I’m Afraid of Bugs, Dirt, and Germs (& I can’t swim). Was Caño Palma has Tough as I Thought it Would Be?

As part of our GCELE experience we have to blog about our experiences in Costa Rica. The posts have be short which makes sense, so I picked 3 very specific topics. If you have any questions about things I didn’t cover, feel free to reach out @AmeliaR_N. These blogs will also be reposted on my personal blog.

Before Cano Palma people who knew me would crinkle their faces and respond with “Why are you going?” or worse, they’d smirk and say “You’re going to die.” I’m not very big on the great outdoors.

When I got back most people would say “You survived!?! Was it as bad as you thought?”

Here’s the thing. It was amazing and I’m extremely proud of the work I did there. That being said it wasn’t like I showed up and was greeted by a 5 star or even 2 star resort. Conservation work is extremely hard and when you Google ‘how many Sea Turtles are left?” or some other question, the amount of work that went in to that answer you searched in 0.40 seconds is staggering.

fbpost^As soon as I got WiFi I wanted to tell the world what was happening.^

Here is a list of some of the tougher things we experienced on our trip ( a small look at all the work conservationist do):

  • Washroom Things
    There was no hot water –ever. To conserve water you flushed by pouring half a bottle of rain water into the toilet. The water on base tasted heavily like metal. I used very little water to shower or brush my teeth (which I did in the company of giant bugs).


  • Bedroom Things

It was always hot in the rainforest and never dry. We had a fan we could use if Necessary. Since people worked all hours of the day and night, the rooms were almost always dark (so people could sleep whenever) and very quiet. We slept in bunk-beds which we had to cover with Mosquito nets. Those nets made it extra hot but it was either that or get eaten alive –your call.


  • Workload Things

The shifts were varied and 24/7. Patrolling the beach to protect Sea Turtles, Hiking in the jungle to track animals and record data, working in the community, tagging trees, maintenance around the station. The chores were endless, usually very physical, and never ending. We were told that Centennial’s presence was a big help because it allowed overworked-scientists to catch up on rest and recover from illnesses.

workload^Wearing dark clothes with long sleeves for the hot Night patrol (can’t scare the turtles away!)^

  • The Nature Thing

It was always hot and always wet.  Clothes never dried. Shoes and feet were always damp. This meant you were always, damp, itchy and sore. Bugs might not be a problem for everyone but the bugs were huge. A bird flew in the room once which was cool until I realized it was actually just a big bug.walk^My regular walk from the dorms to the kitchen^

  • The Isolation Thing

WiFi was scarce and you were working nonstop but in the few off times you’d sometimes notice how out of touch you were with your ‘home-life’ and while it’s not always a bad thing, it can be lonely.us^IT HELPED THAT THESE GREAT PEOPLE WERE HERE.^

Stay tuned to read about my favourite part of the trip!


It’s The Little Things

It’s been a while since I’ve updated here so I will attempt to briefly go over all of the things that have been happening over the weeks. In the last post that I’ve written, I’ve briefly explained my first impressions as someone who was in charge of a class-room. My perspectives have changed a bit over time. Apart from my classroom experience, there are other trips that have been made.

I have explored the downtown region of Daegu, last weekend I have visited Busan and I have also hiked all the way up Palgongsan mountain in Daegu (Pictured).

20150722_034128Despite all of these amazing experiences and getting to meet many new people whom I now consider my friends, I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing that my contributions have made an impact.

studentsOne thing that I like is my given “Korean” name (it’s actually chinese but many Koreans use chinese names). As the students had, for the most part, chosen english names for these classes, one of my students from my first class told me that she took a few days searching for the correct names to describe me while also sounding somewhat like my real name. I was given the name “Lee Chan Woo”.  Lee sounds like the beginning of my name, Chan means bright and Woo means excellence.

The picture posted above was taken thursday of last week after I went with my class to play at a local billiards place. Afterwards I had eaten pig feet for the first time. It was really tasty.

A lot more things have happened since. For instance, I’ve gotten assigned a new classroom this week and am working with students who are not as advanced as my first class. I have found ways that are useful in encouraging them to speak correctly.

I’m having an amazing time here. I feel that I’ve grown as I have allowed myself to come out of my comfort zone and have a lot of fun with this program.

