Campus & Community

A journey in service: Study abroad students help Costa Rican orphanage

Professor Suzanne Duff, department chair for Human Services programs at Palm Beach State College, and 12 students returned June 7 from a study abroad trip to Costa Rica, exhausted yet elated.

The nine-day journey was the third annual summer trip led by Duff, designed to give PBSC students a hands-on experience serving those in need in another culture. On this trip, Duff and the students worked at a remote orphanage or hogarsito (“little home”) for boys ages 8 and up. Every day the students commuted nearly two hours each way from their lodge near the Arenal Volcano. They were asked to go to this particular hogarsito because it rarely gets visitors or volunteers and had the most need.

Costa Rica Study Abroad 2016
Since photographing the boys faces was not allowed, Duff took a group photo with no one’s faces. She said it was a very touching and special moment for her and the students.

Read entries from Duff’s journal of the trip:

“The first day we met with a psychologist at the hogarsito who is affiliated with PANI, Costa Rica’s social services agency. PANI is similar to our Florida Department of Children and Families. When children here are abused and/or neglected, PANI intervenes and places them in safer circumstances like a hogarsito. The psychologist told our students about each boy and why they are here. Some of the stories were hard to hear but gave our students insight into cultural practices and therapeutic interventions that are used in Costa Rica. I was so thankful that the psychologist was transparent with them about each boy and their situation, as it affected our students and motivated them to make good use of our time. Many of the boys, she said, have obvious scars.

Group Photo Costa Rica Study Abroad Trip
The study abroad participants on the hogarsito’s basketball court, from left: Liz-Marie Mandan, Jennifer Batavia, Rosa Boutros, Angela Lirio, Max Elhamad, Danielle Brackett, Rachel Small, Mira Hoffman, Natalia Nash, Yve Lopes, Jennifer Dedona and Weth China Antoine. Professor Suzanne Duff is in front, holding the selfie stick.

We met many of the boys and had time to play with and interact with them. We can’t wait to go back to see them tomorrow.

After our day at the hogarsito, we visited the Arenal Volcano National Park and the volcano’s hot springs, which was really fun!

This morning I sat outside at our lodge with a cup of coffee, and 5-8 monkeys swung through the trees right by my room. We are truly in the jungle!

We’re still doing well here in Costa Rica. For the last three days we have done service work at the hogarsito. The orphanage director asked us to repair and paint the fence that surrounds the property as well as their small basketball area. The thick vegetation had damaged the fence, which was a safety issue, so we cut the vegetation and scraped, pressure washed and painted the fence. We have also spent quality time with each of the boys.

Cassandra Wilbanks, an associate professor for PBSC’s Child Care programs, organized a drive to provide supplies for our hogarsito. Her students collected so much that each student on our trip brought a second checked bag full of diapers, school supplies, clothes and other items. These donations were divided by our students into four piles: one for our hogarsito, one for the village school, one for a hogarsito we will visit today with smaller children and babies, and a final pile for the village we worked in during last year’s study abroad trip. What a joy it is for me to see our College and students provide for so many people.

Today we will spend a fun and final day with our boys at the hogarsito. They asked for a pizza party, so we will bring them pizza! After lunch they will bring our students to their local lookout. We will also visit the other hogarsito to bring them supplies. The psychologist told us that the boys have written us a letter, so I’m sure that will be a special experience for our students.

We made it home safely last night. We had a great last day at the hogarsito. After lunch, the boys took us to their village overlook. From there you could see all the way to Nicaragua! When we got back we said our goodbyes to the boys and took a group picture.

A few of the boys asked our Spanish-speaking student if she would consider adopting them. As you can imagine, the bus ride back to the lodge was full of tears. I think our work at the hogarsito deeply affected not only our students, but also the precious boys who live there.

This experience gave life-changing opportunities to our students. It allows them to see the boundaries they place on their own lives and gives them the motivation they need to make a difference in the world.”

See photos of the trip.

Learn more about the Human Services programs and PBSC’s Study Abroad programs.


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3 comments on “A journey in service: Study abroad students help Costa Rican orphanage”

    1. You are awesome, Suzie! Thank you so much for the dedication you show in organizing and leading these trips. God bless you!

  1. Great experience for our students and as an employee it warm my heart to see our faculty and students doing such good and making a difference. Good bless you and your wonderful students. Praying all the boys find a kind and caring family!

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