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Central America Visits

Back in the office after her visit to our Guatemala and Costa Rica programs, Jamie-lee shares her experience with us:

"In mid August, I travelled to Central America for 3 weeks to check-in on our programs in Guatemala and Costa Rica. The purpose of my trip was to meet with IVHQ volunteers in-progress, visit our local staff and also visit a variety of projects to see first-hand how our volunteers were getting on the work they were involved in at their various projects.

My first stop was Antigua, the base of our program in Guatemala. Antigua is a beautiful town, which gives you the feeling that you've travelled back in time - complete with cobblestone streets and horse drawn carts through Parque Central (town square).

During my stay in Guatemala, I was accommodated with one of our host families, the host mother was fantastic and made the tastiest Pepian! She had two young children who were very cute. I was lucky enough to attend the orientation the dayafter I arrived and meet the new IVHQ arrivals. I joined in with the walking tour of Antigua too, which shows the new volunteers where all the important places are throughout the town (markets, banks, buses etc).

The next few days were full of project visits, accommodation visits, a lot of travel on the local 'chicken buses' and a fair bit of walking too - quite the adventure! It was wonderful to see our volunteers in action through my visits to a variety of projects and feedback from the volunteers was very positive.

I caught up with our medical volunteers, Donna and Leah, who were both placed in small, rural clinics in neighbouring towns called Sumpango and San Lucas. I also visited a number of Teaching English and Childcare placements, including a special needs clinic, where the volunteer work ranges from physical therapy to playing and spending time with the children. We have a fantastic Elderly Care program in Antigua too. The centre is very large and has well over 100 residents. Volunteers can provide occupational and physical therapy and also spend some time providing company to the residents, many of whom are wheelchair bound.

My project visits continued with checking-in on Carlos and David at their Construction and Renovation project, where they were building a proper room and toilet facilities for a childcare centre (which at the time was being run out of a shack). I then went on to see Emily at our Eco-Agriculture project. This project takes place on a coffee plantation at the base of Agua Volcano, which lies on the outskirts of Antigua and provides really great views! I was given a tour of the plantation and also had a look at where and how the coffee processing is done up until they have the final product - bags of coffee beans ready for export! Emily was really enjoying the program and said the local farmers were great to work with. She was finding the work very rewarding but also fairly labour intensive.

The Animal Care project is also doing great work in the community. There are a huge number of stray dogs and cats in the area and most are in very poor health. This project takes in as many strays as they can to bring back to good health and then adopt out. It is currently home to over 300 cats and dogs and volunteers are always needed! Volunteers start their work in the clinic with the animals requiring treatment and also the young puppies and kittens. The rest of the day involves cleaning the pens, feeding and walking the dogs. Volunteers also have the opportunity to work in an exotic amphibian and reptile rescue centre for a few days of the week if that interests them.

My final visit in Guatemala was to our Lake Conservation project. This began with 4 hour drive to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, followed by a 30 minute boat ride to Santiago, where the program is based. It is easy to see why Lake Atitlan is a popular tourist site as it is simply breath-taking. While in Santiago, I visited our home stays where the volunteers are accommodated and also the work site at the recycling sorting centre and worm farm. Brian, a current volunteer on the Lake Conservation project said he really enjoyed the environmental education classes they were teaching in the local school.

The end of my time in Guatemala coincided with the monthly volunteer party held by our local staff in Antigua. This is a great night for all volunteers in country to mix and mingle and it was a nice way to cap off a fantastic week in Guatemala!

My next and final stop for this trip was Costa Rica! The IVHQ Costa Rica program is one of our largest programs and during busy periods, can host over 100 volunteers at any one time. I had almost 2 weeks allocated to the program visit as the program in Costa Rica is quite wide spread with a large amount to see.

Flying into San Jose was an adventure to say the least. We flew in through a lightning storm and I have to say I was very glad when the wheels touched down! I was accommodated in a nice suburb of San Jose with a lovely host mother and two IVHQ volunteers named Lia and Chloë. The first day of my visit was spent joining in with the orientation, which saw 15 new arrivals welcomed to the program, followed by a walking tour of San Pedro (the area where the local staff are based in San Jose). San Jose is a quite a big city so volunteers are shown all the essentials nearby to the offices and given their bearings.

