Snapshot from the field: a woodshop in Costa Rica


Ali Tateosian is an inspiring grad from the Michigan Technological Unviersity who is now volunteering in Cartago, Costa Rica. She just completed her degree in Mechanical Engineering and wanted to volunteer abroad in a program that allowed her to use the skills she acquired during her studies. Here’s a quick insight on her work in the field.

I am working at a local elderly day care center NGO in Cartago. I arrived in Costa Rica five weeks ago, barely recalling any of my three years of Spanish classes in high school. My host family is incredibly kind and generous and I wanted to be able to express my gratitude to them in Spanish. Immediately, I became very determined to improve my Spanish skills, which has become one of my main focuses. Luckily, my project site is filled with over 70 patient seniors, excited to help me learn. They remind me daily that I have learned a lot since my first day and I feel very accomplished.

I worked with the local staff, to target a project in the “Taller de Carpintería” (the woodshop). One portion of the project is assisting in safety recommendations for the tools/equipment. Additionally, I am organizing specific woodworking projects to get more of the seniors involved, as this room is usually only used by a few people. The first project is building and painting puzzles that can be used in other areas of the center as part of their mind exercises. The goal is to train some of the seniors to be leaders for future projects after I leave. I work closely with the staff to coordinate who is in the groups, when we will meet, and to get the required materials. Sometimes it can be very challenging when I cannot express my thoughts. For example, the seniors that are usually in the woodshop are very driven for productivity. Sometimes I try to explain that the objective is not speed, but enjoying working on the project. When communication becomes a bit frustrating, I focus on remembering the objectives of the project (providing new activities for the seniors to enjoy and feel accomplished) and my person goals (enriching the lives of the seniors, learning about people, improving my Spanish). Undoubtedly, in every instance of difficulty, I am still meeting several, if not all of these goals.

The elderly folk love to dance. They dance for their afternoon activity three times per week. A favorite song is “Caballo de Pablo” (Horse of Pablo), which is very upbeat and inspires a lot of jumping and galloping around. Watching the impact that this song has on the energy and mood in the room reminds me of the power of music as a universal language. Even though we do not always understand each other when we speak, I feel I can communicate with all of them while being goofy and dancing along to the song.

I will close with the most heartwarming moment I have experienced here, although there are many. We did an activity with the seniors relating to “amor” (love). Afterwards, an elderly woman approached me and said “este es amor” (this is love) and gave me a big hug. The seniors really appreciate people giving their time and always show their gratitude. Volunteering here has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

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