Thursday, July 24, 2008

El Fin de Nuestros Aventuras

It is the last night of our time here in the beautiful city of Costa Rica and I think that for many of us it is bittersweet. A few of us were discussing our feelings earlier and the consesus is that we are all ready to be home, but we are not quite ready to leave this place. We have seen and done so much in these few weeks and it will not be easy to physically leave it all behind.

This week we have been spending our days at a place called Funda Vida.
This is a foundation that is spawned from Pura Vida coffee.The mission of Funda Vida is to have centers in the worst neighborhoods of San Jose where nearly
everyone is addicted to crack and other drugs. The drug lords are the
source of extreme and frequent violence and they often dictate the
goings on in these barrios. Unfortunately this type of community and
lifestyle turns many children into addicts and prostitutes, as well as
aggressive and depressed individuals. The children are often mal and
undernourished and many cannot afford to attend even public schools.
Funda Vida gives these children a place to go and eat, use computers
and learn skills, learn English, and they also have six soccer teams
that the children play on. These activities give purpose to these
childrens lives, and they also work to change the paths these youth
are on. Our project is a brand new building that will be used as a
teen and young adult center. They are noticing that as the children
from the program mature it is harder to retain them. Many go back to
the streets and they feel that this new center will help to change
that. It used to be a building that housed crack addicts and was empty
for many years, but we are giving it new life. We did more scraping,
drywalling, and painting as the crack dealers and others circled, but
we also got to meet some of the children of the barrio. It was a
wonderful week of hard work for an incredible purpose.

Tonight we were also blessed with the opportunity to visit one of the youth centers that Funda Vida has very recently opened. We were able to share stories with the neighborhood teenagers and meet the young leaders who are bravely standing at the front of this movement. The center is a humble building in the middle of a rough barrio that was full of activity tonight. These youth gathered together and we sang songs of worship and played ping pong and checkers before having some serious time. It was during the worship that many of us were moved by the emotions of one of the teenage boys who put his head down and cried, and we soon learned that it was because he has just recently found faith and is just now becoming a part of Funda Vida. He looks to be about 17 and apparently his old "friends" from the neighborhood are extremely hard on him for these new changes. It is hard for any 17 year old boy to fight off peer pressure, but I can only imagine what sort of inner strength a young man must have to fight the pressures of the streets of this neighborhood where drugs, violence, and organized crime reign.

In all, I am glad that we were able to end our three weeks at this youth center where we could meet the people who are the reason for our mission. Our stay in Costa Rica is commemorated with the faces of the many people who we have helped and who have taught us so much about ourselves and the world that we live in. Dr. Domin and Dr. Hargrove have been incredible guidance over this time and I think that many of us have learned much and are inspired to continue to do our part to make a positive different in this big world. Thanks again to all the family and friends who have supported us in these endeavors - you have helped us to truly make a difference on our mission to Costa Rica.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pura Vida!

I wanted to let ya'll know that we are indeed still here and working hard. We finished up last week at Goodwill rather triumphantly, completing our work on the handicap ramp and outside facade (thought it seemed like it might never get finished!) and even having some time to sit and talk with the employees of the affiliate as they worked on their projects. We could really tell they appreciated having us around, they all wanted lots and lots of pictures!

We left Friday for Manuel Antonio and after a long 4 hour bus ride, we arrived at what might be the closest to paradise we've ever been. The beaches were gorgeous, with rocky coastlines and majestic waves. Our hotel had beach access, but no internet access! So that is why we have been M.I.A. lately. It was a well needed respite after a long week. We all enjoyed having beds to ourselves (two to a room instead of three!) for two nights, beachside breakfasts, and even haggling with street vendors for some deals on souvenirs. We toured the National Park on Saturday morning with a very knowledgable guide who had lots to say about all the wildlife we encountered: toucans, land crabs, three toed sloths, leaf cutter ants, tree frogs, lizards and iguanas, snakes, and even monkeys (to name just a few)! Everyone got a kick out of watching a group of white faced monkeys swoop down to grab a tourist's bag from the trees on the beach, one of them even grabbed somebody's camera and scurried into the treetops with it. You could tell they were used to people being around and it was almost as if they were hamming it up for everyone to take pictures. Definitely a fun weekend!

