Green Life Volunteers

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9.6 / 10 after 23 Reviews Based on overall, support & value average ratings
Program website: www.glvolunteers.com

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My daughter and I had a wonderful time volunteering with Greenlife in Costa Rica as Turtle Conservation Interns. We received outstanding support via email as we explored and prepared for this trip, were well taken care of getting us from the airport in Costa Rica to our volunteer site, and had a very rewarding experience at our destination site. Unlike other organizations we've experienced that advertise a "volunteering" focus, this one actually sent us to a project that indeed needed and wanted volunteers for real work. We stayed with a wonderful Costa Rican family, enjoyed the beaches and turtles and Pura Vida lifestyle, and contributed much appreciated work. It was the best!

Program:
Location:
Posted: April 11, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
Age:
54

How was your experience when you initially contacted Green Life Volunteers- did you feel well informed and taken care of?
My compliments to Green Life Volunteers! From the moment I contacted Green Life Volunteers I’ve always felt well informed and taken care off. I always got quick reactions to my emails and to my questions. I also received documents with extra information about the project and that in combination with the e-mails I received, made me feel well prepared when I went to Costa Rica. I also think this is genuinely a good volunteer organization, that doesn’t exist to be able to earn a lot of money, but actually sends you to projects that can really use your help and they actually care!

How was the orientation and introduction to Costa Rica? Did you feel good and prepared for the project after the “orientation” ?
I was picked up by Janina and we went to the host family together. She explained me a bit more about the project and about Puerto Jimenez and the next day we went to the school. There I was introduced to the headmaster and the English teacher. It felt like a good introduction, but I think the ‘situation’ at the school should have been explained a bit more.

How was your experience on the project? How was a the work schedule and a typical day like?
The first day at school was sort of an introduction day. I was introduced to the teacher and just sat in the back of the class and observed. I think that was good, because it wasn’t exactly the way I expected it to be. It was chaotic and of course the entire school was quite different from the way it is in my country. That was to be expected, but I didn’t expect to have so many classes off, because teachers (not the English teacher, but the classes’ regular teachers) didn’t show up. And although I was expecting a few national holidays, I didn’t expect to have a few days of, because of one special day. But I don’t blame that on glvolunteers. With respect to the classes… the kids didn’t have books, just notebooks, so they always had to copy. They had to draw a lot. To me it seemed that more attention was paid to the colouring (colours, neatness) than to the actual exercise. Also, the level didn’t seem to go up that much from 2nd to 6th grade and the kids didn’t practice reading, speaking or writing that lot. It was mainly copying and repeating.

When you’ll go there as a volunteer, you will mainly be helping the English teacher to teach, but you can also help with activities, introduce new ones and make suggestions about the exercises and the way of teaching. You may need to correct the teacher or help him with pronunciation and with the correction of exercises. Of course you can also help the kids understand the exercises, correct their mistakes and just ‘be an extra pair of eyes and ears’.

The teacher was always happy if I came, but of course it wasn’t an obligation. There are five school days, but sometimes there may be some sort of special activity or a national day, so you’ll need to be flexible. You will either need to go to the morning classes (7-12) or to the afternoon classes (12.30-5.30), but you can also go to both, they’ll be happy to receive your help.

I know these kids are still very small, but if they start so early, they can get a way English higher level and that’s something that will really help them in their career. Although you may get some resistance (the teacher who wants to stick to the prescribed way – even though that contains errors or isn’t – according to me – the most effective way), the English teacher in general is quite open to suggestions and will ask you for your help. I think that if you introduce new ways of doing things, assist the teacher and evaluate afterwards, you can really make a difference for these people.

How did you like the host family experience?
My host family was super friendly! I’m actually jealous of the people who get to stay there (instead of me)!! They always wanted me to feel at home. I got a really nice room, great food and they were always very nice to me! Of course it was a superb opportunity for me to practice my Spanish! I think it wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d just spoken English, but they were patient and my Spanish was already quite okay, so that was really nice!

Is there anything you’d like to add/ any thoughts or improvements you may want to share?
I think it would be better to explain the volunteers a bit more about the school system and way of teaching over there, and of course to have the introduction day. After that day, you and the volunteer can come up with a plan (and activities) for the next couple of weeks. I think it’s a good idea to ask the volunteer for an evaluation of the teaching experience over there and ask him/her if he/she has tips about how to improve the English teaching at that specific school.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 23, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
10
Value:
8
By: A vd Poel
Age:

For many years I had planned for going on a volunteering trip after I finished my geography studies at the university, in order to get some much needed practical experience to complement all the theoretical knowledge acquired during those years. I searched around for quite some time for a “good country” to go to and b), a trustworthy and serious organization.

