Peace Corp Journey

Thank you for following me on my Peace Corps journey to Niger Africa. I appreciate the abundance of support and well wishes and hope to share with you a little piece of my dream. Join me on my 2 yr adventure as I show you a whole new world!

Please be aware that all the views and opinions on this blog do not reflect the Peace Corps or the United States Government and are my perosnal memoirs

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Keep on Trucking!!!!


I know I wait so long between posts but time is truly flying! I can’t believe that in 8 months I will be back in New York, but I have truly missed home and all my friends & family.  In the meantime there is still much work left to be done.  The past couple months have been a little bit crazy (in terms of the slow lifestyle I have adapted to lol).  Since my last post I’ve had a couple salient events that have been a set back in my project plans but have managed to motivate me even more.  After my camp in July I took my own vacation to Barbados to see my mommy!!!! And that was wonderful, I was also able to spend time with my best friend, uncle, cousins, & other friends and family that were able to come out.  I realized at the end of my vacation how much I have grown since I last saw my mom & friends.  My first vacation it was so hard for me to come back and leaving my mom and watching everyone resume their lives was a difficult process for me.  This time I came back to Costa Rica and  when I arrived in my apartment I actually felt like I came back “home'”.  It was nice to feel like I am truly integrated in my community and can call Matina another home.   At the same time I came back to madness lol. 

Two days after I left for vacation there was a major flood in my town.  Many people lost there homes & property and 6 people lost their lives.  Since I was out of town, I heard of the flood via Facebook, and immediately called one of my friends in town to find out the what happened.  Due to heavy rains & storms, the river flooded and the dam, which was built many years ago, broke at several points and flooded the town.  This flood was apparently one the worst floods in the history of Matina.  Initially I feared my apartment was flooded and all belongings were floating around in water and mud.  Thankfully my apartment is a bit elevated and the water did not enter into my home.  When I returned to my community after vacation I was very saddened and my heart heavy to see the damages that occurred and to hear what people went through.  The flood also affected my work. My community partners who were helping to coordinate the ALA camp had to pull out at the last minute due to their own personal issues that resulted from the flood. The Matina river runs directly in front of the high school therefore it received a great deal of damage as well.  Classrooms were ruined, school materials were lost (desks, chairs, computers, books) the basketball court, as well as some of the materials I brought from the grant we received to repair the court.

At first I felt so overwhelmed about what to do but was encouraged by the heart and positivity of my community members.  As soon as I came back my ADI (Community Association) approached me and said no matter what we were going to finish this project and that was all I needed to hear.  Before the flood they planned a Bingo to raise money to pay for the manual labor, I thought they would cancel; instead they decided to reschedule and it was such a success.  I never felt more proud of my town then in that moment.  We worked together and were able to raise 3/4 of the funds needed for the manual labor!  We used the funds raised and the rest of the grant money that was meant to buy the backboard and hoops to buy some of the materials lost in the flood so that we could start  to work on the court.  I am so thankful that were were able to at least repair the main infrastructure because on Sept. 5th there was a 7.9 earthquake.  If we had not done the little bit of work we did before this earthquake the whole court would have collapsed.  Although we started the repairs we are not able to finish without buying the rest of the materials needed.  Since many people are still trying to recoup from the flood fundraising within my town is very difficult.  Therefore our best chance is donations.  This is where you come in!!! Below I have posted a link with the address to the Peace Corps website where you can donate to my project.  I have also put together pictures and a video of the flood. 

I know I mentioned the earthquake like it was nothing but it was one the most frightening moments of my life. I was sleeping and violently shaken out of my bed because my apartment was swaying back and forth!  Thankful once again to the big guy above that there were no damages and everyone was safe.

Needless to say there were some big events that went down in these last 2 months.  Yet I am still going, moving forward with positivity and motivation that we will get things done.  Every moment has been a blessing and the trials a test and I will not fail. I  am still planning on doing my ALA camp but I have decide to change the venue and work with the new Peace Corps volunteers in my area to make it bigger and better!  Big thanks to all my supporters, friends, and family for being such a huge encouragement. 

