Kicking off volunteer season with a bang
The lack of travelers in 2020 meant a significant decrease in the amount of community volunteer groups that we were able to receive here at CREAR. We really felt their absence as these volunteer groups provide a multitude of benefits to our community and our organization. Not only do they contribute to CREAR, which enables us to be a sustainable program and continue to do our valuable educational work, they also directly benefit the communities they work in. The parks they help to build and maintain are important gathering spaces for the communities and they provide a safe place for local children to play and hang out. In addition to the direct impact they have in our community, they also have a measurable economic impact for the vendors and tour companies in town through their participation in ziplining, SUP, surfing and kayak tours, as well as their hotel reservations, meals out at restaurants and other various souvenir purchases. The pandemic has shown us how truly important tourism is to our local context, and we are grateful to be able to contribute to a healthier local economy by hosting our community volunteer groups.
As vaccines become more readily available, we are now able to welcome these groups back to Samara. Travel for Teens, a long time partner and friend of our organization, sends many groups over the course of the summer and thanks to their help, the communities of Cantarana and Cangrejal got a much-needed makeover to their public parks.
Travel for Teens Surf and Service group started the volunteer season off very strong with their work in Cantarana. This park is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and lots of children and families enjoy the picnic tables and play areas. This park had been uncared for over the past year and was seriously overgrown and in need of a fresh paint job. Over the course of four days, this group of hardworking volunteers was able to bring this park back to its former glory. On day one a team of machete wielding volunteers took on the overgrown bushes and trees in front of the park while other diligent workers picked up fallen branches and other debris. Two of our CREAR students, Kimberly and Allison, live adjacent to the park and when they saw a group of foreigners arrive they came out to investigate. The teen volunteers began to interact with our CREAR students and began to communicate using the universal language of play.
After a strong start on Wednesday, the group returned to the park on Thursday and Friday to finish clearing debris and start painting the park elements. The chipped and faded paint on the benches and tables needed some love and our volunteers went above and beyond our expectations. The group worked diligently to clean up the park and leave their own touch on the space through the use of creative and unique designs. As the group painted, Kimberly and Allison offered to help with the design work. The girls grabbed a paintbrush and took to work. The work we do here at CREAR is particularly rewarding when we can see the lives of our students enriched, not only educationally but also in their neighborhood when volunteer groups arrive to brighten up the community.
The Surf and Service trip was so efficient at the park that they finished a day ahead of schedule! We were grateful that they were still willing to work and on Saturday afternoon the group came to CREAR to help us clean up our learning space. Able hands and strong backs were able to dig a trench around our outdoor classroom to keep rainwater from flooding the area.
Not even 24 hours after the first Travel for Teens group finished up, the second group had arrived in Samara and was ready to begin working. Community leader and member of the local development association, Lisbeth Palma, asked that we visit the neighborhood of Cangrejal to freshen up the benches, tables and play area in that part of town. The park at Cangrejal is right on the beach and it is a very popular spot for weekenders to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Our diligent volunteers and José, our Community Projects Foreman, headed out to Cangrejal on a toasty Monday morning to kick off the makeover. The large group started off by sweeping the park and clearing all of the trash and debris. After the initial cleanup, they cracked open the cans of paint and began work on the concrete tables and benches. This creative and hardworking group did a great job painting the seating areas and bringing new designs to the area.
The playground at Cangrejal was also in serious need of a touch-up. The chains on the swingset were rusted and broken, making the playground mostly unusable. The group was excited to help clean up the playground and painted a beautiful space-themed mural on the ceiling of the playfort. José and a couple of helpers began to cut down the old chains and replace them with durable new synthetic ropes. The park was looking beautiful and the newly painted swing set was back in working order. The group returned to CREAR to wash out the paintbrushes and head to the beach for some well deserved rest and relaxation.
Here at CREAR we are always very grateful for our friends at Travel for Teens and their continued support of the work we do here. We would also like to thank our Community Projects Foreman, José, for his expertise and experience building and leading construction projects. We could not run these programs without him! The groups mean a lot to us and to our community and we look forward to many more years collaborating with more volunteers.
If you want to contribute to more projects like these please consider making a donation here.
By Lucas C. Mozingo