The following is a note from Chandler Bryant reflecting on her experience on the Lundquist College of Business Honors Program’s Alternative Break to El Higueron, Costa Rica, at the end of March 2013:
“Often with the fast-paced nature of college, work, and friends, I find it difficult to take a step back and realize how blessed I truly am. Traveling to Costa Rica and building a basketball court within the El Higueron community provided me with this realization. I can genuinely say I have never been physically pushed to my limits like I was while mixing and pouring concrete. But the satisfaction I felt once our team completed the court, and the joy it brought to the community, made it all worth it. Remembering the smiles of the children and adults, laughing and playing with their peers on the court–it is something I will never forget. Many people believed we served the community, which in many ways we did. However, I would say that the community served us far more than we served them. Life moves a little bit slower there, which enables the community to appreciate each other and the smaller aspects of life a little bit more. This is something I often forget to do, and this trip reminded me of the importance of everyday wins. Our trip to El Higueron would not have been possible without the support of the Quest Foundation, Consolidated Supply Co, Delap LLP, and Mr. and Mrs. Harsvik. On behalf of the entire team, I would like to thank you for your donations.”
During Spring Break from March 23-31, 2013, a group of fourteen students from the Lundquist College of Business Honors Program traveled to Costa Rica for an Alternative Break. We teamed up with non-profit Courts for Kids to build a basketball court in El Higueron. Below is a day by day journal of the trip.
We finally made it! After two plane rides and a bus, we made it to Campo Vida in El Higeuron, Costa Rica. Orlando and his wife, Yselda created Campo Vida from scratch. They received the land from the government and have turned it into a farm and retreat destination. More information on Campo Vida can be found on Campo Vida’s facebook page . Upon arrival we were served a delicious dinner of rice, beans, meat, and star fruit juice. Orlando and his family are so incredibly nice and some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I am looking forward to see this place during the day.
The community leveled the ground and put a border of cinder blocks around the edge of the court. When we first saw the outline of the court, it was a daunting task, the entire area was dirt with a massive pile of sand right in the middle and multiple piles of rock on the outsides. But we got right to it. Everyone picked up a shovel, bucket, or wheel barrel and starting making concrete. For the most part it was just us working on the court with a few exceptions. We learned Costa Ricans don’t work on Sundays, because it is their resting day. It was Palm Sunday though and during the middle of the day they had a procession through the town. And one man was dressed up like Jesus and came in riding a horse. It was really cool to see and gave us a brief insight into their religious culture. The local Peace Corp Volunteer that set up the entire trip for us, Rachel, said they dressed up the man as Jesus just for us. It was things like this that made us truly feel welcomed into community.
The local women’s group cooked us lunch and it was delicious! For the most part it was rice, beans, meat, and bread. But Rachel asked them to serve us more fruit instead of bread. It was interesting to learn that the locals rarely eat raw fruit. For us it was one of our favorite things!
The women’s group did a presentation on their history and what they do. The group was formed four years ago and became nationally recognized 3 years ago. Together they have started to create businesses, such as making popsicles and jams. They are hitting a lot of obstacles however and have not been able to start distributing them yet. They received a grant for a factory and a refrigerated truck, but they need to have certain packaging before they can be sold. In America we see entrepreneurs starting new businesses every day, and it was eye-opening to see how much work and persistence it has taken for this small business to begin. After four years, they are still not quite there yet.
On the court we had a ton of help from the local men and boys, we even had five more Peace Corp Volunteers from around the country come help. We nicknamed a couple of the locals Superman, Hercules, and mini Hercules. They were so incredibly strong and had an incredible work ethic. Costa Rica as a whole is known as being a male dominant society. And it was prevalent while working. It could be seen in the locals interactions with each other and in their interactions with us. We definitely surprised them when we walked up with 12 females and 8 males. But all of us worked right alongside them. By the end of the week a couple of them mentioned that we changed their opinions of Gringos. And on the last two days of work a couple of local girls and women came to help us with the manual labor, which was really cool to see. Because we knew all of us Gringo women working hard inspired them to break society norm and come help out too.
We took a break during the heat of the day and a couple of the locals took us through a pineapple farm to the river. The pineapple farm was incredible with the volcano in the background and they even grabbed a couple pineapples for us to share. At the river we saw an anteater in one of the trees and relaxed in the cool water until we went back to work in the late afternoon.
Back to work again! We can see the finish line at this point and the hoops are in place and ready to be put up. During our break today members of the Maieku indigenous tribe came to talk to us about their history and culture. And they brought some of the crafts they sell for us to buy. They made beautiful masks out of balsa wood. They also made hand drums out of iguana skin and beautiful jewelry.