Almost when I had begun losing hope I came across Green Life Volunteers and I finally found what I had been looking for: an organization active only in one country (because it’s ridiculous to believe that you can have good control and contacts with people in the 10+ countries, a practice many volunteering companies are victim of) that didn’t charge hideous sums and that actually seemed to do meaningful work. I also liked the fact that you would stay with host families throughout the experience, something I believe is a great way to get closer to the people and culture of the country as well as helping you not getting isolated.

After reading through the available options I settled for three activities 1) Language school - even though I had taken some basic Spanish classes before, I felt that this intensive course in an actual Spanish speaking country would be really useful, 2) Organic farming – since such a huge amount of people around the world are farmers, I reasoned this would be a good learning experience; to at least get a glimpse into their reality, and 3) English teaching, something I know is always needed and of great importance for the children in order to improve their employment opportunities (among other things).

I began sending e-mails to Janina, the coordinator, and was immediately pleased both by the quick replies I got but also by the friendly tone and clearness in answering all the questions I had. I’ve done some volunteering and traveling before but this was my first time going so far away (from my home country of Sweden) alone. Because of this, it was very important for me to know that there was someone competent and trustworthy that would handle all the basics and that I knew I could rely on if anything would come up. Apart from the answers I got from her she was also kind to give me the e-mail of a former volunteer, which was a great complement to have the views of a more “neutral” person.

After some communication back and forth, where Janina was a great help giving me feedback on my plans and offering many suggestions and options to chose from, I decided I would stay for two months, or eight weeks exactly, splitting the time between the different projects with an average of two weeks with each. I booked the airplane tickets and after quite a long journey I finally arrived in Costa Rica!

Host Family Number On - As promised, Janina was there at the airport waiting for me, and after spending the night at a local hostel in Alajuela (a “suburb” to the capital San José) we set off the next day to San Isidro, around four hours drive away, to introduce me to the language school where I would spend the following two weeks. There waiting for me was also the mother of the family I’d be staying with. After saying hello to the “owner” of the school we drove to the host family’s house and there Janina left me in their care.

It was quite a nice house, located around 10 minutes away from San Isidro by bus. Apart from “my” room (with a closet and electrical outlets to charge my camera and other electronics), they had a beautiful living room with TV, a “work room” with a computer with Internet access and Skype (though I tried not to use it more than necessary ’cause I didn’t know if they paid per “session”) and a shower with hot water, as well as a little garden. The family consisted of an older couple (Ricardo and Hilda), their grown up daughter and her ten year old child plus two very friendly and surprisingly quiet dogs. They didn’t speak any English at all, but that was to be expected and it was a great opportunity for me to practice my Spanish.

Every morning my breakfast was there waiting for me when I awoke and we all ate dinner together at night. Whenever we spoke and it became apparent that I had problems understanding, they always repeated everything slowly and if possible simplified it; in other words, they were great teachers. Apart from the normal day to day courtesies they also took me on a picnic once by the river, and whenever it was time for them to do their laundry Hilda would ask me if I had anything I needed cleaned! In short, they were wonderful people. I do feel obliged to mention that on one occasion I heard the elder daughter gave her child a slap. I feel that any future volunteer should be prepared that such cultural differences do exist….

Spanish School - As I mentioned before, it lay about 10 minutes away by a bus that conveniently stopped almost beside our house. It cost a little money but I think it was less than one dollar, so no big thing. The bus tended to be a little crowded, and the front door was always open even when the bus was moving, so it was a bit different from what I’m used to but not a problem. After arriving in San Isidro you walked for maybe another 10 minutes and then you arrived at the school, which lay at the top of a hill and had a beautiful vista of the surrounding mountains; it also had a lovely garden surrounding it where all the classes took place.

The teacher was a young woman who apart from being a good teacher also was really friendly. All the classes were completely in Spanish with a focus on communicating, something I appreciated because that’s exactly what you need. We got a workbook made by the school with grammar exercises that we based the lessons around and that also was used for homework. The lessons took around four hours (8 – 12, with a coffee break in between) and after that the ”working day” was done.