–Richard Tardibuono

Be Who You Want To Be

At their Jr. High School in the mountains Butuo County, we asked a class of Grade 8 girls the same question we were asked at their age: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most girls answered that they wanted to be a doctor, teacher, or famous singer. I found it curious that the girls wanted to enter into the same professions, despite each of their unique qualities and talents.

When we returned to Xichang, a larger city outside of Butuo, we ran a similar Career Workshop with a different class of girls and asked them the same question. We were pleasantly surprised by a host of varied and enthusiastic answers: lawyer, chef, fashion designer and shop owner, music teacher, engineer! These students were older and had received more education than the younger students in Butuo.

We worked with the students to create their own “Dream Boards” to show their hopes and dreams and who they aspired to become in the future. One of the students had the most thoughtful Dream Board. It showed that she wanted to travel the world, become a lawyer, or an accountant, or a ballet dancer, get married and become a good mother.

When she presented her Dream Board to our group, she said, “I used to only have one dream. But the future is uncertain, so we must have many dreams. You must be who you want to be!”

Our group on our last day together. Our t-shirts say,
Our group on our last day together. Our t-shirts say, “Make the most of it”.

The students in Xichang grew up in Butuo County and have had to overcome many obstacles to get where they are today. In spite of their difficult journeys, the girls in Xichang dared to dream to enter such creative and personalized professions because their education has allowed and inspired them to.

On this GCELE, my ideas on the value of education were reinforced. Education has the power to reach into a seemingly hopeless situation, widen horizons, open doors to opportunities for growth and excellence, and maximize potential.

Education truly makes a profound difference. It is a priceless gift. You and I have the power to give it!

– Althea Gorospe

Educate A Girl, Educate A Village

I met Emma at her Jr. High School in the mountains of Butuo County. At almost nineteen years old, Emma is the eldest of her class. I remember that she is shy, but has the kindest smile and the strongest singing voice. She impressed me by saying that she wanted to be a photographer or journalist. To me, these seemed to be out-of-the-box professions, as her classmates wanted to be doctors, teachers, or famous singers. As I helped her fill out the Goal Worksheet we distributed to her class, she told me that she loved watching the news reporters on television. She wanted to see the world and take photographs of her travels.

Photo taken by Emma.
Photo taken by Emma.

Emma had lived a difficult life and still dared to dream. Her hopeful and resilient spirit humbled and inspired me. We spent the rest of the day by each other’s side. She held my hand as we said goodbye; I didn’t want to let go. I reminded her to never give up on her dreams and to always keep smiling. She asked me to never forget her, and I certainly never will.

Later, I learned that Emma’s mother had pulled her out of school three years earlier. Her mother had arranged a marriage for her, and she was engaged to a man from her village. Emma’s family had already paid a dowry to the man’s family. Her mother insisted that she give up her education so that she could return home and get married.

Fu Hui Education Foundation negotiated with Emma’s family in order for her to return to school. They made a contract that would allow for Emma to attend school for another three years, until she finished Jr. High School.

Outside of Emma's school in Butuo County, Sichuan Province, China.
Outside of Emma’s school in Butuo County, Sichuan Province, China.

Unknowingly, I met Emma while she was in the last days of her formal education. Summer was fast approaching, and Emma was due to return home and get married. She would never be able to attend high school, graduate from university as a journalist, or travel the world.

I can’t describe the feeling I felt when I learned the truth; perhaps I could say disappointment, or sorrow; burdened, or heartbroken. Perhaps a mix of all of those. One of the kind Fu Hui volunteers comforted me with this: that although Emma would not be able to continue her education, she would return to her village as an educated woman. Emma has received endless benefits from her education, and she would share these with her family, her future children, and others in her village. She will be a beacon of light, a carrier of knowledge that can lead to hope for a better life.

“If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a village.” – African Proverb

Emma and I.
Emma and I.

– Althea Gorospe

English in Korea

I was put on the 12th floor in the guest dorm room and this was the wonderful vie I had until they told me I had to move down to the 9th floor. I still get the same view... just not as high up as this was.
I was put on the 12th floor in the guest dorm room and this was the wonderful view I had until they told me I had to move down to the 9th floor. I still get the same view… just not as high up as this was.

I’m living my dream right now. When my mind is not busy being occupied with lesson plans or dinner plans, I catch some moments in the day where I think to myself “Am I really teaching students in Korea right now?”

