---by Christina Cavanaro
When I went with 14 participants from Saint Anselm College of Manchester, N.H., to Costa Rica in March 2012, I could not have fathomed the experience we had during our week-long stay.
We set off to a rural area in Costa Rica to work with Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA) in building a house for a family in need. Some of us had never left the country, spoken Spanish or done service. I expected to learn many things from the trip, but the most powerful were moments of construction, but not of the house itself.
Though it felt almost miraculous to see the house nearly complete within our stay, the most powerful formations I experienced were much more personal:
We were able to connect through values much more powerful than common language or culture, which were love and laughter. We all worried about our ability to connect with the family and community we were serving with the language barrier; however, almost instantly, we felt the wall dividing us break down little by little. I was repeatedly moved by the ways each of our participants and people in the community overcame the difficulties in communication.
We were in awe of the beauty of Costa Rica and the welcome we received. The CFCA employees were incredibly helpful, whether they were explaining local greetings, showing us wildlife or giving us a more in-depth understanding of the community we were immersed in. They treated us like one of their own.
We met the family in front of their small house on the outskirts of a small neighborhood in which many Nicaraguan refugees had settled. Their home, like many in this neighborhood, was built with scrap wood and corrugated metal with one line of electricity.
I was floored by the perseverance and grace that everyone in the community seemed to radiate. With so many in need, especially the family we were given the privilege to work with, there was always room for joy, for music and for one another. Adolescents and young adults who were given scholarships through CFCA came to help us build. One young woman took an hour-long bus ride to come help. She told me that she felt it was only right to help give back because she has received so much help from CFCA. She did so with joy. I felt so blessed to meet her and the other students who helped us throughout the week. It was amazing and unifying to meet fellow students, so much like ourselves, similar both in interests and values, but surrounded by such different cultures and lifestyles.
The stark differences in culture were refreshing and inspiring. Coming from a culture with prominent social media, technology and individualism, the integral role of love and relationship was humbling. It was clear that we had much to learn from the people of Costa Rica. Their emphasis on relationships, family and love represented one of the most basic Christian values that can sometimes be lost in the world we live in.
It seems so natural to love one another, but the way in which the people there represented that covenant, with such grace and innate devotion, reminded me what our mission truly is in life - to love without end, to live in solidarity and to have faith.
Service and solidarity are not only essential to the Christian values of love and mercy, but also to social justice. Today's youth have the power to bring about social change, make a difference and provide for their community. As Mother Teresa said, “Love begins at the home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into that action.” Any and all contributions will make a difference, and there is no way to measure how that difference may change the world we live in. Service exemplifies love and brings humility and joy to all those who experience it. The experience of service is a gift that should be practiced as frequently and differently as possible.
Do not let the opportunity to serve pass you by. The rewards it brings extend farther than one can possibly fathom, and that experience is irreplaceable.
Christina is 21 and lives in Norwell, Massachusetts. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family – her twin brother, Jimmy, and her parents Jim and Nancy. She also likes horses, playing rugby and doing service.
CFCA was founded in 1981 by lay Catholics acting on the Gospel call to serve the poor. It now has more than 250,000 U.S. sponsors supporting children, youth and the aging worldwide. To learn how you can help, visit http://hopeforafamily.org.