Community Service Impact in Costa Rica: By the Numbers
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Community Service Impact in Costa Rica: By the Numbers

The impact that Rustic Pathways students make during the nine weeks of summer is sometimes hard to quantify. There are concrete accomplishments that can be seen when projects are completed. However, there are also friendships and cultural exchanges that can’t be counted.

Still, our country teams try to give a picture of the summer’s success. They keep track of some numbers and are working on ways to better measure achievements.

Each year our teams start by working with local communities to pick and plan projects. Often these projects are at the same site where improvements to a school or community center occur across a period of a few years.

Once a plan is made, then the team uses program fees to get the supplies needed. They also ensure local experts are ready to lead the efforts. When the students arrive, everybody is set to hit the ground running. After the summer is over, the community leaders tie up loose ends.

Here’s how things worked out in the summer of 2022, along with some ideas of what’s expected in 2023:

Total number of student volunteer hours in 2022: 13,464

These hours occurred across six programs. The Turtle Conservation Project and Pura Vida Service program had the most student time with more than 4,000 hours each. These hours were divided across more students than some of the other programs, but regardless the tasks accomplished in these two programs were widespread.

For 2023, Rustic has increased the number of program sessions available in Costa Rica to more than 40. That increase may push the volunteer hour total to more than 17,000 hours, making the completion of larger projects possible.

Most money invested

The Surf and Service projects needed the most funding from program fees. The building of a new storeroom for Matapalo Elementary School required quite a number of supplies, including the cement and chicken wire the students used to create a foundation.

Turtle Conservation Project: Eggs collected – 6685

This staggering number shows how busy the students were saving endangered and threatened turtles. They collect the eggs to prevent poachers from stealing them.

The time period when the most eggs were collected was from July 19-August 3. Students in a high school and a college session during this period were fortunate that many mother turtles came to shore. These students collected 1,222 eggs. The full moon at the end of July likely helped!

The number of baby turtles that were released from the hatchery is still being calculated, but we are sure the number is just as impressive.

Service Areas:

The service projects benefited communities across the country. Here are the places where Rustic Pathways students made an impact:

Costa Rica Program Map Courtesy of Felipe Hernandez

Map Courtesy of Felipe Hernandez

Projects completed

All the projects were completed as planned and next year add-ons to these efforts are in the works. Here are the highlights:

Surf and Service

As mentioned above, the students and local staff completed a new storeroom for a primary school. The structure was needed because the school was repeatedly being broken into. Now the secure storage building is keeping items for the kids safe.

In 2021 Rustic students installed a tile floor in the school, and in 2023 it’s expected that students will work on changing rooms for the kids. These initiatives are important for the local community since educational institutions in Costa Rica do not get much government funding.

In addition to this project, the students also helped spruce up a local vegetable garden. 2022 traveler Esther Ceballo Ortiz found these projects helped solidify her desire to give back in the future.

“I think the program changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed to change,” Esther said. “I learned things I didn’t know I needed to learn. I look at the world differently now. I feel like my goals for life are different now.”

Pura Vida Service

In this program, the students completed a new biojardinera or storage shed at Arenal National Park. The shed is designed to hold equipment for the park rangers. They also completed a water filtration project at the park.

Elsewhere in the community, the teens tackled many projects at the La Altura Community Center and Linda Vista Elementary School including installing a sidewalk and painting.

2022 traveler Ella Russell said she loved the service parts of the program, particularly working on a wall at the community center.

“We were always busy. We were always helping, and we made a lot of progress with the wall which was amazing to see,” Ella said. “I also got really dirty, so that was fun!”

Heart of the Jungle

Students in this program completed a storage room for a community youth center in Uvita. The room will be used to store donations, medical goods and emergency supplies.

The year before Rustic students helped build and refurbish a library at the community center. 2021 traveler Ella Richter says watching children playing soccer in the area encouraged her to work harder on the facility that benefits local kids.

“The hours we spent with our peers and local members of the community have left a positive impact that I know will benefit those children. The work we did at the library will always have a special place in my heart,” Ella said.

Turtle Conservation Project

As mentioned above, the students collected eggs and released baby turtles. They also cleaned up the beach to allow mother turtles space to lay eggs. Plus, the students built a new hatchery for the eggs.

The beach cleanup turned out to be particularly meaningful for students as they saw why there was a need to remove trash and other debris.

“We had just cleaned up wood and the twigs, and then a turtle laid their eggs there that night. So I could see that we were making a difference,” 2022 traveler Candace Leovao said.

Summer Camp Leadership

Students organized and led a weeklong summer camp for local children in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. This is a prized camp for the kids, who are awarded a spot by their school principals.

2013 traveler DeAndra Forde says the service program offered many opportunities for her that she hopes other teens can take advantage of in the future.

“Students can learn about various environmental conservation initiatives, develop and strengthen language skills, find their leadership styles, and more, all while exploring and learning about a new culture and country,” DeAndra said.

Soccer and Service

The students repaired the community soccer field in Turrialba. Tasks they completed during this program for high school athletes included painting the goals and anchoring them in the ground.

2013 traveler Quinn Bissetta said her program centered on several painting projects at local facilities that gave her the opportunity to meet many local community members.

“The service work was incredibly meaningful. Our group painted schools, orphanages, and clinics. My favorite part of the service work was interacting with the community members. It didn’t matter to them that I wasn’t from their community, like my host family, they treated me like family,” Quinn said.

UN Sustainable Goals

Overall, the programs are designed to focus on several internationally-recognized objectives. Among the United Nations goals addressed were: no poverty, quality education, reduced inequalities, and life below water.

To view more details on this mission, please visit our page detailing the Rustic students’ global impact. To see more details on these programs, please visit our Costa Rica page.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.