Volunteering at the Peñas Blancas Co-Op

By Jon Frey

We arrived at the cooperative in Peñas Blancas on Sunday, unpacked, and immediately dove into meetings, and then painting murals. Our new member, Jake, joined us during the meeting of the community and he was instantly part of the family. These murals, once finished, were to go to families in the community to signify that those families are open to house tourists in homestays. At the “art house,” there was also an electric guitar and bass, electric piano, full drum set, and a congo drum. We worked on the murals until it was dinner time and enjoyed a fantastic meal. Then, after some relaxation time, we all knocked out from a long day of travel.

Monday started with a work session at a house about a 20 minute’s walk from where we were staying. We worked on installing a self-composting toilet for a family. This is an alternative to a septic tank, which would simply be filled in with cement and a new one dug every couple of years, or just a simple pit, which would drain into water sources, contaminating the water supply.

The first day, we dug a trench from where the unit was being installed (about 20 feet from the house) to the new bathroom, as well as a trench for liquid drainage. In the afternoon, we had a choice of either a tour of the process of growing and exporting coffee from small farms or continuing working on painting the murals from the day before. Jake, Jillian, Katie, Jimmy, PJ, Anya, our cooperative coordinator, Ashley, and I went on the coffee tour, which ended with an adventure into the rainforest to a waterfall with pools of water perfect for swimming. It was almost magical how refreshing the clear jungle water was, and in some places, it was almost 10 feet deep! Afterwards, we all headed back, had dinner together, and relaxed until sleep.

Tuesday began much the same way as Monday, although we were installing pipes and putting the actual unit in the ground that day. It was very exciting, as we dealt with a few struggles along the way. Bradley got sick and had to spend some time resting and we broke a water line leading from the house, which was quickly patched up with Latin American ingenuity. After all of that, we returned to base camp and had a delicious meal and relaxed until we split into one of two activities: bread making and bracelet making. Both of the classes were very well-received and were super fun. We wound down and relaxed (eating bread) and then eventually ate dinner that night, then slept hard from the day’s work.