San Isidro - The town is located in a valley right next to the Central American Highway and is partly flat, partly located on a big slope. There is sort of a main street where most of the shops, banks and restaurants are to be found. It seems San Isidro is the place to go for people in the surrounding area who don’t want to travel to San José to do their shopping; I can find no other explanation for this excess of stores that sell items you don’t buy on an every day basis. I usually spent the afternoon at the local library to rehearse and just to avoid the sun during the hottest hours. The library was quite a nice place, with a free toilet and some cooling fans to help temperature become more forgiving. There are of course books to read as well, and I found myself often picking up children’s’ books to read, to practice reading some simple Spanish.

The days passed surprisingly quickly, with Janina checking up on my on a regular basis to ask me how everything was going etc. At the end of my stay, most students had finished their studies at the school, so I got private lessons for two hours instead of the normal four. Eventually, the time came to start the next part of my volunteering experience – the organic coffee farm. After saying good bye to my host family and giving them my parting gift (which was really appreciated, pro tip!) Janina took me with her and some friends to stay the night at a farm maybe 40 minutes away from San Isidro, before continuing on towards my “real” destination the following day.

The Coffee Farm - We got there in the afternoon and my new family went out to greet me. It mainly consisted of: Alvaro, an older man with a well groomed moustache and owner of the farm (who tended to speak a bit to fast for me to understand), his wife Alicia, his grown up son David (who lived nearby in a house of his own together with his wife and daughter) and quite a number of dogs and free roaming chicken. Once again there was no English spoken, but through sign language and my stuttering Spanish it all worked out just fine.

Because of the heat, we always awoke at around half past five, had a quick breakfast and then we headed out on the fields. I was surprised to see just how vast Alvaro´s fields reached, and was further amazed that it was only he and his son that worked the land with no mechanical aid. They also didn’t use any pesticides or fertilizers of any kind, instead the ground was covered by old dried up leaves from the plants. Speaking of plants, though it was mainly a coffee farm, they also grew bananas that helped provide the coffee plants with much needed shade. There was also a field of sugar canes.

During my two weeks at the farm I did mainly two types of work:
1) The first and most physically exhausting one was digging rectangular holes in the earth of the coffee slopes. The purpose of these were to help “combat” soil erosion by collecting wet soil and thus hinder it from sliding of the hills completely. I didn’t to do all work by myself though, David helped prepare everything by digging the edges of the holes, so I just helped shovelling the earth. When I showed up the first day to begin my work, Alvaro asked me if I had any shirts with long sleeves, which thankfully I had. It soon became apparent why he had advised my thusly – the long sleeves both protected me from the sun as well as kept the flies and mosquitos (yes, they are active during the day also) at bay.
The work wasn’t too hard at first but as the sun started to rise in the sky and the temperature with it, I could feel my energy draining. Thankfully we often took breaks, during one of which David took me with him to his house where we drank some cold fruit juice and also brought a green coconut with us for further refreshment later on!

2) The other activity I often would do was collecting cut of “trunks” from the coffee plants lying on the field and put them in big piles. The family would later use these for their cooking, thus avoiding to cut down or contribute to the cutting down of any forest. The trunks would already be lying in piles of maybe ten or so, ready to be collected and brought to far larger piles scattered around the farm. I also got to do some miscellaneous tasks sometimes, like using a big bladed pole to cut off withered leaves from the banana trees, or help clean then water canals from all sorts of ”debris” (mostly leaves and sticks). Hanging out with the Family

My first week at the farm was “interrupted” by “Semana Santa” or the holy week, which happens in connection to Easter. That meant I had some time off, which in a way was sad since I came there to work and help after all, but I did get to do some interesting stuff, like watching a holy procession going down the street and blessing the families and attending a ceremony at the local church. During the weekend, the family took me with them to a trip up the mountains, to see some beautiful nature and have another (in regards to the one I had with the first host family) river picnic. As the case might be in countries like Costa Rica, the difference between the “regular” family and the extended family might sometimes be a bit difficult to understand; sometimes there would come people over that I knew were connected to the family but not in which way.

Last stop: Puerto Jimenez - Time once again went by really fast and suddenly it was time to move on. The farmer family gave me a ride to San Isidro, made sure I got on the right bus and away I went on a five hour ride down to my final destination, the town of Puerto Jimenez, located on the Osa peninsula. As was the case with the farming family, this one also had a number of people coming and going that I never really got a grip on. Apart from those there was the older mother and head of the family, the grown up daughters Caroline (who cooked really tasty food!), and Jessica (who had one ten year old son and one two year old) plus one grown up son. Their house lay just by the beach and beside the road there happened to be a bar with free WiFi that I could borrow every now and then.

