Emily Cameron, Swimming & Diving Class of 2017 and a Political Science & International Affairs major, had the opportunity to travel with LEAD to Costa Rica as part of a service learning trip in May 2017.
6 Days + 2,500 pairs of shoes + 29 AMAZING Student-Athletes and Staff + rice & beans = countless memories and a life-changing experience. The opportunity that I was given to represent UGA Athletics on a global spectrum is one that I will be forever grateful for. It changed my perspective of what is needed to live a joyous and fulfilling life. I had no idea what to expect on this trip, and it well exceeded my expectations.
Upon returning, I was asked the question multiple times, “What was the best part of the trip?”. Honestly, that is something that the more I reflect on the trip, the more the answer changes. I would have first told you that it was beauty of the country. Sure, San Jose was a little rough around the edges, as any large city in the US is, but putting that aside, the lush, green, monstrous mountains lay just off in the distance to allure one out into the natural environment available just beyond their fingertips. We were lucky to experience both the city life, and the life that some live in the more remote regions of the country.
As time has passed and I ponder that question more and more, I realize that the beauty of the country itself pales in comparison to the beauty of the hearts of the people that I met while on this incredible trip. I am referring to not only the Costa Rican locals, but to our hosts at the clinic we stayed out in San Jose, the children that we served at three extremely impoverished schools, and lastly the student-athletes and UGA staff that I was surrounded by. Every person on our LEAD Team stepped outside of their comfort zones and embraced the heartbreaking and yet fulfilling moments with the local children when we washed their small feet and placed the Nike shoes on them.
Anyone on the trip can vouch that, although we all represent different sports, every single one of us came together to form one team that radiated nothing but love, passion, and positivity no matter what circumstance came our way. When you witness the eyes of a child light up over something as simple as a pair of shoes, it truly makes you rethink the importance of all the material possessions we idolize in our American culture. It is so extremely humbling to see the conditions that many of the children are being raised in, and yet somehow they are just as happy and satisfied with their lives (if not more) than we – high class Americans – are. It fueled my desire for simplicity, and helped engrain in me the idea that one does not need things to live a life of contentment and happiness.
All you need is the ability to love and be loved, and these children were able to show this even through any language barriers that may have hindered verbal communication. Their body language, their actions, and again, their hearts poured out gratitude, and that, I will say was the absolute best part of this experience for me. The realization that happiness can be achieved by simply being grateful for the seemingly insignificant and little things in life. For these kids, in the moment – that was shoes, for me it was and will continue to be the smiles of pure joy that engulfed their faces every second of the experience. Gracias por los recuerdos – Thanks for the memories Costa Rica! Pura Vida & Vamos Perros.