Sophomore Samantha Danko’s summer adventure to Costa Rica was full of new experiences and giving back to a small community oddly tied to our very own George Washington.
Danko worked with Integrated Learning Experience, a non-profit organization based in Central America. The public health major spent a month in the small town of San Ramon working as a volunteer assistant to a special education teacher.
Integrated Learning Experience offers a variety of programs for foreign nationals and students, including volunteer assignments, educational tours, Spanish training, semester abroad, high school programs and home stays.
“The program puts volunteers with host families in different locations throughout the country of Costa Rica,” Danko said. “INLEX places volunteers in Costa Rica and Guatemala, so I just picked a random one to be honest, but I’m glad I picked Costa Rica.”
It was Danko’s first time working with mentally and physically challenged children.
“Although it required a great deal of patience, something that I admit I often lack, I would definitely do it again,” Danko said.
Danko arrived at the school every morning, Monday through Friday, at 7:30 a.m. and stayed until the early afternoon. She helped serve breakfast to students and led them in singing workshops and water therapy classes in the school’s pool to build their motor skills.
In the afternoon, Danko spent time exploring Costa Rica with the other volunteers living in San Ramon.
“My host family made it easy for me to adjust by bringing me to all of their family gatherings, giving me the keys to the house and basically showing me how to get around,” Danko said. “As rewarding as my volunteer experience was, my favorite memories were spending time with my host family and other volunteers and INLEX employees that I now consider family.”
Danko might have been more than 2,000 miles from campus, but similarities to GW still surfaced. Across the street from El Centro de Educacion Especial, where she volunteered, was Escuela Jorge Washington, proudly displaying a concrete bust of GW’s namesake.
While back at GW this semester, she hopes to form a partnership with Escuela Jorge Washington to raise money for the school.
“Another trip back is definitely necessary. Over winter break I hope to go back to CR to visit, and then possibly volunteer again next summer,” Danko said. “From this experience I now know firsthand that every little thing does help.”