Although I had already met some of the individuals and community groups UpTica is working with, my experience in Costa Rica in August 2017 was very different. Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship 2017 and two prizes we won at the Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge, five other UW-Madison students (Brooke Nelson, Anna Ostermeier, Kyle Powers, Thomas Bihler, and Max Kahn) joined me on the trip this time. Max’s dad, Mr. Kahn, who is the engineering manager at a company that makes high quality products out of recycled plastic, called Max-R, also joined us with the support of the company. Similarly, Nicol and Sasha (UpTica’s other two Co-Founders) also made the effort the be there with us. Although it was very hard to figure out a time that worked for everybody to travel to Costa Rica, and decide on an itinerary, we were all able to go there from August 10th thru September 1st.
To start with, not everyone knew each other, and none of them knew Nicol or Sasha. Some had never been to Latin America, and none spoke fluent Spanish. We had only briefly introduced each other before. Thus, before establishing relationships with community members, we enjoyed building stronger relationships within our team. We shared lots of stories and updates of our projects while traveling, cooking, and developing new ideas. Although we had to split up to divide and conquer at some points, we tried to move together as much as we could.
During the three weeks in Costa Rica, we were able stay with two wonderful families in two communities of Pérez Zeledón: La Ribera and San Luis. In the latter, we spent time with the three ladies who are making the reusable bags and who had just finished an eight-weeks long sewing training. Here we were also able to meet with the local Youth Group and have a lively discussion about waste management. Additionally, we established new relationships by visiting a company in San José that makes a wide range of products out of recycled plastic (just like Max-R), and by talking to alumni from the Technological public university (TEC), who also gave us a tour of the main campus in Cartago. We even had time to take an active break from work to go to the beach and rent bikes.One of my favorite parts of the trip was that we were able to connect with inspiring young leaders, including Resolution Fellows and One Young World Ambassadors, who focus on grassroots movements and creating social impact, and who kindly shared with us advices for improving our projects. When we visited EARTH University, the Resolution Fellows hosted us for lunch, took us around campus, and told us about the projects they are doing in their home countries (such as Belize, Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria). Similarly, we shared with Bean Voyage Co-Founders Abhinav and Sunghee (from Nepal and South Korea respectively), who also work in Costa Rica, and with whom we genuinely talked about our passions, projects, and life goals. Overall, all of us were able to make important connections, learn from an extremely diverse group of people, and grow as a team.
Besides being able to continue working on UpTica with Nicol and Sasha, connecting a small group of UW-Madison students and coordinating visits to local and international students in Costa Rica have inspired me to continue working on and supporting community-based projects. I feel humbled and honored to be able to work with such a great group of young people who have made a huge step towards creating social impact in a community distant from their own. I look forward to seeing what we will achieve in our future careers. I hope that the seed of social good that has been planted in each of us continues to grow and that we can continue to work together, not only in UpTica, but in any other opportunities life will present us with.
A big thank you to the The Resolution Project team for helping UpTica get off the ground. And to the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the UW Energy Institute, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and our fantastic mentors, professors Robert Beattie, Cathy Middlecamp and Natalie Rudolph, all at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.