by Nikki Hauspurg
Reflecting on her volunteer experience as a teen, Nikki said the Global Volunteers program with her mother widened her perspective on her place in the world.
I had been nervous the first day in Costa Rica as a rising high school senior at 5’3” and 100 lbs. I was not only the youngest team member, but also the smallest in stature. As the team leader described our work project – constructing the septic system for the community center – I tried to imagine how I could make a substantial contribution to this international effort. While initially intimidated, at the conclusion of my first day, I had already begun to witness different ways in which I could contribute to our group’s mission.
In translating jokes from Spanish to English, asking for tools, and working with female villagers to cook tamales for lunch, I came to appreciate my understanding of the native language. It facilitated new friendships and supplemented my team in the work place. I also realized that physical labor does not merely require physical strength. By using a chisel and hammer, I found I could direct my strength effectively, and refine the rough opening into a near-symmetrical hole that was just wide enough for the PVC pipe to be connected, with a minimal amount of patchwork.
My experiences in Costa Rica were not solely based upon grunt work, however. Through this volunteer opportunity, I learned that in order to spur progress, and effectively contribute to a community on a global scale, one must take personal risks. One must be immersed in a new culture. While I learned lessons of self-worth and the value of a strong work ethic, perhaps most significantly, I came away with an appreciation of an Ethiopian proverb I once came across: “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
While my personal skills may have contributed to the team dynamic, it was the union of each teammate’s contributions that made our volunteer efforts a success. Beyond anything I could have contributed to Canitas, I gained the immeasurable gift of awareness: I realized the vastness of the world around me, and began to consider how I could contribute on a larger scale.