The following is a journal entry from the trip.
San Luis de Monteverde is a rural community on the edge of the cloud forest. When we first arrived, it didn’t feel like much of a town at all. We needed some context. After all, we were going to be here, staying in homestays, for a week of our trip. What would the students do? Where could we meet up? As it turns out, our fabulous guide Alexa, who has been living in the San Luis area for 12 years, was looking at our answer. While looking at our options for this portion of our trip, Alexa inquired about using the community’s first school, which once-upon-a-time had been nationally famous for being a grass-roots community solution to childcare and elementary education in the rural community on this side of a mountain. The historic building had since been neglected and run-down since the government eventually built another school. When Alexa asked if our group could use the space for meet-ups, the response was that it was too run down and would not be a good not fit. “Perfect,” she thought, “This sounds like our service learning project.”
Thanks to generous funding and an energetic crew, our students set out to refurbish the building to become a useful community space for San Luis. It would host baby showers, birthday parties, dances, an occasional nail business, etc. Local building experts worked closely with the SMS team and when word got round to community members that the project was happening many others show up to help. The community’s ambition was equal to its enthusiasm.
Students were initially daunted by the scope of the project that community organizers had envisioned. The people of San Luis put a lot of trust in the ability of teenagers and two English teachers from the US. The project called for students, working alongside community members, to first cut back the jungle that had been reclaiming the structure, then create the form and pour concrete for 200 yards of sidewalk, build and plumb a new outdoor shower / toilet, paint the entire building inside and out, and dig trenches for the installation of a new sewer line and gray-water system – all by hand! In keeping with the trip’s unofficial motto, “figure it out!” students rose to the challenge.
Five days and countless wheelbarrows of concrete, gallons of sweat, buckets of paint, and swing of a machete later, the upper San Luis community center was transformed. When it came time for SMS students to put down their tools and move on to the next phase of their program, students had laid the groundwork for a community asset that will serve the people of San Luis for years to come.