We finished the court!!! After countless buckets and sore muscles the court is done! It feels amazing to have it all done. And the town threw a party tonight as a celebration and thank you. The school children performed traditional dances and a man brought his horse to do tricks for us. The horse prayed, walked on its knees, and even brought a girl a flower. They had a band going all night playing traditional music, it was all incredible! The food was amazing and during one of the dances the children pulled us onto the dance floor. It was a great way to finish the court. After that night I forgot all about all the sore muscles.
We went zip lining and to the hot springs at the Blue River Resort and Hotel. It was definitely a little different than what we were used to in El Higueron. We went zip lining through the canopy, then walked on a path right by the Blue River, which is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Then we took a tour through the botanical gardens, went into a natural sauna and had a mud bath, then finished the day relaxing in the hot springs. It was a very relaxing day.
Orlando showed us around Campo Vido taking us through the forest parts and describing the different plants and animals. It is amazing to see pictures of the property before Orlando and his family turned it into Campo Vida. Him and his wife have adopted approximately twenty at risk youth throughout their lives and giving them a place to call home at Campo Vida.
Today is Good Friday, and the community usually has a small procession for Stations of the Cross, but since we are in town they decided to act it out for us. We got to the church and everyone was all dressed up in costume ready to reenact the Stations of the Cross.
This morning we met all the children and community members at the court and played some basketball, volleyball, and soccer with them. Here the pictures say more than I ever could.
We drove to San Jose last night to get ready to depart, so this Easter Sunday we went to a local flea market and did some shopping before flying back for class in the morning.
Quotes from Students
Overall, the trip was incredible, and below are a couple quotes from other students about their experiences.
“My favorite part was giving shoes to the locals who had helped us all week and seeing the kids playing on the court and knowing that we had created something that would have a lasting impact on the community.” -Natalie Millar
“The big takeaways for me are that we are lucky to have everything that we do and other people around the world need opportunities as well. This trip was a great way to give back.” – Aaron McGinley
“I think the thing that resonated with me most powerfully is that people have the capacity to surprise each other in a positive way. Our group members surprised ourselves and each other with how hard we were able to work, the locals were pleasantly surprised by our ethic, and our eyes were opened to the warmth and generosity of the community there. I’ve always believed that people are inherently good, and this trip strongly reaffirmed that in ways I didn’t expect.” -Rachel Bruce
“Being in the small, rural community of El Higueron really showed me how kind hearted and welcoming people can truly be. They showed me the joy that can come from putting an emphasis on family and relationships, something that can be all to easily forgotten in our fast paced lifestyles.” – Amber Hull
“It was an incredible experience, I felt not only welcomed into the community but into their families. And all the hard work and sore muscles disappeared as soon as I saw the smiles on all the kids faces.” - Bridgette
On November 16th, the LCB Honors program had the privilege of visiting the headquarters of Bulk Handling Systems in industrial west Eugene. If you didn’t know there was an industrial area of Eugene, you’re not alone. Ten minutes west of downtown Eugene is a less glamorous segment of business that, in the shadow of such famous Oregon companies as Nike, often goes overlooked.
True to Oregon’s “green” nature, Bulk Handling Systems is a manufacturing company that builds recycling plants worldwide and is a market leader in recycling technology. They recently helped the city of San Jose, California become a zero waste city through the process of new technologies that turn waste into fuel. BHS has seen rapid growth since 2005, and won the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award in 2012.
We spent the morning chatting with Steve Miller, CEO of BHS, who gave us insight into his experience, the company’s history, and their success. Steve is clearly a man passionate about his business, and he was generous enough to spend over an hour answering our questions and giving us the inside look at BHS.
Next, we met with Richard Sweet, the Projects Group Manager who took us on a tour of BHS headquarters, and their manufacturing plant located a few blocks away. Richard answered our questions about the company and about his own background, and was also obviously enjoying every minute of his work at BHS.
At the manufacturing plant, we met with Ryan McGinnis, an enthusiastic mechanical engineer for BHS, who walked us through the manufacturing plant and told us about the different steps to create and ship a customer’s order. Seeing this side of the business was like seeing DSC 335 in practice. I had never thought about how complicated it would be to create, manufacture, and ship an entire production facility!
The site visit to BHS was not what I expected. We all learned a lot about the business of manufacturing as well as the importance of loving what you do.