(UPDATE: As I was about to post this blog and put in the link to for donations I found out my project has been fully funded.  Since I posted the link 3 days ago on Facebook, friends and family have already donated all the funds needed, allowing me to reach my goal!!!! So happy )

Till next time, Abrazos Smile



The entrance of the high school/ all the chairs and desks that were destroyed


The basketball court


A houses that were destroyed


Inside my friend’s home/ A visitor from the flood water


The main road (It was just newly paved about 9 months ago)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On My Grind!

I know it has been awhile therefore I was determined to get this post out tonight, while everything is still fresh in my mind.  Since my last post I have been quite busy to my own surprise.  In May I finished up my MST (Mid-Service Training) for Peace Corps and left feeling motivated and full of ideas.  MST is just a training where you get together with fellow volunteers from your training group to share ideas & projects that you have been working on.  Seeing projects that other volunteers are working on in their communities gave me lots of ideas of possible projects I could do within my community.  So since May I have added a couple of projects to my work plan which includes 2 camps, 1 which I just finished up this past week, and  starting a recycling program within the elementary school.

This past Friday was the last day of a week long Art, Sports, & Recreation day camp that I planned and coordinated.  The camp was for children between the ages of 6-13, and consisted of 2 days of Art & Crafts activities and 3 days of Sports & Recreation.  For the the arts portion of the camp we did animal bean bags, pipe cleaners rings & flowers, god's eye lanyard, rock painting, coloring, drawing & origami.  The sports activities included ultimate Frisbee, volleyball & soccer along which recreational games such as amoeba tag, water balloon fights, dragon race, & other games.  In retrospect it was a great experience and I am proud of myself for doing it but I will NEVER do it again lol.  I personally put a lot of work into planning this camp from choosing the art activities, soliciting volunteers from the local high school, putting together fliers, buying materials, to going around to every single class at both elementary schools to announce to the camp.  Initially I gave out permission  slips and asked they be signed & returned before the start of the camp but I knew that getting them back was going to be like pulling teeth.  This made it difficult to plan how many students would be participating but I decided not to stress and see how many came.  I had 8 volunteers from the local high school helping me out as camp counselors for their required community service.  Although they were supposed to be my support sometimes they drove me more crazy than the little kids.  The first day of camp I arrived at the local library expecting 50 kids to show up!  I was a bit ambitious and found myself disappointed when only 11 came.  This sentiment quickly faded though when I saw the kids doing there art projects and having fun.  In the end I had an average of 20 kids for the week and in my eyes the camp was a success.  The kids that came enjoyed themselves and had something fun to do during their school break .  

Now that I have 1 camp done I am in the process of applying for a grant to fund materials for another camp in October.  This camp will be for older youth between 15-22 yrs old and will focus on environmental education.  The program is called ALA and consist of 5 workshops with a concentration on environmental themes such as water, soil & climate.  The youth participating in the camp will have to create a multimedia project that centers on at least 1 of themes from the workshops.  Afterwards they will participate in camping trip to the shores of Matina where they will take part in another series of workshops and activities that focus on reforestation & cleaning the beach.  I will be coordinating and facilitating the activities of this program with local eco-tourism group.  I am still in the early planning stages and hopefully the project will be a success.  If I am able to obtain the funds it will be used to buy materials such as tents and food since the area will the camp will be is not equipped with electricity or lodging.  

So these are a couple a new projects that I am working on as well as my current projects (English class, volleyball teams, building 2 courts).  I wanted to make a point of focusing on my work in this blog entry because sometimes its hard for me to explain what I do.  I have been at my site for over a year now and there are some people who I see everyday and they still don't understand what my job is or what is my purpose in the community.  One thing I can appreciate about being a volunteer is that I don't have a conventional "job".  My time here and the work I do is whatever I make of it.  It is not often you have the opportunity to have the freedom to design and implement your own projects, your own ideas & concepts.  And  for me it is  so rewarding seeing them become a reality.  Obviously I cant do everything alone and my community has been very supportive as well as friends & family back home, and for that I am grateful.  As I begin my countdown, (10 months left!) I hope that when my time is up I have achieved the goals that I set and in the process build lasting impactful relationships that will create memories well beyond my years.  

That's all for now, Below is a link for some pics.  Thanks for reading :-)

Picasa Album (Work)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Long Time Coming….


Ok, so I know an update has been long overdue but in my defense I didn’t have much to write during the holidays and then all of a sudden I got so busy I didn’t have time to write.  Sad excuse but here I am full of news. Smile

Since my last entry ended with the arrival my mother I will start there.  My mom came to visit me in November and I was so excited to see her and made sure we had plenty to do for the week she was here.  She was a real trooper and took the 4 hr bus rides to Manuel Antonio, where we visited the National Park.  The park is filled with many animals and reptiles including white face monkeys, raccoons, frogs, and snakes that live in Costa Rica and also has 3 beaches which we took advantage of.   I was also able to show her my site here in Matina, Limon so she got a first hand view of my daily life in Costa Rica.  Afterwards we both headed to out to the states and visited the West Coast.  It was my first time on the West Coast and I had a ball.  But like all things in life my wonderful vacation had come to an end and it was time to head back to CR.

When I first got back after vacation I found it very difficult to readjust.  Since December & January is “summertime”, school was about to be finished for the year, which meant not a lot of work for me to do.  Plus most of teachers that work in the school, who also became my friends, don’t live in my town I began to feel a little lonely.  Most of my fellow PCV were starting their vacation and were out of the country so the holiday season became a little depressing but dark clouds do pass and I found the bright side of all that free time; playing dominoes with my neighbors!  This was very helpful to my integration and really gave me a chance to learn about my community as well as giving them the opportunity to learn more about me. 

With the new  year beginning I felt motivated and ready to start on projects so I hit the ground running and it paid off.  I started working with the president of my local Community Development Association and put together a proposal to fix the recreational area located within the local high school.  While working with the kids in my English class I discovered their interest in learning and playing other sports other than soccer but due to the lack of recreational areas, youth within my community were left with minimal options.  So I decided to start with the local learning institutions by create a basketball and volleyball team for students.  Since the high school already had the basic infrastructure of a court that was previously built, but in very bad condition due to damages from a flood several years ago, I chose to start there .   So in February I applied for a grant from a organization called World Connect to pay for the materials needed to reconstruct the court and turn it into a multiuse court for basketball, volleyball & soccer.  Last week I found out my project was fully funded!  I am very excited about this project and working with my community to get the manual labor to begin reconstructing the court. 

As part of my project I am working with the Physical Ed teachers to create a basketball and volleyball team.  Initially I was seeking more of a partnership with the teachers but quickly found out they expected me to do the lessons on my own and would support me by providing equipment and a group of students to work with.  Thank god for Youtube which I have been using a guide to learn and teach volleyball.   My goal is to have a semi-official team by August/Sept. of this year.  I am also working with a group of girls at the local elementary school since I plan to have a court built there as well. Unlike the high school the elementary school does not have a current court and it would need to be built from scratch.  I have already put together a grant proposal from a program called Courts 4 Kids and I am working on finding other financial resources to aid in building an Olympic size multiuse court.  If would like to support my project please check out the Courts 4 Kids  website.

