As I graduated high school, I anticipated another summer of scooping ice cream and going to the beach. Although that is how I will be spending the majority of my summer, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Costa Rica volunteering at Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center.
I originally found out about Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center online. I stalked their Facebook page a bit and fell in love with the animals they posted about. As a sloth lover, this place seemed like my dream come true. And yet, it felt like a place far, far away that I would never get to. That is, until I did my research.
Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center hosts volunteers year-round. For a daily fee, you can stay at the center and be a volunteer. I submitted my application and booked my flight for June.
It was my first time traveling alone. I was nervous as I boarded the plane. I was thinking about how far away I’d be from home. I triple checked that my flight was heading to San Jose, Costa Rica and not San Jose, California. That would’ve been unfortunate.
Days at the rescue center were structured and routine, yet I was never bored. Waking up consisted of a fight with my mosquito net before lacing up my hiking boots and heading to breakfast. As someone who eats completely plant-based, I was accommodated very well. I even ate Costa Rican food that I never tried before. Plantains? Nothing like bananas. But, they’re great!
Daily tasks included cleaning the enclosures, feeding the animals and providing enrichment. I thought that I was going there to help the animals. I did not realize until I got there, that helping the animals would help me. Every morning, we were asked the same question, “Why are you here?” Everyone responded in unison, “Because the animals need me!”
It’s true. The animals needed me and they need us. The satisfaction I felt every day after hours of work was indescribable. Waking up every morning to another set of tasks meant challenging myself to make even more of a difference. Without volunteers to care for the animals, all of the work falls on the small staff, who already do so much.
Sarita Chinchilla is the volunteer coordinator at Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center. Her title doesn’t begin to describe the endless effort and energy she puts into the Rescue Center. She is the glue that holds the place together. Sarita leads daily meetings filled with energy, wisdom and inspiration. Every day she promotes a different message reminding volunteers of their immeasurable value.
The Spanish phrase, “Aqui y ahora,” translates to “here and now” in English. This phrase was introduced to me at the center as a tattoo on my friend’s rib cage. This quote sums up how I was feeling while in Costa Rica. I was inspired by everything around me. I spent every day focused on where I was and what I was doing. I let go of all care for superficial things I’d typically get caught up in. I didn’t look in a mirror for an entire week. I checked social media rather infrequently, swapping out my Instagram for a journal and a camera that wasn’t attached to my iPhone.
I was present with the people around me — people I had never met before, and people that I will probably never meet again. They were from places very far from New York. England, Denmark, Scotland, Barcelona, Monaco and Mexico were some of the places my new friends called home. We played card games and told stories, getting to know each other rather quickly. It was sad to leave these new people behind. Even though I only knew them for a week, it felt like some of the friends I made there I had known for a lifetime.
If you, too, have a craving adventure, new experiences and meaning, definitely check out Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center. It is truly a safe haven for wildlife that relies on help from people willing to give it. Any volunteer can make a lasting impact. Just as you will influence the lives at the Rescue Center, the Rescue Center will influence your life, too. I know it heavily influenced mine.
Lead Image Credit: Lindsay Mosca