This past August, twenty members of the Meadowbrook School community and three guides from Chill Expeditions Education Travel traveled through Costa Rica on a unique service trip. The group accomplished two very ambitious projects, transforming a run-down building into a learning center for orphans and installing a solar electric system in a remote indigenous school.
Throughout the past ten years, Meadowbrook has partnered with Chill Expeditions, based in Philadelphia and run by educators, and leveraged their longstanding relationships with communities in need, to develop strong connections with the people of Costa Rica. During the expedition this summer, the group’s first visit was to a transitional home for abused children in the impoverished port city of Limon, one that houses children who have been removed from their living situations by the Costa Rican equivalent of the Department of Social Services. The children there have always endeared themselves to Meadowbrook students, through their resilience, pervasive joy and optimistic nature. They include babies, toddlers, and teens alike. This summer, a dozen Meadowbrook students and alums, committed to continuing to support these young people, raised $7,500 for guides, school collaborators, and local participants to remodel a nearly-condemned building and turn it into a new learning center.
After partnering with a local contractor and working with tradesman from the Meadowbrook parent community, the group replaced windows, doors, sinks, toilets, lights, electrical wires, and repainted, swept, mopped, and decorated. One of the school alums and current Philips Andover student, on her third visit, coordinated both the purchasing of furniture for the room as well as collecting nearly one thousand pounds of donated clothing, books, games, and toys. At the conclusion of the project, Meadowbrook students invited all of the children into the new center for a tour. In that moment of seeing the kids’ reactions, the students were given pause as everyone was reminded of what they came for. It is in these moments that we are able to appreciate the greater meaning of our service to these communities – which is so much more than meets the eye.
The second part of the trip was to install an off-the-grid solar electricity system at a remote school called Melleruk on the Bribri indigenous reservation. This process began with Brian Benson, Director of Community Service at Chill Expeditions and based in their Costa Rica office who had worked hard to understand Melleruk's Needs and dreams and shared the opportunity with the Bribri community leaders he has befriended – to see if the foreign concept of electricity was even of interest. After Brian secured the trust and interest of locals at Melleruk, he tirelessly laid the groundwork by gathering measurements, materials, and ensuring seamless coordination of the goods Meadowbrook supplied out of the USA and into Costa Rica, no mean feat!
This concept originated when a Meadowbrook parent donated solar panels from his company, TSMC Solar, and in conjunction with sponsorships from Boston Solar and New England Solar, the Meadowbrook Chill Expeditions Team made lights and running water a reality at Melleruk. What most may not realize is the very difficult feat of importing goods into Costa Rica. This, being a challenge in and of itself, was certainly a learning experience for all! In addition to what was brought down in 23 duffel bags, including packing wires, lights, switches, fixtures, charge controllers, as well as suitcases filled with hardware, and additional carry-ons, the entire solar system had to be transported from Boston. Chill Expeditions handled with ease the shipment of the solar panels from ship to port, through customs, and then out on a truck to their remote destination in the mountains of the reservation. Once all of the meetings, measurements, phone calls, strategy and supplies were successfully aligned in Costa Rica, our group was able to finally jump into the process and get to work—bringing light and power to an indigenous community for the first time!
Three nights later, with an array of experienced adults, including plumbers, electricians, engineers, and carpenters, the magnitude of the job was met with even greater intent, as the Meadowbrook group turned on lights in the schoolhouse for the very first time. On the following day, a complex system that involved pumping water from a pre-existing well across a 71-foot ravine and into the school's kitchen was completed. In addition to dependable running water, our group was able to help provide full illumination for both schoolhouse buildings, an AC power outlet for modern appliances including computers, and portable, rechargeable LED lights to serve as reading lights and flashlights. Similarly, the connection Meadowbrook students felt to the young people in the transitional home inspired them to give generously of themselves and encourage others to do so as well.
As Meadowbrook and Chill Expeditions remain perfectly aligned in mission and educational intent, we continue to make plans for our next regular 8th grade trip in February-our ninth collaboration (each of which has been fully integrated into our curriculum as a capstone of the Meadowbrook experience) and for another service expedition next August. As I sit in Weston, reflecting back on the young faces I saw, comfortably reading books, tinkering with new toys, and filling up jugs of water to take home to their families, I am reminded of the power that a few like-minded people working together towards something much bigger than themselves can do to positively change the world!
-Matt Molyneux, The Meadowbrook School