This month also marks my one year anniversary in my site and I cant believe time has passed so quickly.  I can truly say that I am enjoying my time here and really enthusiastic about the work I am doing.  Having the opportunity to create my own programs and watch them come to life is a very gratifying experience.  I will put up a separate blog with some photos.  I promise to update again soon and not wait such a long time between blogs.  Thanks for following me & all the support Smile.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's Going On, Tell Me What's Going On…


This past October marked one year since I started this Peace Corps adventure so its only fitting I post a blog in remembrance of my one year anniversary.  So far I have traveled through 3 different continents, 4 different countries, learned 2 different languages, went through 2 different trainings and moved a total of 6 times; what a year it has been!  The last move being into my very own place Winking smile  Unfortunately my last host family did not work out due to sexual harassment by my host “dad”.  Fortunately Peace Corps was very supportive and understanding and quickly had me removed from the home.  I found a small studio apartment about 3 blocks away that is just perfect for me.  There were some difficulties at first, like getting my landlord to fix the huge hole in my front door, but it seems a frantic crying gringa gets people moving!  After finally getting my door fixed my internet USB which allows me to have internet in my apartment stopped working; actually it’s the monopolized governmental phone company ICE.  Seems there is something wrong with one of the towers only in my town, so I can access internet everywhere except in my community. Ok, I finished my rant Open-mouthed smile.  Although things have been a bit of an emotional and stressful rollercoaster for me I am still grateful for the opportunity and know that there are many more great things to come. 

Life on my has taken some getting used to but I can honestly say I am enjoying it for the most part.   Although I lived pretty much on my own while in NY, it is still a different experience especially cooking every meal for myself.   At times I miss the  convenience  of take out and  a microwave but in a country bountiful in fresh fruits and vegetables I am kind of like cooking all my meals.

Other that adjusting to life on my own “work” has been changing as well.  This week marks the last day of my English class which has gone through quite a transformation.  I started out with 2 classes, about 15- 20 ppl in each class and in the end I have 1 class with about 3 faithful students!  Looking back and seeing how over 100 ppl signed up and in the end only few stuck it out to el fin, lets just say that was a learning experience for me as well.  It was my first project and I am happy I did it, other than getting the opportunity to teach  it also helped me to get to know people within the community. So even if people don’t know my name, it still brings a smile to my face to hear people call me “teacher, teacher”.  My next couple of projects I hope to get of the ground is my dance class (hip hop por paz/hip hop for peace), a world map mural painted on the wall of one of the elementary schools and the big one, a grant to build a playground.

Well I leave it at that for now before I start to ramble on.   I am looking forward to the next couple of weeks since I will be on vacation.  My lovely mother will be visiting me here in Coasta Rica and then off to the West Coast for Thanksgiving.  Since I will probably not write again until after that Happy Halloween and Happy Thanksgiving to all.  I hope you are keeping warm out there, cause its still hot over here Smile with tongue out lol.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life As I Know It


So it has been awhile since my last blog and this is mainly due to the fact that I have actually been quite busy….in a Tica sense.  Smile   The 15th of this month marks my 4th month of being at site, almost 7 months being in Costa Rica and about a year of being in Peace Corps in general, so looking back I can say time has been flying by.  Last week I finished my 2 week training called IST, which is given to all volunteers after their 3 months in site.  I have to say it was an emotional, exciting, boring, and educational experience all in one but I am very proud of myself to have reached this point in my service.  Before I go into IST, I want to talk about what’s been going on in Matina for the last 3 months. 

Since my last blog I was preparing to teach my first English class for adults and kids, and after about 2 months of teaching I can honestly say it has been quite an experience… for me.  My adult class I consider to be successful and still going strong with about 15 students who attend regularly.  Attendance has dwindled since the first class when about 30 students came but I think it has worked out for the best since a class of 15 is much easier to handle than a class of 30.  I usually make up my own lesson plans using various ESL workbooks, and a other resources that I have gotten from Peace Corps.  So far I see great progress although its difficult to get them talking a lot they are generally excited about the class and learning.  My youth class on the other hand, let’s just say I am learning about patience and wondering if I have enough to work with kids.  My class started out with about 20-25 students and the last class I had about 4 students came (although that was one of the best classes I had).  I will say that this is partially my fault since I told the students that if they will not do work, and continue to come unprepared I would cancel the class which translated to the class is canceled.  I have come to terms with this and realize that this may be for the best.  There are many programs I would like to do in the future with the youth and I think by building individual relationships and learning about the things they would like to do will be better in terms of implementing long term successful programs. 