Now, we are working with Funda Vida's youth outreach program. They have acquired a building in one of San Jose's poorest neighborhoods (which we defined today in class as a shantytown) to renovate as a teen center (they explained to us that the children that Funda Vida has been working with for the past couple of years are now in need of a place for the older kids to hang out). You can read more about the Funda Vida mission at We have been working at scrubbing the outside walls clean of soot and mold, and just finished putting on a coat of primer -- painting tomorrow! (I have actually been laying in bed sick.... but everyone else is definitely working hard!) Profits from the sale of Pura Vida free trade, shade grown coffees,, go to help support Funda Vida's efforts to teach empowerment to kids in underserved areas of the countries where Pura Vida gets its coffees from -- they have nutrition education programs, soccer teams to teach teamwork, computer education, etc. It's a really good cause and it will be a good way to send out the trip, though the building will still be far from completion when we leave. We have to trust that other groups like our own will be here to finish the work we started!

Tomorrow is a half day doing work at the site and then we are touring the Embassy here in San Jose. We have a few more assignments left for class and then it will time to head back to the States! I think we are all ready for the comforts of home but I think we would also agree that this has been a great experience. Thanks for your continued prayers and well wishes, we will see you in a few days!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Half way home

Dr. Hargrove and I wanted to update you on the mission. Our students are working incredibly hard both on site and with their academics. They are doing a great job! This week, as Suzanne pointed out in her previous post, we're working with an affiliate of Goodwill. Our mission this week consists of painting the front exterior wall, the rampway for handicap access, the front fence, and the front gate. It's a lot of work but our students are up to the challenge. We have one more day in San Jose before we head off to Manuel Antonio. MA is located in the southwest corner of Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean. We'll take a tour of the national park on Saturday morning and then turn the students loose for some much needed rest before coming back Sunday evening. Next week we start our project at Funda Vida, which is also located in San Jose. FV is an organization that cares for children from low income families. They've just purchased a building which is in dire need of some TLC. So we'll be doing some more scraping, sanding, and painting, the Lord's work as Pator Dimas calls it.

Let me say a word about the Goodwill affilliate. The Goodwill affilliate is home for many of the disabled adults in the area. They operate as a nonprofit and all the staff volunteer their time to support it. No one is paid a salary. It truly is a labor of love for the volunteers who take care of these adults. Without this facility these adults would have nowhere to go or nothing to do. Here at the affiliate they work on their fine motor skills by putting together games, closepins, and other items which are then sold all over Central and South America. The money they do make from the work goes straight back into the affilliate in order to keep it open on a daily basis. Without such a place, they would not be making the contribution they do. Every morning they greet us with a great big smile and a pat on the back. It's been very moving to work with them.

The building we're working on is in need of repair. Without the help of your sons, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, they would not be able to do the work themselves since they cannot afford the materials or the workers to complete the task at hand. The work we're doing here is just as important as the work we did at the church last week. It may not seem glamorous or related to the way we understand "mission" work, but it is very important work and we're glad we could support this most worthy cause.

Today was our last full day at the Goodwill affilliate. We got quite a bit accomplished today. We even had time to play a little soccer with some kids from the neighborhood, two handsome boys, Victor and Carlos, and two beautiful little girls, Julianna and Rebecca. We had a blast! At the end of the day we were invited in for a group picture with the staff and the adults. The adults made a sign in Spanish that translated to "Thank you so much and may God bless you"! It was a touching moment and a great way to end the day. I hope we can get that one posted ASAP for you to see.

Please continue to keep Dr. Hargrove and all of our students in your thoughts and prayers. Again, we're very proud of all of them for all their contributions on this mission.

Joseph, Joshua, and Javan I think about you all the time. I miss you all very much. Please continue to take care of your Mom, and Peaches too! God bless.

Buenas noches!

Greg Domin

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Tomorrow marks a halfway point for our group as we are starting to get a little homesick, a little uncomfortable, and a little sick of Costa Rican food. We have been blessed with such an incredible start, and now we face the challenge of keeping our strength and good attitudes up as we cross this threshold. I think that if we can look to what we have accomplished for encouragement, as well as to one another, we will be very successful.