After this, I got stuck straight into project and accommodation visits to see as much as I could while in Costa Rica and check-in with as many IVHQ volunteers as I could too. The first visit was to the Healthcare project where 3 IVHQ volunteers (Veronica, Julia and Lindsey) were working. The centre is an HIV/AIDS assisted living home, which houses 15 patients, all of whom are HIV positive. Some are bed ridden and others are much more able so there is a range of work for volunteers here. Volunteers take vitals, socialise with the patients, do physical therapy and recreational therapy.

I then went on to visit a childcare centre where Dianna and Jannit were spending their volunteer days. This was a government run centre and home to about 19 children aged 0 to 13. These young children have suffered severe adversity in their lives so far, some have been abandoned or come from unfit homes. The volunteers here run basic educational activities with the children, play games and provide the children with much needed attention. Dianna and Jannit bought a full suitcase of arts and craft supplies for the centre which they had a great time sharing with the children!

A great experience during my visit was to see our projects in La Carpio which is the largest slum in Costa Rica (about 40,000 residents). IVHQ volunteers Hanne, Mackenzie, Richard and Peggy were all placed in La Carpio and were thoroughly enjoying their time there. The projects run in the slum are Teaching English and Childcare and our local staff also funds a soup kitchen once a week, which I was lucky enough to see on my visit.

Teaching English takes place with the older children (6 to 12 years) and the Childcare with younger children (under 5). It was fantastic to witness the innovative ways in which our volunteers are teaching. Peggy and Richard taught the children numbers in English through a game of BINGO. We also have great Teaching English project in another slum called Tibas, where I visited volunteers Lia, Chloe and Amelia, while they were running their lessons. This is a project where children from the community come after school to learn English to supplement their education and help keep them off the streets.

My visit to the Turtle Conservation project was another highlight, we have a few different locations for this, but the site which I visited is our most remote project, located about 9 hours out of San Jose. It's in a beautiful, rural area called Drake Bay near the Osa peninsula. The project is run by a biologist who the volunteers work alongside. It was great to see how integrated into the community this project was, they train locals to work in the organisation and also educate them against poaching and protecting the turtles. Volunteers are involved in night patrols of the beach (looking for nesting turtles) and also taking care of the hatchery on the beach (protecting the eggs from poachers).

My next stop was the Eco-Agriculture project, where volunteers work with local families on their coffee plantations in Monteverde, another magnificent part of Costa Rica. Volunteers are placed with a family who they stay with and they then work on that particular family’s farm helping with planting and weeding, as well as the upkeep and processing of the coffee plants. There is also other agriculture work with planting and harvesting corn, sugarcane, beans, fruit and other vegetables. I met IVHQ volunteer, Delphine, on the project and she said the volunteers love the project as they feel really welcomed into the family they work with and the work is rewarding too. I was also taken on a popular hike which volunteers do to a local waterfall in San Luis and it was well worth it!

My two final visits for my Costa Rica trip were to see some of our Healthcare volunteers conducting a health campaign in a mobile clinic to provide basic health check-ups and care in the communities and also our Construction and Renovation project. The mobile clinic, run through the health campaign is free and enables more children to receive care as most the parents cannot afford healthcare or do not have the means to get them to a clinic. This was held at a local childcare centre where the volunteers along with an assisting doctor gave each child a physical including height, weight, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and also an eye, ear and body exam. This same childcare centre was also the site where the Construction and Renovation program was running. It was great to meet IVHQ volunteer Kenny working there. The volunteers had just finished tiling the floor of the centre (which was previously all concrete) and the next project was to make the centre more accessible for children with disabilities by building ramps for wheelchair, widening doorways etc. It was exciting to see work being done within these communities by our volunteers and how the children and centres have benefited from it.

Overall, my visit to the IVHQ Guatemala and Costa Rica programs went very well and I was warmly welcomed by all the local people who showed me great hospitality. I look forward to visiting the programs and our IVHQ volunteers in action again soon.


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