By Rex Rhyne, MPIA 2015

Yes, it exists in the form of The Soltis Center for Research and Education in San Isidro, Costa Rica. In true Aggie spirit, The Center and the land on which it sits was donated to Texas A&M by Mr. Charles W. “Bill” Soltis, ’55 and his late wife, Wanda. Mr. Soltis. The beautiful center is located at the end of a curvy, hilly road nestled against Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (Children’s Eternal Rainforest), the largest private nature reserve in Costa Rica. Most of you reading this may not have ever heard of The Soltis Center. Neither had I until I was presented with the opportunity to do a study abroad there over the 2013-2014 Wintermester. I went in expecting to just go have a blast in paradise and write a paper about what economic impact The Center had on Costa Rica. What occurred was an eye-opening, inspirational transformation within me. I had the honor and privilege to serve others in many ways.

Our group participated in a few different service projects. The first farmer we helped was Juan Luis. We helped him to hand-fertilize his field of cassava trees which he grew to sell in order to support his family. Another project we worked on was planting approximately 30,000 black and red beans for Tarcicio Rodriguez so that he could harvest them and feed his family. We planted the beans using a simple sharpened stick. We also planted a field of papaya trees for the family of Don Pepe. We planted these trees between the rows of another crop before it was ready for harvest to increase the number of crops per year by not only having no down time between crops, but having two crops growing at once. We also dug a meter deep trench for culverts to be emplaced so that construction vehicles could pass over and build a new production and storage facility close to the road as part of Don Pepe’s “100 year vision” for his family farm.

Costa Ricans may not have much at first glance, but they are very resourceful and live green. They have the pleasure of living in a beautiful country of which they take great care. They hold family dear and seem to live much happier lives than many of us in our hectic, chase for success. There are lessons to be learned from Costa Ricans from those aspects. Even though I think we were able to do great things that helped them out, I feel I gained more by learning from them, gaining appreciation for what I have, and being inspired to be more involved in my development concentration. What greater way to learn than through experiential service? I was inspired by The Center as well, but I wanted to focus on the service aspect of my Wintermester abroad this time. My research continues beyond the Wintermester, so stay tuned for more of how I was inspired, what the goals of my research are, my plan to get there and the journey to achieve my vision.