Other than my my classes I have been working with the social worker and psychologist (Interdisciplinario) in the elementary school doing different “tallers” or seminars.  I mostly work with the kids doing different educational games as an icebreaker before the sessions start.  The sessions are usually based on healthy living and lifestyles, topics such as hygiene, drug prevention, teamwork, and respecting others.  I also co-facilitate sessions with the Interdisciplinario aimed at parents of the students on different social topics such as domestic violence, child abuse and drug prevention. 

So I feel like I have been productive but at my own pace.  It’s a very different not having a set schedule and pretty much having to make up your work.  This experience is really what you make it, and I hope to make it real successful.  Going to IST has inspired me and now I am all pumped to plan projects with my community, start looking for grants,writing proposals and really get started on my work here.  IST is pretty much a Project Management and Design workshop that provides you with training and resources to begin different projects in your community.  And there are lots of things that you can do from environmental to social development.  It’s also a time where volunteers can all get together and hang out since everyone is located in different parts of the country there are rare occasions when we can all get together as a group.  Plus you can vent about your community and the hardships you may be going thru and for some there are serious problems.  For example some people live in very rural communities; My friend has 50 ppl in her community and has to walk and hour to get to the local bus.  I also used this time for a little vacation and visited one of my friend’s site in Puntarenas, where we spent time at the beach and slept in a tree house Winking smile.  As a volunteer I cant afford the type of typical vacations most people consider when coming to Costa Rica so my trips include staying at hostels,going to less touristy beaches, taking hikes to waterfalls, and swimming in rivers.  Pretty much the backpacker lifestyle, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

I feel like this blog was a bit boring and long but I just wanted to catch you up on my life as I know it.  So feel free to email, write or comment.  I posted some picks below of my town, my host mom’s grandkids, the local school and some the workshops I have been facilitating.  Till next time…..Tchau


My host mom and her grandkids


Festival at the school




The library where I teach classes & the Centro or center of town ( its  1 block)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Matina, Matina- Oh Limón


It has been 1 month and about 15 days and my new site and so far I am enjoying it.  It started off a little rocky, since I had to change host families 1 week after I arrived in Matina, but I will get back to that.  First I would like to describe my town, Matina.  As I mentioned before Matina is located in the province of Limon, which has a  very distinct culture that differs from the rest of Costa Rica.  I will briefly give a history lesson about Limon and Matina in general. 

Spanish settlement of Costa Rica came from the Pacific side of the country and given the mountainous barrier, dense forests and high rainfall between the Central Valley and the Caribbean colonists were faced with a real challenge. Due to this along with the resistance of the natives, establishing permanent settlements in the Caribbean region inevitably met with failure.  Matina was one of the very few exceptions due to the cacao farms which many merchants invested in.  Therefore a railroad was built in Matina and workers were purchased from Jamaica and other regions of the country.  This is all to explain the high population of blacks within the Limon region as well as the presence of Afro-Caribbean culture, which can be found in the food as well as the patawa accent of English spoken by many Limonesas.

This was very surprising to me since I was unaware of the history of Costa Rica and Limon in general.  Since I have family in the Caribbean and growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn this is a culture I am very familiar with and in a strange way I feel quite at home.  Speaking of home, I currently live with a new host family, unfortunately I had to leave my first host family Peace Corps chose for me and look for a new one after being in town for only a week.  That turned out to frustrating and nerve wrecking; imagine someone new moving into your town introducing themselves and asking to live with you in the same sentence.  Luckily I was able to find a new home and I am much more comfortable and happy.  I live with an older couple, no kids in the home and they are super sweet and treat me like family which I appreciate.  And my host mom cooks rice & beans, not Spanish style arroz com frijoles but Caribbean style peas and beans with fresh coconut milk and chili peppers.  Delicious!

