Hey, my name is Jamel McNeill, and I’m discussing my international volunteering trip. In the midst of this vast world we live in, I’ve always found myself going beyond the tight boundaries of my backyard. During college, my participation in an international organization helped me do so. Rotaract, which is connected to the International Rotary club, is a club at my school, the University of South Florida, that focuses on volunteering and community service. Their motto is “Service above self,” and they provide services anywhere from our local area to other countries. We usually plan for a once a year trip that allows us to volunteer in another place, and this time, our destination was Costa Rica.
I was quite excited to learn that I’d be going to such an interesting country. I’ve been out of the U.S. before (twice to Japan) so my experience in new places was not something that came to be difficult. I enjoy meeting new people and seeing new things, and adding an opportunity to give to a foreign community was thrilling to think about.
During my week-long trip, we stayed in the mountains of Alajuela, not too far from San Jose. Our mission was to build a playground in a nearby neighborhood to help support the community and give people a place to enjoy their environment in peace.
I have to say that building a playground in a week was one of the toughest things I’ve involved myself in, and I won’t go too much into details as to how tough it was. It was a slow but successful start. We dug into the ground to make the area flat, and moved rocks and glass to clean it. We scraped the brick walls and painted over them with colors and symbols of positive things like rainbows and flowers. We even helped clear an area so a jungle gym with swings could be put up. It was all coming together nicely with the help of my group, and even with the community around us.
Sometimes I think that all it takes is one match to start a fire, and I mean that in a good way. When we started fixing the playground spot, it was only a small group of us. The community watched us from a distance out of curiosity and were eager to see how this all would turn out. But like a fire of encouragement, we made them want to get involved and help us out in anyway possible. The family directly next to the site made us homemade lunch everyday, and threw a birthday party for our group member. And some of the locals helped us build the playground, sometimes even cleaning the site before we arrived in the morning!
For me, Rotaract has taught me to be aware, to give back, and most importantly work together. It’s very hard at times to imagine how people can come together and build something important, especially when you can all be from difference places. I value the chance to go to other countries and meet people with big or even bigger hearts than my own. The memories and accomplishments I had in Costa Rica made me a better person. I hope to continue to build more memories and inspire people to go beyond their boundaries as well.
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