by Rachel Braman
You’re a freshman in college and your mom calls you up and asks if you want to go to Costa Rica that summer. Your first reaction would probably be something similar to mine – “Heck yea!” My mind started to swirl with ideas of bathing suits, beaches and piña coladas (virgin, of course!) However, before I could start mentally preparing my to-do and packing lists, my mom explained that what she was talking about was not a typical vacation. What she was talking about was not a relaxing beach getaway, but a mission trip. This was a trip where we would join a group of individuals from a local church and travel to the heart of Costa Rica to work as a team to help build new schools for the children.
You may think that my first reaction to this would have been disappointment – disappointed that my idea of lounging on the beach was crushed – but not even close. I was so excited! Ever since I was a little girl I have loved helping others in any way I can and this sounded like an amazing opportunity. Not only would I have the chance to explore a new country, but I knew it would also be an opportunity for me to grow as a person and strengthen my relationship with my mother.
That summer my mother and I embarked on what would be two of the most memorable and satisfying weeks of my life.
There was a group of about ten of us and we were very lucky to have a house to stay in, next-door neighbors who cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and a working toilet and shower. Each day we woke up bright and early, had breakfast and then walked down to our work site. There was a one-room schoolhouse that all of the children used and our project was to begin construction on a second schoolhouse next door.
I will never forget that first day of work. We were all so excited and ready to start building when the unexpected happened: The cement mixer broke! The men tried and tried to fix it, but to no avail. For the next two weeks we had to use shovels and mix the cement by hand in order to make the building’s structure. Though I was the youngest one in the group, I powered up all the muscle I could and tried my hand at mixing.
After realizing that the adults were able to create faster output and make better use of our time there, I decided that my job for those next two weeks was not going to be all physical labor. I came to Costa Rica to make an impact on people’s lives and that is exactly what I was going to do. I set my shovel down and walked next door to the current schoolhouse. There, I spent the next two weeks becoming one with the local children. We would laugh, play games, draw pictures and study math cards. Along with their teacher and families, they introduced me to their favorite afternoon snacks and how to open a coconut with a machete. I will never forget the day when one young student took a bracelet off of his wrist and placed it on mine.
Whenever I tell people this story, whether it is friends or potential employers, I always get asked the same question: “Rachel how did you manage to communicate with the children when you spoke two different languages?” I just look at them and state the most important lesson I learned on that trip: You do not need to speak the same language to communicate with others. Communication is about body language and how you interact. It is amazing what an effect one honest and true smile can have.
I will forever be grateful to my mother for taking me on this trip. Just as I had expected, those two weeks gave me an insight to who I was as a person and who I wanted to become as an adult. In those two weeks my mother and I formed a bond that no matter what argument we get into or what aspect of my life we may disagree on will never be broken. We worked side by side. She took care of me the day I was dehydrated and had to go back to the house and lay down. She stood up for me the night when others presumed I was the typical American teenager and would have rather been at the mall shopping than on that trip. We watched out for each other’s hair at night to make sure no scorpions made themselves a home. We became what I will always cherish – my mother and I became allies.
Be the change.
Rachel is a 27-year-old law student from Upstate New York who was born with the desire to help others. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and an Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies, Rachel headed off to law school in order to provide herself with the ability to help others in a way that they cannot help themselves. Whether she is acting out her position as Project Director of Albany Law School’s Anti-Human Trafficking Pro Bono Project or simply listening to someone’s story, her heart is open. When she is not at school studying about the rules of evidence or the rights of the child, she enjoys going camping with her fiancé Brennan and rambunctious Yorkie, Chip.