I don’t want to make this entry too long so I will just quickly sum up what I am doing now.  Normally for your first 3 months volunteers do a diagnostic on your community, which involves doing interviews, gathering official data about the population, health, security and general attitudes of your community.  This information is then summarized and analyzed in order to plan future projects and programs for the community.  It also helps you get to know more people within in your community.  So far I have done a couple interviews but I have mainly been working in the elementary/junior high school, doing different sessions on recreational activities.  Most of the recreation in Matina is playing soccer so I have made it my goal to teach different sports and hopefully start like a basketball or tennis team.  A lot of people also want to learn English so I decided to start English classes for my community available to everyone 12 and older.  I wasn’t expecting over 100 people to sign up!  So I have got my hands full putting together lesson plans and worksheets for my new classes which will start today!  I am obviously not a teacher but Peace Corps offers many resources for volunteers interested in teaching English including official licensed classes.  Wish me luck though, this will be the first class I ever taught! 

I will end with an unforgettable moment I have already experienced in my community which always gives me a smile and motivates me.  I was walking to the supermarket from my old host home, and I was feeling a  down, and a little depressed like I wanted to give up and just go back home to the US.  This day happened to be when my old host mom told me she was going away in a week and I needed to find someplace else to live because I could not stay in her home.  Then all of a sudden I saw a group of kids coming from the school and they began to greet me by calling out “maestra maestra (teacher, teacher).”  They were on the way to an activity in the center of town but stopped and spoke to me with interest and awe, ask me when I was coming back to the school.  At that moment I thought despite my sadness I couldn’t leave, these kids are happy about me being here and there is soooo much that could be done and I want to do it.  So this is what motivates me in my town of Matina, despite my homesickness and bad days, I appreciate this amazing opportunity and the gratification that I get knowing that I am here helping people.

Till next time, feel free to email me and if you want to send anything my address is in my last blog. Thanks for all the support and I will write again to tell you how my classes are going. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

CR- Entrenamiento

In 2 weeks I will be finished training and swearing in as an official volunteer for the 2nd time. Obviously this time will be different in terms my dress and the actual ceremony (which maybe broadcasted live on television).  In the past 8 weeks I have created friendships and bonds with many people including my Tico training host family.
Training is done in San Jose, therefore I live with a family in San Jose.  I have a host dad, who works as a taxi driver, a mom, who is a stay at home mom and 1 brother and 2 sisters; Maria Jose (17yrs), Jazmin (10yrs) and Josue (6yrs).  I absolutely love and adore my  training host family, they are incredibly loving, supportive, funny and just all around awesome people.   My host sister Jazmin smoothers me with kisses and even assists me in tying my shoes.  Josue is the baby of the family and since I am still learning Spanish I hardly understand what he is saying half the time but he is so cute and loves to play around and joke so words are not that important Winking smile.   My host mom truly takes care of me and is so emphatic and loving, she is the true caretaker of her whole family.  My oldest host sister is an energetic, animated, slighty loud teenager that reminds me of myself at that age, so she is like the sister I never had.  My host dad works a lot and he is a bit machismo but the love he has for his family is so evident in all his actions its hard to not love him too.  Needless to say I will truly miss my host family once I go to my official site, Matina which is in the providence of Limon.
I will talk more about my site, which I am actually visiting right now for the next couple of days, once I have spent my first month here.  I will be working on developing programs to combat some of the local social issues in Matina such as drug consumption among teenagers and young adults, lack of recreational activities for youth and children, domestic violence, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts and delinquency.  After doing a community diagnostic my first 3 months I will be able to better assess the needs of my community as well as the resources available for potential projects.  I am really looking forward to working and living in Matina and I hope all of you continue to support me during my service.  Also if you would like to send any material, children's games or information on the issues I will be working on please feel free to email me or mail anything, except really large boxes.  My email and mailing address is below.  Until next time hasta luego Winking smile!

P.S.-  If you would like to watch the livestream of me swearing in, check it out Friday, May 13th.  Below is the link!
Tico 22 Swear-In
PCV Rosemarie Philip
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1266-1000
San Jose, Costa Rica

Pictures of my host family