Whistler Waldorf students see sustainability up close 

Students travel to Costa Rica and volunteer at sustainable coffee farm

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - GOOD TIMES The Grade 12 class of the Whistler Waldorf School was amped for its trip to Costa Rica, pictured here at the Vancouver International Airport prior to leaving.
  • Photo submitted
  • GOOD TIMES The Grade 12 class of the Whistler Waldorf School was amped for its trip to Costa Rica, pictured here at the Vancouver International Airport prior to leaving.

The Grade 12 class of the Whistler Waldorf School recently had the experience of a lifetime, spending several days living and volunteering at a Costa Rican coffee farm that is embracing environmental sustainability.

For Roshan Beaven—whose father is a coffee roaster and co-owner of the Whistler Roasting Company—it was a profound experience.

"Just meeting the families was amazing, how they just kind of welcomed complete strangers into their homes, and treated us like family," said Beaven of her time in Providencia de Dota, a small village of about 250 people.

The class was working with Green Communities, a Costa Rican organization that helps local coffee farmers switch from conventional to more-sustainable forms of farming.

Known as a "service trip," graduates of Waldorf schools around the world engage in similar excursions, with the goal of connecting to the broader global community through volunteer work. The class left on Feb. 20, and returned on March 2.

In years past, Whistler students have travelled to places like Guatemala and Belize, and worked in a variety of settings, including orphanages, other Waldorf schools, and farms. This was the second year in a row the school's graduating class chose to work with Green Communities in Costa Rica.

Amy Gilbert said she was impressed with how innovative the Costa Ricans were when it came to sustainability.

"They were using the coffee cherries off the coffee plants to make fertilizer to then put back on the coffee plants," she said. "It was like a massive cycle."

Emma Wardrop, a humanities teacher who was one of two accompanying teachers, said the work the students carried out was of great importance to the community.

"One day we were fertilizing trees, and that fertilizer is literally passed down the line of people," she said. "It's all done by hand, because they don't have the money for big machines and fancy fertilizer."

There is a "lot of value" in learning about the life cycle of everyday products, added Wardrop. Seeing a coffee farm up close allows students to "follow the coffee process from tree and cherry ... back to Starbucks."

"Whenever you go to Starbucks you don't think about that," said Beaven, chiming in. "But now I will."

The trip, of course, wasn't all work, with the class enjoying free time in the afternoons and a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park.

One of their favourite Costa Rican activities was soccer. "We played soccer a lot," said Beaven, with a laugh. "Sports and games are kind of a universal language ... That was a really good way to get to know everyone."

The students have fundraised the majority of the travel expenses for the 12 students and two instructors.

The group held bake sales, sold flowers, held silent auctions and had a number of Creekbread fundraisers, where $3.50 of every large pizza, and $1.75 of every small pizza went towards the trip.

Back in Canada, Wardrop described the trip as a resounding success and one that had the desired effect.

"One of our students had never been out of B.C., and he was super gung-ho to go back and work with them again," she said.

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