Janina and I had a little talk during the evening about my schedule and what to expect (based on the well written accounts of my “predecessor”). This information regarded her time at the public school, however, starting with me, the time would be split between the public school and a private one. The main reason for this was that last year quite a lot of days there simply weren’t any classes going on at the public school, so this time, to avoid all that “dead time”, those days could be spent at the private school instead. I went to sleep early and the next morning I walked together with Janina toward “Corcovado” private school.

On the way there we passed through the town of Puerto Jimenez and she showed me where everything was, the banks, supermarkets, etc. Puerto Jimenez is even smaller than San Isidro and there was sort of two main streets, one following the beach (where a lot of restaurants are located) going past the house where I lived, and another one passing strait through town. Of course there were other streets as well, but these two were the ones I found myself using most often and where most other people passed through as well. Worth noting is that there is a mangrove forest just next to town, where you sometimes could spot tiny crocodiles. Speaking about animals, you could often see and hear parrots in the treetops and on one occasion I saw a couple of Cappuccino monkeys! Last but not least Janina lives in Puerto Jimenez, just a five minute walk away from my host family, so I felt safe knowing that if ever I would need anything, she was close at hand.

Kindergarden Class - The private school lay at the very end of the main street. Just inside the gates is a play area for the children, a gift from a local millionaire, if I understood correctly. I was greeted by the Director of the School, Melinda, who welcomed me and showed me around. Her son happened to be in the morning class I would be attending during my stay at the there. To my “surprise” it turned out that I would be assisting the teacher in the kindergarden class with 2 – 4 year olds. The class in question consisted of about 10 – 12 children, so it wasn’t too big to handle and the children were relatively obedient. The activities we did consisted mostly of learning one letter of the alphabet each week (we were doing F, G and H during my time), shapes, colours, days of the week and basic counting.

The teacher was very friendly and made most of the work, I was mainly an extra pair of eyes, helping the children with coloring exercises and similar stuff. After a snack break and later on a larger normal break, a new teacher would arrive and the language would shift. This was because the class was ”split” into two groups, the children who had English as their primary language and those who spoke Spanish. Thus, the second half of the morning class was in Spanish. Teaching Spanish The lunch break was one hour, but because of the distance between the school and “home” it took around 15 minutes to walk, which times two left just about enough time to eat (30 minutes) and return back.

The afternoon classes was a bit different. To start with, the class was smaller, with approximately 3 – 5 children, secondly, the children were older, around 10 years old and thirdly, my responsibility was only one child (mostly, some days there were two), teaching Spanish. I particularly worked with one kid who was quite cute, with a lively imagination and lots of energy. Unfortunately that energy wasn’t always focused on this school work. In this case though I felt a bit better compared to the morning class; I had no problems communicating with the child for one thing, and the words he had to learn were simple enough so I did feel I had more “control” over this situation. Some days later a fellow volunteer (from a different organization), joined me, followed by even more people.

The Public School - From reading the report from the previous volunteer, I understood that the situation would be quite different from what I’m used to in my own country and this helped me prepare myself better for the experience. As before, Janina joined me and we set out together for the first class, after which she’d be leaving. The English teacher, a 27 year young man arrived shortly after we did, said his welcome and afterwards we proceeded into the classroom. Unlike at the private school, the typical class size here was around 20. Janina and I seated at the back of class and received many a curious stare from the children.

Janina told me that volunteer from the year before never got to do this, so it was an easy noticeable improvement. Another new thing was how the lesson was conducted. From what I read from the previous report, most lessons she attended consisted mostly of the the children colouring pictures of animals etc. However, what I witnessed was the teacher making an exercise where the children got to ask their classmates in English about their respective birthdays. Though most of them seemed to have forgotten most of the months, and I heard one or two answer in Spanish, at least it was a verbal exercise about something more useful…

One important thing still remained intact from before and that was the absence of any books. Since only the teacher has one, he needs to write everything down onto the whiteboard for the children to copy. This takes a lot of time and it also means that he needs to correct the exercise before the end of class, again a time consuming activity. I also noted that the grammar in the book wasn’t always correct, so from time to time I walked up to the teacher and suggested a better phrasing or spelling.Another thing I ended up doing a lot was reading out sentences aloud to help with pronunciation, however this I was often asked to do by teacher.

