Going in to the volunteer program GLA proposed, my goal was to do the things I love –  travel and volunteer. Plus, I won’t lie; I was excited for the horseback-riding, snorkeling, and zip-lining that came with the program. At first, I know I was hesitant on choosing GLA because I worried that they might focus more on me and the volunteers than on the community that we purposely aimed to help. As I go throughout the program, I knew that GLA was doing the right thing and that I chose the right program.

We did multiple things that really changed my perspective and helped me grasp the reality of environmental problems that Earth is currently facing. One of them is when we participated in a research within the community regarding monoculture and cross-culture agriculture. In Rancho Quemado, a more or less 70 year old rural town with approx. 200 of population, agriculture is a huge part of their livelihood. We planted potato-like roots called yukas and we planted Laurel trees. It was explained to us is that the purpose of the study is to find a way to grow crops efficiently and faster; for them to study the pros and cons of each agricultural practice whether it may be the effect on wildlife shelter or the breeding of the plants. In my understanding, monoculture is where only a specific single species of crop is planted in a certain amount of field. And for the cross-culture, that’s when multiple species of crops are planted in the field which makes growing multiple crops at the same amount of time made possible without the need of occupying more and more space.

I’ve grown an admiration for studies like this. I never really thought about beneficial researches like that prior to my trip. It opened my eyes on the fact that the population keeps growing over the years but the Earth could only provide so much food and space for us. It’s relieving to know that there are a lot of people are taking action on issues as such but also, it made me curious on what I, myself, can do in able to help.

For our main service, our group installed water filters in the homes of the locals. As i’ve said, agriculture is a big thing for them. Each and every homes have their very own farm in their back yard. The purpose of the water filters we installed was for them to be able recycle the water they use from dishwashing, bath, and/or laundry directly to the roots of their crops. Gray water is very beneficial to crops as they can be used as fertilizers. Their backyard farms are a source of their food, income, and even shelter for wildlife. There’s a saying in Costa Rica, “pura vida.” In my short stay in Costa Rica, I have come to know the true meaning of Pura Vida. It’s simply their way of life. “Live Pure.” Ticos (Costa Ricans) have this deep appreciation for nature. That for me, is the main reason why they live pure. They make use of the nature around them without abusing it. From food, medicine, art, and housing, they make use of the nature from their backyard or their surrounding to get these. They live organic, simple, and one with the nature. The town i was staying in, absolutely had zero wifi. They make use of their free time by playing soccer in the plaza and even just simply relaxing in a hammock outside their homes, conversing and spending time with their family and friends.

During my trip to Costa Rica, i’ve come to know that most of the community members rely on eco-tourism for their income. The man handling the sugar is named Johnny. I was very inspired on his passion for sugar milling. He told us the story of his family and the sugar mill that they own. He also expressed his gratitude and told us he enjoyed sharing his story and that he doesn’t really mind money. The people who take their time to share things like these to us are paid by GLA but Johnny expressed to us that he doesn’t really mind that. He just wanted to inspire young people like us and hopefully take his story with us back to the US to further inspire other people. I admired his genuine intention.

I realized that it doesn’t really matter what background you came from. It doesn’t matter if you’re from US living a suburban life, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Costa Rica living a simple life milling sugar canes, it doesn’t matter if you live in a big house in by the beach. I’ve also met a lot of people in my trip who come from different race, religion, class, culture. All of that didn’t matter because we were all there as one with the same purpose: to inspire and make the world a better place.

Even Johnny, who lives all the way in a small town in Costa Rica milling sugar canes does his part in the world on becoming part of the solution and not the problem. He inspires people. He shares his story. He does his part for the environment. That’s beautiful.

One of the goals of my trip is to give more than you can take. Our stay at Rancho Quemado, the local food we eat, our accommodation, the souvenirs we bought from, helped them through eco-tourism. We built a trail in the rainforest for the use of other tourists and wildlife trackers. We started planting a rainforest that emphasizes on sensory effect within the community for the disabled whom wishes to experience and appreciate the rainforest without traveling too far. We built grey water filters so that the community could reuse water for their crops. All the service we did was based upon their needs that needed to be addressed with the help of us volunteers. All the service we did benefits them long-term and i couldn’t be more glad to help the sustainability of the community and the environment all together. I have also come to understand how important eco-tourism is. Their town might be rich of biodiversity and trees but they can’t make use of these since that’s a whole part of environmental conservation. Illegal logging, poaching, mining are prohibited. So instead of disobeying the law, the town found a way to make use of these wonders as a source of income through participating as wildlife trackers. They also plant more trees that not only contributes to their life but also to mother nature and the wildlife shelters. They make use of their knowledge on wildlife, plants, and nature on educating people like us on environmental conservation. They found a way that both nature and humans synchronize and work together without harming one another. They made these possible and I believe that rest of world could do the same.

Going back to my point on giving more than what you take. I’ve learned sooooo much in this trip. Not only from the community, the group that I traveled with, but also i’ve learned so much about myself that I never knew that was in me. I faced my fears, went out of my comfort zone, i interacted with people from different backgrounds. This whole trip changed me for the better. Helped me improve my perspective on issues, on nature, on people, and in life in general. And for that, I am beyond thankful for this experience. It help me straighten out what I really want to do in life, it helped me understand things and situation, it made me believe more on myself and in humanity. This experience is just priceless and I know for sure that i took home so much from this trip that I could carry with me for a lifetime. Thank you, Michelle, Todd, the whole Live Like Ally Team, for the love and support. I also want to thank Ally of course. All throughout the trip, I was telling my group about Ally’s story and how beautiful of a person she is. Truly, her memory endures with the actions of people she have inspired like me and the rest of Ally’s Allies.

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