A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
Written by Lorien Mattiacci Photographed by Karen Formisano
In December 2005, ten students and two professors from HCC joined forces with “Habitat for Humanity” to build homes for families in need in Costa Rica. Before embarking on their adventure in service, the student volunteers studied the culture and customs of Costa Rica in an interdisciplinary studies course. over winter break, the team traveled by plane to San Jose, where they were met by the “Habitat” representatives. The excited volunteers rode through cosmopolitan San Jose onto dirt roads that meandered through the lush, green forest. They finally arrived at the building site to find the vegetation had given way to five flat dirt lots– lots they had come to develop. next to these lots sat a large truck wielding a mountain of concrete blocks. The team would wake early the next morning and begin relieving the truck of its load. The students and professors did not tackle the task alone. “Habitat for Humanity” representatives assisted, as did the future owners of the homes. “Habitat” requires “sweat equity”: owners, or program “partners,” whose low incomes qualify them for the program must spend time working on their own homes, as well as those of others.
“Habitat” solicits donations and grants to obtain materials to build homes, individuals and groups volunteer to build, and the organization then turns around and sells the homes to the partners at cost, without adding additional fees. The new owners receive interest-free mortgages, and their monthly payments finance other homes. Even though the HCC team did not work alone, boy, did they work! For a week and a half, the team labored for eight hours a day. The volunteers rose at 7:30 Am each day to leave enough time for breakfast before returning to the building site. They spent their days erecting homes and their nights nearby in a research facility at the foot of the volcano Turriabla. Kimberly Williams, an HCC history professor, and the trip coordinator says, “It’s a good thing the roles varied some. Some days we moved blocks, and others [were less rigorous].”
All work doesn’t make for much of a cultural encounter, and after eleven arduous days, the volunteers had certainly earned some free time. The team more than made up for elbow grease spent during their three remaining days in Costa Rica. Several of the students had the opportunity to see the “Festival of lights” in San Jose. The entire group had adventures in white water rafting, sight-seeing, and volcano climbing. They also took the time to visit local museums. The volunteer team not only took in the experiences of the beautiful country, but they also gave back. As a salute to the holiday spirit, they delivered hundreds of toys to hospitalized children. Even while on the work site, the team’s women found time to organize a spa getaway for the females of the community, where they offered hand massages, manicures, and hair-styling. The men volunteering gathered a feast for the males of the community. ms. Williams feels that “working with the homeowners and the members of the community” proved the most valuable assets of the trip.
Since their return, the student and professor volunteers have busied themselves with two major projects: a documentary titled “The Pura Vida,” meaning “life is good,” a motto for Costa Ricans, and The Costa Rica Project (working title), an upcoming book.
In 2004, when Ms. Williams escorted HCC student volunteers to Ghana, the group published a book titled The Ghana Project and produced a documentary of the same name, which was featured in the “Ybor City Festival of the Moving Image”; The Pura Vida debuted in this year’s Festival.
Though no firm plans exist for a trip this year, students who have an interest in travel and study abroad should contact Michael Brennan at mbrennan@HCCfl.edu. The Ghana Project is available on Amazon.com and more information about The Pura Vida and this year’s “Ybor City Festival of the Moving Image” can be found online at http://www.yborfilmfestival.com.