'Their need isn't less than ours'
Local reflects on Costa Rica mission trip
September 28, 2011 - Monica DeAngelo describes her recent mission trip to Costa Rica as "an emotional roller coaster."
"My eyes and heart were taking in so much all at one time," said DeAngelo, owner of Cutting Edge Salon in Goodrich. "It's hard to control your emotions, because you want to cry. There is so much to be done there and so much to be done in our communities. Where do you start? Their need isn't less than ours."
DeAngelo, 54, was asked by a friend in July if she would like to travel to Costa Rica to do mission work through Journey Ministries in Davison. She said yes to the adventure and from Sept. 13-21, joined ten other missionaries in visiting several locations in the Central American nation, including San Martin, offering assistance and hope to children, senior citizens and the homeless.
She was unprepared for what she would find and said she would never see commercials or advertisements from organizations like "Save the Children" or "Children's Miracle Network," who ask viewers to sponsor an impoverished child in a foreign country, the same way again.
"They are true advocates, not money hungry," said DeAngelo, who has asked to fund the education of a child she met on her trip.
She was stunned by the landscape of Costa Rica, which she describes as "absolutely beautiful," noting there are mountains, volcanoes, gorgeous flowers and plant life. But in the next sentence, she notes how what is naturally breath-taking is marred by the garbage strewn everywhere. The poverty and crime is shocking, too.
"Drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and child prostitution is rampant," DeAngelo said. "It is very poor and deprived."
Every day of the trip, the volunteers would awaken around 7 or 8 a.m., have breakfast by 9 a.m., and then ride in a van to the 'barrios,' the ghettos in Costa Rica. Their work was varied. They fed 250 meals of hot dogs, potato chips, cookies and Tang to the hungry from the back of a truck one day. On two different days during their visit, they taught English to first and second graders at a school where it costs each child $218 to attend for the year.
"If they don't have a sponsor, the parents have to find a way to cover the cost," DeAngelo explained. "If they can't pay, they don't go, and there are thousands of children who can't go to school."
DeAngelo said the school is clean and nice, with good instructors, but the school is barred in like most other buildings, due to the high amount of crime.
At a senior center, the missionaries colored and used Play-Doh with the elderly. Despite the language barrier, DeAngelo enjoyed the time spent with the kids and the seniors. She handed out to the children 250 coloring pages she had brought with her, as well as crayons, pencils, and erasers.
Physical labor was also part of the mission. DeAngelo and her fellow volunteers built new walls and put in new electrical in the dilapidated home of an older couple who live and volunteer their time in one of the poor Costa Rican communities.
One of the primary goals of the mission was to raise money for the feeding center and the missionaries took 11 suitcases full of clothes and toys to Costa Rica, as well as eight bins, and held a clothing sale at the Celebration Church, where every piece of clothing was $1, to raise funds to support the mission.
Escaping poverty in the country seems nearly hopeless, as DeAngelo notes there are no jobs in Costa Rica, and those lucky enough to have a job don't earn half of what is minimum wage here. Women typically have anywhere from 3-5 children, she said, and the fathers are absent.
A basic lack of proper hygiene also contributes to bacteria, parasites and resulting health problems. In general, the culture is just unlike anything DeAngelo has ever known. Traffic was crazy and terrifying, she said; there were no names for streets— instead, people get to where they want to go by describing landmarks; dogs freely roam the streets, surviving on garbage; and she was shocked to learn that at a large, beautiful cemetery in Costa Rica, the plots are rented. If the rent isn't paid, bodies are exhumed so the plot can be rented for someone else.
Overall, she said her experience in Costa Rica was depressing and upsetting, but also rewarding.
"To feed a child and watch them play and learn is self-fulfillment," she said. "I see what they have compared to what I have and I understand what it's like to be impoverished... I was glad to come home, but at the same time, I wish I didn't have to leave— there's so much more work to be done. It's very overwhelming."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville