. Tons of nature. Tons of fun.
If you find yourself in the Osa Peninsula, prepare yo’self for some hot hot hot and humid weather.