Volunteering (Shadowing) in Brasilito, Costa Rica

The program I’m a volunteer with in Costa Rica is based in Playa Potrero where I currently am living. The primary goal is to provide English lessons to the town’s residents. It is important for them to learn so they can eventually be bilingual and therefore, more marketable. Currently, workers from other areas of Costa Rica are able to get jobs here on the coast because of their English-speaking skills. Hopefully, this will change and the residents will have a chance at these open positions.

Nine months ago, a neighboring branch of the program was opened in nearby Playa Brasilito. I am working there and being trained by the 24-year old Lead Teacher as she is leaving at the end of this month. In order to learn the ropes from her, I am assisting as a Classroom Aide. She takes the classroom environment very seriously as well as our current “job” titles. It’s kinda like what I imagine working in an ER would be like, only with art supplies instead of bandages and IVs. She makes extremely urgent requests for pens, markers and puzzles and often reminds me who is the teacher and who is not, in case I forgot for a second. Luckily, I spend the majority of my time here shadowing her so it’s been a great introduction to high-pressure, intense volunteering. I really feel like each and every Crayola matters.

volunteering in costa rica

My Daily Schedule:

6:30. Awake to the harmonious howling of howler monkeys. They seriously sound like gorillas.

9:00. Lesson Planning in the Office – this involves working off the provided curriculum with the Lead Teacher and planning an interactive activity to teach the kids a few select English words.

11:00. Gather Necessary Supplies for Day’s Lesson – such as getting coconuts from the beach and macheteing them in half, building a volcano from plastic grocery bags, coloring noodles for noodle necklaces, printing worksheets, etc.

1:30. Bus from Potrero to Brasilito – lunch is always skipped because arts and crafts are very serious and there can be no distractions. Once all supplies are ready, the Lead Teacher and I catch a bus to Brasilito. The “scheduled” bus arrival time is 1:30 but this varies by mas o menos one hour.

2:15. Arrive in Brasilito and set up classroom. Children are allowed to use computers and check out a basketball. We also play games with them, according to the Lead Teacher’s direction.

3:15. Materno Class – ages 3 to 6

4:15. 2-6 Class – ages 7 to 12

5:00. Clean up Classroom

5:30. Bus from Brasilito to Potrero

6:15. Return to Office to pick-up bike

6:30. Blind-biking back to my apt on a pitch dark dirt road. Always an adventure!

volunteer costa rica

Many hours of preparation go into each class everyday in hopes that the select English words will stick and the students will remember them. Lessons are tailored to each age group but often end up being altered. Attendance is variable and inconsistent so often times there will be older kids in the younger class and vice versa, depending on what time the kids show up, if at all. Some days there will be 20 kids and others just 1. Even though working as the Classroom Assistant to an extremely passionate Lead Teacher has been a bit of a challenge, the kids are all super cute and fun to play with. How much English they are retaining is another issue but at least they have some added structure in their day and a creative outlet.

When I first started working in Playa Brasilito, which boasts one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Costa Rica according to my Lonely Planet guidebook (see above), many of the other volunteers here kept telling me it was very “different” from Potrero. At first, I couldn’t see what this difference was at all. It seemed like another sleepy beach town without much to do. But I’ve picked up a few fun facts about Brasilito over the past few weeks which have made me clearly see the “difference” from the small town I’m living in:

  • The public school building in Brasilito has been condemned and is no longer usable after an earthquake that happened right before I arrived. (side note: there are earthquakes here regularly. I felt my first one last night! They’re a little freaky, not going to lie)
  • School now takes place in the one-room building our program uses for classes:
  • However, as unfortunate as this sounds, many local people consider this a good thing because the condemned building was located in the center of Brasilito which is also where all the bad things in town happen, such as drug trafficking and prostitution.
  • Brasilito has more drug-trafficking than any other town on the western coast of Costa Rica. It is a pit stop for drugs on their way to Mexico and the US from South America.
  • Human-trafficking, especially of children, is also a rampant problem in this area. Along with the drug people, they have a super tight network which is hard for the policia to crack.
  • And finally, Brasilito has a reputation of being a town for those who are “wanted by the government, unwanted by their families” – a.k.a. criminals.

Needless to say, Brasilito doesn’t have the same “community” feel that Potrero does. Some of the kids in our classes are just on their own all day with no supervision. They go to public school in the morning and then hang out and maybe come to one of our classes, but only if they’re under the age of 13.

volunteer costa rica

At 13, kids can go to high school here but most of them do not. The high school is far away and apparently, but not shockingly, is a very bad environment as far as drugs, etc. I’ve asked a few times what kids do if they don’t go to high school? The various answers I’ve gotten are:

  1. Hang out
  2. Go to the beach
  3. Skateboard
  4. Drugs

The average citizen in this area has a 6th grade education, and not the best one at that. The problem here with these kids is quite different from what I witnessed in Peru. These kids have their basic needs met and are clothed and fed and relatively healthy. The issue here is boredom and lack of education. Since public school isn’t on a strict schedule, the kids aren’t used to regularly attending…anything. So even the classes the program I’m working for offers has spotty attendance at best and they end up being more of Arts-and-Crafts-time than learning-English-time. But it issomething and is definitely a step in the right direction. The primary issue in Brasilito, in my opinion, are the “adult” issues, like the trafficking of drugs and humans as well as the runaway criminals hiding out. All of which are quite troublesome and as intense as my Lead Teacher is about noodle necklaces. These issues are also way over my head so I will continue to assist with craft time and hope that more attention is brought to this area and its problems by those who can make a difference, like the policia and the Costa Rican government

But I certainly have a whole new appreciation for my family and friends who are teachers. It is definitely not an easy job and I have an even deeper respect for what you do.