At first, I really wasn’t expecting to teach at all, considering that the program said “mentoring”. When I was told I had a class of 7 for almost four hours straight, I sat there thinking “Oh, no. What am I going to do.” My first class was just a mess of speaking English too fast, not being able to communicate, having no material, and awkward silences. After that class, I knew I had to pull myself together and get organized.

Prior to this trip, I had already been fond of Korea with their pop culture and TV dramas, so I was able to touch base with a lot of them through common interests. It helped to find out that a lot of students share the same age as me. (Fun Fact: Did you know that Korean age is different than American age? They consider 1 year old the day you’re born.)  In the end, I was able to figure out a comfort level of teaching with my class where both parties can learn from each other.

Not all my students were there because some had already left when we decided to take a picture. :(
Not all my students were there because some had already left when we decided to take a picture. 😦

Next week, I’ll be getting a new batch of students (Kinda, not really. Just switching classes with the teacher next door.) which will definitely be another challenge after having just gotten used to and attached to this one.

Looking forward to the next couple of weeks,
Nicole L.

Little extra. People found out about my birthday, but I'm glad they did. Everyone made it an unforgettable birthday.
Little extra. People found out about my birthday, but I’m glad they did. Everyone made it an unforgettable birthday.

Journey to Butuo – The Fu Hui Foundation and the lives that it’s changed


To say that this trip to China has been the greatest most impactful experience of my life would be an understatement. How do you begin to tell the story of a journey that has changed so many lives? Not just of the college students and teachers who participated in this experience, but of the children who we worked with and who have had a chance at a better life through the Fu Hui Educational foundation.

The Whole Group
The Whole Group

Into the Mountains…

The car ride into the mountains from Xichang to Butuo was rocky, to say the least. The rugged roads were extremely bumpy and winding through the most gorgeous landscapes. We passed villages filled with houses mostly of the same build, marked with the Yi emblem. Female villagers (and even some children) walked by with big woven baskets from working in the fields. Livestock seemed to roam freely and children (from infancy up) in groups or alone were also on the sides of the road, seeming to be taking care of each other, an image most of us can’t comprehend. Men were seen sitting in groups on the sides of the streets in conversation while women were weaving intricate coats that we’d see other villagers sporting. I asked one of the Volunteers Sylvia why it was almost all women I saw working and she advised me that men were more privileged in the Yi society, and therefore didn’t need to work, a fact that not only baffled me by it’s inequality but also by the economic stress it must cause.

Hardworking women and children of Butuo
Hardworking women and children of Butuo

Home Visits…

On our first day in the mountains we went on home visits to some of the Fu hui students homes, which would result in being one of our most emotional days of the trip. Seeing the living conditions of their homes was eye opening, there was no plumbing, no electricity, a bed shared by 3 was a luxury, a roof made of straw that leaked when it rained, all things we take for granted back home. The home I visited was of a girl named Sai Zi (pronounced Sigh-Zuh) who’s Grandmother was raising her and her older brother, after her father died and her mother was remarried and moved away. The Grandmother was moved to tears and brought many of us to tears in return, we told her what a great job she had been doing raising her grandchildren. When she was given some eggs (a valuble commodity to the Yi people) she offered one to Sai Zi and one to her neighbour, a gesture so generous of someone with so little. 

Inside Sai Zi's home with her Grandmother and Brother
Inside Sai Zi’s home with her Grandmother and Brother

Walking back to the school holding Sai Zi’s hand, I didn’t want to let go, I wanted to bring her home with me to have a better life, but I knew it wasn’t my place, that through Fu Hui she was getting an education and a chance for a better life. A chance I pray her brother gets as well, as he’s unsponsored and less likely to escape the hardships that his elders had.

Not wanting to let go
Not wanting to let go
With Sai Zi and her brother
With Sai Zi and her brother

That same day, gathered in a circle we learned and danced with the Fu hui students their traditional Yi dance. It felt amazing and welcoming to be able to share that with the children. All of these activities helped prepare us for what was to come, our whole purpose of this journey to China: to run the empowerment camps. And now that we were aquainted with the children and understood their backrounds, another part of our journey was about to begin.