We are now out of Alajuela and away from the church, which many people have been talking about. The first week at the Iglesia Metodista was a wonderful way to start the trip, filled with wonderful people and an inspiring mission. It was bittersweet to leave but our new mission is no less important and has much in store for us to learn. We are working at a Goodwill Affiliate in Desamparados, a neighborhood on the outskirts of San Jose. San Jose is a contrast to Alajuela, as there is much more commercialization and wealth, but also much more trash and obvious homelessness and poverty. It is not uncommon to see beggars standing in traffic or to see cardboard boxes that serve as homes. Desamparados is a humble neighborhood and the Affiliate is located on a quiet sidestreet away from the (crazy) traffic. When we say that it is a Goodwill Affiliate, it is because it is not an actual Goodwill store. This is a plant that manufactures board games, but these games are assembled by special needs workers from ages 15 to 70. Dimas, the pastor from the Iglesia Metodista, owns five Goodwill Stores which are supported by donations from the stores in the United States, and now that he is finally making profit, he is able to donate money that can keep this affiliate open. The plant is run by volunteers who work with the staff and make sure that everything is running as it should.

What we have done for the Affiliate so far is similar to our work in the Iglesia. We are outside chipping away old paint, drywalling, and painting the exterior walls and fence of the building. We are not directly working with the staff, but we are doing them a great service. The staff spends some time each day watching us, many of them shyly, from inside and it is so sweet to see how excited they are when we go inside and speak to them. Many of us are capable of just simple exchanges in Spanish and communication is a little more difficult with this group, but the point always gets across. We are hoping to work with them a little more closely on Thursday. For now, I think a lot of us do understand that we are beautifying a building that is a huge part of their daily lives, thus we are really making a difference.

In the meantime, we have all had a great time exploring San Jose and our new temporary home. It is a very exciting city and we are learning a lot about the Ticos and their lives. Most shocking (moms shouldn't read this) is the prominence of private security guards once night falls. Unfortunately night falls around 6 p.m. here, which means that every night when we walk to dinner we cross numerous guards, all of which have weapons which range from bats to handguns to machine guns (Mary Beth and I almost passed out seeing that one). These guards simply stand quietly in front of office buildings and stores, and they do not greet the passerby with a "Buenas noches" as other Ticos do. People have warned us to be careful here at night, but why so many guards? Why not city police? We're still trying to figure it out. I really am so impressed by the friendly manner of the Costa Rican people, but there are still many things to digest and understand about their lives.

Well, I ask that all of our friends and family continue to keep us all in your thoughts and prayers as we are halfway through with our mission. We love and miss everyone very much and are looking forward to recounting our adventures with you very soon!

I'm Still Here! I'm Still Alive!

Hey everyone! I've only got about 20 minutes left on my hour, so I'll write fast. I really enjoyed the church service Sunday. It reminded me so much of Beth Yeshu, so I guess I've made up for one week. You can tell that Dimas has the power of G-d in him. I was moved even though I could barely understand what he was saying. Needless to say, I miss the people already. While we have collective pics up, I think I'll have to wait till I get home to put mine up. Oh! Before I forget! I saw a synagouge on the way to the Goodwill affiliate where we're working now. I tried to get a pic, but I was too far away. How cool is that? I need to correct something though. We didn't fly to San Jose. We drove. It wasn't that far away. Oy veh!(Is that how you spe......oh boy! Here I go again!) I don't have much time left! Um, we'll hopefully be going to Manuel Antonio for a well deserved break this weekend. It's one of the 10 top beaches in the world, so I'll be taking lots of pics. I don't know if I can make it without Rabbi for another week, but I'll try. Ma, I'll try to get a calling card so I can call you, dad, and Aunt Agnes. Relay the message for me, k? I love you guys, and I miss you!!!!!! Only 10 more days till I come home! WHOOO HOOOOOOOOOO!!! Tee hee! Peace out!

Mello (I still can't believe I let people call me that!)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just an update to say we are all still alive and well.... we have made it to San Jose at the Colaye Apartotel and have settled in, it is nice to be in walking distance of so many amenities. They charge for the internet here (by the half hour or hour) so we may not be updating as much....

Dimas and the members of his church gave us a fabulous farewell which we will have to tell you about in more detail later, and I think we were all a little sad to leave and anxious about what was next. There was a sit down dinner for us when we arrived on Friday night and several members of the church approached us to give hugs, kisses on the cheek, or a "God bless you" in English! You could really tell they appreciated our work.

Today we started work at the Goodwill affiliate and we are scraping and painting again... we should be experts by the end of the trip, we'll make sure to give out our phone numbers if any of you need your houses done. I charge a million dollars an hour, and I expect a tip. ;)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pictures of the canopy tour are up! We had SO MUCH FUN!!! Definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Check them out: