A tico in Poland

Hello, my name is Stefan Fiedler Alvarado. I’m an 18-year-old from Costa Rica and I’m in Poland as a volunteer for one year. On one hand, as a volunteer working and living at “Centrum Rehabilitacji, Edukacji i Opieki Towarzystwa Przyjaciół Dzieci Helenów”, as many volunteers have done before me and will continue to do so after my departure; and, as you know from reading this blog, as a new member of the “Stowarzysenie Promocji Wolontariatu” (SPW), or Volunteering Promotion Association. On the other hand, I am tourist and a traveler, with a whole new country and continent at my feet to discover  (up to a few weeks ago I had never crossed the Atlantic!). Saying there is plenty to learn is an understatement, and saying that I will discover it all is a lie. I will, however, do my very best to learn about and understand the new society that I am living in.

                                                 Costa Rican and foreign volunteers in Costa Rica

There’s several reasons why this young Tico (Tico is a diminutive demonym for Costa Rican) has decided to come to Poland. I graduated from high school in June this year, which meant that I had the freedom of choice of what to do with my life. I rejected the customary transition from high school to University because I understood that this was going to be the only period in my life in which I was free of externally imposed responsibilities and I therefore had the chance, and most importantly the time, to live a period of my life unrelated to school and formal education. This left a vast spectrum of options, so I decided to volunteer abroad. This decision would allow me to 1) explore new and interesting cultures, histories, and peoples, 2) travel different and unknown countries, 3) learn  new languages, and 4) get to know myself before committing to my career and lifestyle choices. 

                                        A picture of my first day in Poland with the other Helenów volunteers

                                                   SPW activity at Pole Mokotowskie

I have recently learned a new word: allokataplixis. It was coined by Liam Henegan, a professor and chair of Environmental Sciences at DePaul University in Chicago (I learned about him through Aeon, an online platform with thousands of free-access essays, ranging in topics from philosophy and history to agriculture and space exploration).  It is composed of two greek roots: allo (meaning “other”) and katapliktiko (meaning “wonder”). The word is used to describe the feeling of wonder and curiosity when one travels to a foreign, and most importantly new, place. And we all know that feeling of going to a new place and being amazed by the most mundane and commonly overlooked things. I was quite shocked by the first sight of the monumental and monolithic Palace of Science of Culture, overlooking Warsaw in a Big-Brotheresque manner. In Costa Rica, we don’t have tall buildings, firstly because it is not a super developed country, and secondly because the earth quakes quite often (Costa Rica is quite close to the Cocos and Caribbean tectonic plates), so big and tall buildings are not the best of ideas. I am amazed by the efficiency of public transport: here you know where and when the tram, bus, train, or metro that you need is coming. Everything is quite easy to find and Jakdojade is a life saver. The buses are well taken care of: clean, spacious, and comfortable. Back home, if you want to take a bus then you go the stop and wait for a bus which you don’t know if it will come nor where it exactly it will take you. I’m also intrigued by the lack of mountains. In Costa Rica, I live in San Jose, which is in the central valley (see below) and everywhere you look you will see mountains. Poland is quite flat and that is a little odd for me. It is also true, that the women in Poland are very, very beautiful.

Helenów is an institution that helps children with mental and physical disabilities in their development and rehabilitation. It also serves as a boarding school for children with no home. My work in Helenów is, for the moment, related to the area of hippotherapy (therapy with horses). I’m in charge of cleaning and preparing the horses for use, as well as guiding them through nature walks while the therapists instruct the children to perform rehabilitation exercises. The children at Helenów are all disabled and there is a range of disabilities: some of them are functional, can walk around, talk, and interact normally. Others are not functional and are confined to a wheelchair, they can’t communicate, nor do much of anything. A friend of mine asked me if it was hard working at Helenów and constantly seeing these children. I told her that it wasn’t, simply because I am there to help, and with my presence I can make their lives more bearable and enjoyable. There is no room for pity in this place, only compassion. Pity implies disdain, and leads to unequal treatment. Compassion leads to the understanding that we are all human living our lives, and we deserve to have the opportunity to live life to the fullest extent that we can. Pity tells you to lock your child with cerebral palsy at home in an attempt keep him “safe” from the world, albeit locked away. Compassion motivates you to build a place like Helenów. Pity is divisive and fueled by the ego, while compassion is constructive and driven by the true understanding of the human experience.

This is a short blog post about my experience for the 2 weeks I’ve been in Poland so far. I’m quite eager to keep posting in the future. Better and more fulfilling posts will come as I enrich my experience in the country. I’m keeping a personal blog in the case that you are interested in following that too: www.teluriando.wordpress.com. Good bye, and until next time!