By Christina Cavanaro, a student from Saint Anselm College who traveled with CFCA to Costa Rica. You can also read an edited version of this blog post at the Catholic Young Woman blog.
When I went with 14 participants to Costa Rica in March 2012, I could not have fathomed the experience we had during our week-long stay.
A group of students from Saint Anselm College of Manchester, N.H., set off to a rural area in Costa Rica to work with CFCA in building a house for a family in need.
We met the family in front of their small house on the outskirts of a small neighborhood in which many Nicaraguan refugees had settled.
Their home, like many in this neighborhood, was built with scrap wood and corrugated metal with one line of electricity.
The family of seven included parents Nelson and Genara, four boys and a young girl. The parents worked hard to provide for their family, but they were simply unable to make ends meet.
The family was chosen by CFCA to live in the house that Saint Anselm would help build.
The week was full of firsts for many of us. I, along with my fellow participants, learned to mix cement and dig foundations as we worked with carpenters to complete the house.
We went home in the late afternoon each day, feeling tired but accomplished.
Some of us had never left the country, spoken Spanish or done service. I expected to learn many things from the trip, but the most powerful were moments of construction, but not of the house itself.
Though it felt almost miraculous to see the house nearly complete within our stay, the most powerful formations I experienced were much more personal.
We all worried about our ability to connect with the family and community we were serving with the language barrier; however, almost instantly, we felt the wall dividing us break down little by little.
I was repeatedly moved by the ways each of our participants and people in the community overcame the difficulties in communication. We were able to connect through values much more powerful than common language or culture, which were love and laughter.
We were in awe of the beauty of Costa Rica and the welcome we received.
The CFCA employees were incredibly helpful, whether they were explaining local greetings, showing us wildlife or giving us a more in-depth understanding of the community we were immersed in. They treated us like one of their own.
I was floored by the perseverance and grace that everyone in the community seemed to radiate. With so many in need, especially the family we were given the privilege to work with, there was always room for joy, for music and for one another.
Adolescents and young adults who were given scholarships through CFCA came to help us build. One young woman took an hour-long bus ride to come help.
She told me that she felt it was only right to help give back because she has received so much help from CFCA. She did so with joy.
I felt so blessed to meet her and the other students who helped us throughout the week. It was amazing and unifying to meet fellow students, so much like ourselves, similar both in interests and values, but surrounded by such different cultures and lifestyles.
The stark differences in culture were refreshing and inspiring. Coming from a culture with prominent social media, technology and individualism, the integral role of love and relationship was humbling.
It was clear that we had much to learn from the people of Costa Rica. Their emphasis on relationships, family and love represented one of the most basic Christian values that can sometimes be lost in the world we live in.
It seems so natural to love one another, but the way in which the people there represented that covenant, with such grace and innate devotion, reminded me what our mission truly is in life – to love without end, to live in solidarity and to have faith.
After our week together, saying goodbye was extremely difficult for the Saint Anselm participants.
I longed to immerse myself deeper into the community, to learn more, help more and spend more time with the people I grew to love so much. Saying goodbye to the family we helped build a house for and to our CFCA family was most difficult.
We had spent afternoons playing soccer, swapping sunglasses, taking pictures and playing games with the family and neighborhood children. We had worked alongside the family’s older brothers and father, building their home together. The CFCA employees were with us the whole way, laughing with us, teaching us and helping us throughout the week.
Service and solidarity are not only essential to the Christian values of love and mercy, but also to social justice.
Today’s youth have the power to bring about social change, make a difference and provide for their community.
As Mother Teresa said, “Love begins at the home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into that action.”
It is important for the youth to recognize not the obstacles or aspects they cannot control, but the actions that they can provide and what they can give.
Any and all contributions will make a difference, and there is no way to measure how that difference may change the world we live in.
Service exemplifies love and brings humility and joy to all those who experience it. The experience of service is a gift that should be practiced as frequently and differently as possible.
Do not let the opportunity to serve pass you by. The rewards it brings extend farther than one can possibly fathom, and that experience is irreplaceable.