Dancing the Yi traditional dance
Dancing the Yi traditional dance

Stay tuned for Part 2…

By Julia Frankling

19+30 for BETTER

“Into the unknown… embrace the fall… enjoy the ride…”

These are phrases I kept telling myself while I prepared for a trip described by many, as a trip of a lifetime. It wasn’t a trip, it was far from that, it was an experience of a lifetime, and I was not prepared for the impact it would have on me or everyone else, I don’t think anybody was. We were 19 students, strangers to each other, with different backgrounds, different believes and different career paths, put together for one single goal; be better and encourage others to be better. The fact that we all came from such different places became an asset; we saw things differently, we had numerous reactions to a single situation and we pushed each other forward, sometimes by agreeing with each other, others by disagreeing with each other. Each one of us played a key part in this experience, there was something unique of everyone that shone throughout the journey; like Althea’s everlasting smile and undying enthusiasm, Irfan’s playfulness and bad jokes, Nisha’s serene voice and attitude, Courtney’s empathy and charm with the kids, Crystal’s willingness to help, Rohini’s resolve, Mila’s funny craziness… too many to name them all. However, I’m grateful to have shared this journey with them.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett

After our time in the mountains, we traveled back to Xichang to meet 30 Fu Hui Girls with whom we spent the next 5 days during the Empowerment Camp. During this time, we tried to give the girls all our collective knowledge and wisdom (as little as it might be since we are all still learning) through the workshops. In return, they gave us so much more, they showed unmeasurable gratitude, joy and love. They reminded me what it is like to see the world through innocent eyes, to be open to change without fear and to enjoy the little things. In our final day with the girls, we were surprised to that none of the girls in our Team Happy was outside to meet us upon arrival like the rest. As we walked inside, we found our girls in the classroom, practicing for our performance. To me, this gesture meant our goal was accomplished. By this little silly thing, a performance for the rest of the class. We saw them working on their own, setting the bar higher and trying to be better for themselves. Those were my last words to the girls before saying goodbye, be better everyday. Everyone has their own version, they pushed us for ours as much as we did so for theirs.

There were too many amazing, touching and memorable moments during this journey. One in particular comes to mind, on the first day with the girls, one came up to me, we chatted for 2 minutes, we got separated into other groups, then after an activity we were back to our places. When I saw this girl again, I greeted her by name, the look on the face was indescribable, she was so surprised, touched and excited that I remembered her name, we connected right there and from that point on whenever she saw me, it was the same joy, excitement and pure appreciation from that first day, right until the last day with her gripping my hand strongly as we were saying goodbye. Her name was Mabel, it will not be forgotten. During this journey, I was reminded to be grateful, to appreciate the little simple things, and to never underestimate the impact you can have on someone else’s life. We choose whether it is for the BETTER.


Centennial College Student Ambassadors
Centennial College and Fu Hui Education Foundation
Team Happy
Linda – Limay – Miranda – Yuonne – Monica – Max – Chelsa
With the girls
Enjoy the moment

Habitat for Humanity and the Learning

The last blog I wrote I talked about specific experiences that were very valuable in my learning throughout my trip in PEI. This one is more about what Habitat is all about and the learning that I experienced personally. First off Habitat for Humanity is a not for profit organization that helps families that are in need of affordable housing. To qualify you must make a certain amount of money a year, put in 500 hours of volunteer work for Habitat and the family also pays a mortgage back to Habitat for Humanity and that money goes to making another Habitat house for another family. That is pretty incredible in my mind because the families put in the time and buy paying the mortgage of there house Habitat is able to provide other families with the same opportunities to fit their needs.

Personally I did not know what to expect going on a GCELE for Habitat for Humanity within Canada. There are differences in culture even in the same country! Their highways are different, their traffic lights are different, the air is different and the people are different. They are so relaxed, calm and friendly. You hardly ever go out without seeing someone you know. I personally like this small tight community because I am a very friendly and social person who loves to talk. There was a lot more physical work than I expected! Our team and myself personally pushed ourselves above and beyond what I thought I and our team was capable of. I never envisioned myself shingling a roof. That was an incredible and confidence boosting experience. It was also an emotional and mental roller coaster. We had to learn how to work with others who come from all different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. We also lived in very close proximity to each other for 8 days which can be tough having little privacy. Being able to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to get out of bed even when I was exhausted and sore was hard. But something I always said throughout this trip was that this trip was not about me. Every time I said that I was able to move forward. I became mentally and emotionally stronger because I was tired, sore and still worked. If you got hurt we would stop pull ourselves together and keep going. That’s just how our team worked. We worked so well as a team and their is no other group of people I would of rather built this house with than them.