Honors Business Student, 2013
We arrived in Guatemala City on Thursday around 1pm. Habitat for Humanity picked us up, and drove us the short distance to Antigua, Guatemala–about 45 minutes away. Antigua is known as a touristy town, with a strong colonial history. We checked into the hotel, which is basically a two story building with nine rooms. We occupied the whole place, which made everyone feel welcome and safe. Everyone walked around Antigua during the afternoon to check out the marketplace (lots of traditional things for sale such as scarves, colorful bags, tapestries, etc.), and view the churches and ruins. Around 6 we gathered for dinner. That was quite an adventure–trying to decode the menu and using the help of the limited Spanish speakers on the trip. Luckily we were with Kat, the Habitat for Humanity representative, who lives in Antigua. She has been very helpful and friendly throughout the duration of the trip. Dinner was Mexican food, which we all devoured as quickly as we could. Nothing beats tasty food after a long day of travel.
On Friday we woke up for breakfast at 8am. Breakfast is served at a nearby hotel, and is quite a spread. Friday was our day of adventures. Most people in the group went on a coffee tour in the morning. Others decided to partake in the extreme sport of ziplining through the canopies of Guatemala. Needless to say, it was an exciting morning and everyone had a lot of fun. During lunchtime, six of the team members took a cooking class, where they learned how to make three authentic Guatemalan meals. The remainder of the day involved walking around and seeing the sights. For dinner, we met back up and enjoyed some more traditional Guatemalan food. Afterwards, some of the group took a salsa dancing class!
Saturday we spent the ENTIRE day hiking an active volcano in Guatemala, called Pacaya. The view was absolutely amazing and although it was pretty chilly and windy, we all enjoyed ourselves. The first half of the hike we were followed by men on horses…this is their form of a taxi. You know we all wanted to take the horse, but we hung in there! At the top of the volcano we enjoyed lunch and a spectacular view of the rolling hills. What goes up, must come down. The hike down was much shorter. Our guides were quite impressed at how fast we were going down, especially because there was a slow group of older Canadians we had to wait for. Saturday night, some went to pizza and some went out for more Guatemalan food.
Sunday was another day of travel. We woke up, and got on the bus a three hour drive. The buses are nothing like in the US. Rather, the roads are windy, the buses are hot and the trucks whiz by. The countryside was beautiful, and everyone was excited to see what Zacapa was like. All we had heard was: there is nothing to do, we were headed to cowboy country, and it is a desert. Most of this lived up to what we heard. It was very hot when we arrived and there isn’t much of a town (unless you count the gas station and a few furniture stores). Thank goodness for the hotel with a beautiful swimming pool, to occupy our time. They have treated us so well, and made a feast for every single one of our meals. Sunday was relatively quiet, and we all went to bed looking forward to waking up at 6:45 for a hard day of work.
Today (Monday) we woke up for a fabulous breakfast to kickstart our day. Fresh fruit, fried plantains and fried french toast, eggs and black beans…doesn’t get much better than this! We drove out to the work site, where we met the two families we are building houses with. The first is a middle-aged single mom, with three adorable kids. The next is a nineteen-year-old married couple with one child. We divided up into groups and began our hard work. One site had the foundation laid, so they had to lay cinder blocks, mix concrete and spread dirt around for the floor. The second group had to dig a trench, lay some cinder blocks, tie rebar and level the dirt in the rooms. It was quite an experience for everyone. The neighborhood would come by to watch, and everyone was interested to see so many Americans in their town. The excitement and energy level was so high, although it was unbelieveably hot. Luckily they like to take breaks here. When the masons (in our case, fathers of the two women) take a break, so do we. Really quick — for Habitat for Humanity each family puts in a request about three months before the actual build. In order to have a house built, you must own the land, have a low and steady income, and have a family. Another requirement is that you put in sweat equity. This can be you personally helping to build the house, or if you have a job, providing food for the volunteers. Anyways, it was fun to interact with all the family, kids, neighbors, animals (chickens, pigs on leashes…no big deal, dogs, cats, etc.) and masons. We enjoyed the smell of tortillas cooking while we worked and the friendliness of the neighborhood.
We just finished another good meal, but it was quite a shock to head back to our hotel after seeing the environment that the families live in. We all realize the luxury and good fortune that we have, and are so grateful and happy to be working with these wonderful families. They have so very little in terms of material goods, but their hearts and hospitality are endless. Exhaustion has swept over the group and it looks like everyone is headed to bed around 8pm here…pretty early!
Tomorrow is another day of building and we are all looking forward to seeing the progress that we can make during our time!
Thank you to everyone for your endless support. We are looking forward to seeing you all in a few days!
-Sarah J Brillhart, on behalf of the UO Habitat Guatemala Team
Sarah is one of seventeen students in the Lundquist College of Business Honors Program who are spending a week building houses in Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity.