Lindsey Hazel remembers watching the other volunteers climb off the bus on her first trip down to her worksite.
After bidding farewell to the last volunteer, she thought to herself, “Where am I going?”
“I really felt as if I was in the middle of nowhere,” she recalled.
Hazel, 24, was familiar with living in rural areas from having grown up surrounded by farms in Virginia. But her home for the next two years – a small community known as Campo Dos y Medio – would be a new kind of rural life.
Neither cell phone service nor Internet reached this little hamlet on the Costa Rica-Panama border. It would take Hazel more than eight hours via bus to return to the capital and more than an hour to reach her closest Peace Corps colleague.
Little did she know when she arrived onsite last year, with her overstuffed luggage, that during the next 12 months she would help make this community of former coffee farmers become more connected to the outside world than ever before.
Today, they have a satellite dish and six computers in their technology center, and are just learning how to connect to the World Wide Web.
“The first computer class was teaching them how to turn on a computer,” said Hazel, a volunteer in Peace Corps Costa Rica’s Rural Community Development program. “The last class was on how to create, name and delete a folder. It’s amazing. They didn’t know how to turn on a computer before, but they had the foresight to know [computers are] important.”
Asked how she, a recent college graduate in a foreign country, was able to get the center up and running in just one year, she replied, “They took the initiative. The community was already in the process of making a computer center before I arrived. I just helped make the connections to make it happen.”
That meant developing a technology committee to oversee the purchase and installation of computers and management of the center, negotiating donations of printers, routers and other equipment and helping to organize raffles and fundraisers to pay for it all.
Hazel is also helping the isolated community of 150 residents become more connected with the world through English classes. She teaches English in the local school and to a handful of adults.
She says she has bad days when it seems like her projects aren’t going anywhere and good days when she feels she is making a difference.
“A mother came up to me almost in tears the other day, grateful for how her son was progressing in his English classes,” Hazel said. “When her son began studying English, he was far behind his other classmates. ‘Now, he’s doing better than kids who have taken English all their lives,’ his mother said.”
“The job would be really hard if it weren’t for days like those,” she added.
Hazel’s project captures the essence of the Peace Corps, said Peace Corps Costa Rica Director Steven Dorsey.
“Mostly we talk about ‘Goal 1’ of Costa Rica, which is the technical assistance (volunteers working to support community projects), but there are also Goals 2 and 3,” which are all about making connections, he said. “[Goal 2] is to help the country you are serving understand better who Americans are, and [Goal 3] is to help Americans get a better idea of the culture they are serving so that Americans can have a broader understanding of what the world is like.”
Whether through computer cables or language, Hazel’s work will enable a community that once felt alone and forgotten to feel more a part of the world. She is helping a community that knew only a handful of foreigners to not only better understand U.S. culture, but also to use language and computer skills to connect to the world.
“The adults in the community, regardless of age, recognize that youths need language and computer training if they are to graduate from high school, attend college and compete with other youths for jobs,” Hazel said. “We all know that connections in a globalized world are indispensible for success.”