Thank you to Centennial College, Habitat for Humanity PEI and all the people that made this trip possible. I truly learned a lot and can proudly and confidently say I am a stronger person physically, mentally and emotionally.

This is just a little video I put together about my team and I on our trip and the experiences we had the opportunity to have!

Rebecca Harber

Habitat for Humanity PEI


Early Childhood Education Program

The Changing Experience

Being chosen to go on a GCELE within Canada – PEI I did not really understand why in Canada as I did not see absolute poverty in Canada which was my idea of poverty. Although Canada has a lot of relative poverty such as living pay check to pay check. After meeting the family at the welcome dinner I started to understand why I was here. Erika (the mother) also wrote us the letter below which was so nice to read after meeting her.


I realized that this trip was not about me but to serve others. I still had not seen the awe factor of what my hard work was going to do for a family to its full extent until Day 4.

Journal entry Day 4,

Erika and Alyannah (the family we were building a house for) showed up this afternoon to see the progress on the house and they were so happy. When I asked Alyannah (the child) where her room was she would run to her window inside and say look this is my room banging on the window with such a big smile on her face. That was worth it all, to see her face was incredible. Aly asked me if we could go out back to see the work we had done on her house so I went with her. I brought her back inside and Erika came up to me and said thank you so much. She was like I am just going to give you a hug. That was absolutely amazing to be apart of.

This encounter/entry made me realize what we were doing was giving a family such joy, hope, safety and love. They were so thankful by the end of the week of what our team had accomplished. We built the entire foundation of her two bed room, one bathroom home. At the end of the week the family and Habitat for Humanity PEI thanked us with a thank you dinner. Erika and Alyannah were so thankful! Alyannah gave us each one of these unique frames below with a map of PEI on it. Alyannah had drew a heart on it where we built her house. It was absolutely precious to see her face and for such a shy little girl at the beginning of the week to come out of her shell and love us so much!


Myself and Erika top left, Myself and Alyannah top right, and the thank you gift from Alyannah on the bottom.

Rebecca Harber

Habitat for Humanity PEI


Early Childhood Education Program


GCELE China 2015 took me to Butuo County, in Sichuan Province – China.

It started with a very bumpy 4.5 hour ride through a dirt road to get there. It was totally worthy. While in the mountain, we had our first contact with the Fu Hui children. First thing, we went hiking up hill for an hour, this is when I realized that I’m not in shape and I shouldn’t complain about my commute to college ever, as some of these kids walk for hours everyday to get to school, we witnessed small children walking on the side of road in the middle of nowhere in uniforms and their backpacks.

There, we had a home visit to one of the girls, we found her grandmother outside of the house, she walked to the house and used her key on the lock. Yes, a lock, no matter how much or how little one might have, there is a sense of belonging and ownership, that need of protection over your home. Coming from a Latin American country and previous volunteer work, I’ve seen poverty at first hand before. However, I had not seen such low living conditions, ever. It was heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet, this girl had a smile for us at every glance. To me, as a friend said during a reflection session, it was not an eye opener, but a reminder to refocus priorities and be grateful.

While visiting the schools, we had a chance to see the children and girls in their everyday environment. Everyday, they shared part of themselves and their culture with us, without any restriction nor fear, they gave us all they had and then some, they surprised us their strong views, the way expressed and saw themselves. Moreover, their excitement, their smiles and their happiness, that broke any language barrier we had. Sharing those few days with them and seeing such joy in them… It was priceless.


Hiking – Butuo County
Home Visit with Fu Hui Education Foundation – Butuo County.
Yi Traditional Dance – Butuo County.
With the Fu Hui girls after workshops – Butuo County.
Fu Hui Children – Butuo County.
Fu Hui School Class Photo – Butuo County.
During games with the Fu Hui children – Butuo County.
Saying goodbye to the Fu Hui children – Butuo County.
Kirstie Keys - china GCELE 132
Faces of Butuo – Butuo County.
New friends – Butuo County.
Fu Hui girls – Butuo County.
During arts and crafts with the Fu Hui Children – Butuo County.
Class Photo – Butuo County.
Fu Hui Children – Butuo County.

Continue reading “MY TIME IN THE MOUNTAINS: Priceless!!”