During one week, there was a verbal exam and I found that most of the children were really struggling with really basic stuff like greetings etc. So, what are the reasons for this? While I’m not highly qualified to answer this question, I do have some thoughts on the matter:
1) a majority of the class time is spent waiting for the teacher to finish writing down then exercise. This means that there is only time for one exercise per class, so progress is very slow.
2) the English teacher only started teaching English recently,
3) English as a subject apparently wasn’t mandatory for all Costa Rican schools until 15 years ago, and today this still only applies to larger public schools.
4) Costa Rica is surrounded by other Spanish speaking countries, so technically, they don’t need to learn any new language to be able to speak to ”anyone” (generalizing a bit here) in Central or South America (with the exception of Brazil).
5) Heavily related to the point above I think that motivation is lacking. If you never hear English spoken anywhere and all the information you might need is available in Spanish, why go through all this hard time learning something that isn’t very useful?
6) The exposure to English is limited. This seems to be true both in terms of dubbed entertainment but also that fact that the language spoken during English class at school isn’t English but Spanish. What I’m getting at is that if the children only ever hear English at school, and then with sometimes questionable pronunciation and faulty grammar, it’s no surprise that the English level is low. I’m not trying to blame anyone for this situation, only think of some explanation as to why it exists…

Not everything is all black though. To balance things a bit, I’m pleased to tell you that improvements have been made. First of all, classes apparently are getting more advanced in comparison to last year (no coloring). Second, a couple of instances the teacher used his laptop to play listening exercises or songs, also new and something I personally believe is very good and also fun for the children. Speaking of music, I managed to use my guitar once in class and sing two songs in English.

Another good this was the willingness of the teacher to listen to suggestions I made. The previous volunteer wrote that she had some issues getting through to him and that sometimes he behaved a bit “macho”. I don’t know if this is because the difference in regards to our sexes, the fact that he was less experienced as a teacher at the time or if it simply boiled down to personal chemistry. Anyways, it was a nice “surprise”, and considering that my main “objective” was to teach the teacher (because he is the one that will remain after I leave) it was pleasant to see.

Welcome to the Jungle - Of course, not all my time in Puerto Jimenez was spent working. I went with my host family on a day trip once for example and even though it was a bit expensive I managed go to the nearby national park called Corcovado (one of the most bio diverse national parks in the world!) for a one day trip. Last but not least, thanks to Janina, I also went on a trip to yet another ecological farm (maybe one an a half hours away) to spend one day and night there and compare it to the farm at San Isidro.

Concluding Remarks - I’ve written a lot and I feel could write a whole lot more. I’ve tried to incorporate not only descriptions but some reflective thoughts, part diary/part review, to make it more interesting and “alive”. It goes without saying, but I had a great time in Costa Rica and though it might sound dishonest or like I’m trying to be ingratiating, I can’t think of anything to really complain about. Maybe my time spent at the private school was a bit weird for me since I got to do two things I wasn’t prepared for: dealing with tiny children and teaching Spanish, it’s more of a complementary thing to the real project which was the public school, (and that experience was great!), so it’s more nitpicking than anything else.

Everything, from my first e-mail contact with Janina to her making sure I got on the right bus back to Alajuela to catch my plane back home (and booking a cheap hostel for me!), has been done really professionally and I’ve never once felt unsafe or like I was just being “dumped” somewhere. Further more, I always felt that the places I went to needed the help. I have no illusions of me having “saved the world” or anything naïve like that, but still I’ve seen the struggle of the coffee farmer and the desperate needs of the public school and know am glad I’ve been able to give them what little I’ve got, even if it’s just the money these families get from Green Life for having me there.

In a literal jungle of insincere organizations, attracting people by the promise of “adventure” and then milking them of money without making any sort of contribution to the local people or nature, I’m glad I was able to find such an organization like Green Life. I have met so many nice people and have so many wonderful memories from Costa Rica and I’m sure that one day I will return! Needles to say, I had a great time and I can HIGHLY recommend you signing up for a volunteer trip of your own! I hope some of this was helpful!

Program:
Location:
Posted: December 20, 2013
Overall:
8
Support:
10
Value:
8
By: Orogenes
Age:

The entire experience was sensational. Green Life Volunteers was there from the beginning to the end making sure I was happy with the entire experience. I highly recommend GLV.

Program:
Location:
Posted: December 19, 2013
Overall:
9
Support:
10
Value:
9
By: rmaronson
Age:
29

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