The parents of Lilly Potter ’19 know their daughter has serious case of wanderlust, so their gift to her last Christmas was a no-brainer: they were kind enough to present her with a free airline flight they had recently won in a contest. Combining her love of travel with another passion, community service, Potter set out to find a destination where she says she “could get my hands dirty and make a difference. I wasn’t interested in a typical voluntourist experience.”
This summer, Potter will be spending nearly two weeks volunteering with the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center (CRARC), and her excitement about this opportunity has been so contagious, her younger sister is joining her on the trip.
“Costa Rica is globally recognized for its biodiversity: one in every 20 plant or animal species can be found there,” the double-major in English and international studies explains. “Unfortunately, due to human actions, Costa Rica also has over 100 species on the endangered list. Luckily, there are organizations seeking to combat this threat. I researched thoroughly to find one that was ethical and genuinely service-oriented.”
Potter discovered the nonprofit CRARC in the town of Cebadilla, which is located close to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city. “Their mission is to rescue animals who are victims of pollution, logging, electrical lines, illegal pet trade, and human cruelty.”
The story of Ghandi, a male spider monkey that CRARC saved, particularly touched Potter. “Ghandi was held captive in a bar and force-fed alcohol, coffee, and cigarette butts by tourists. By the time CRARC rescued him, he was in poor shape and addicted to nicotine. But thanks to the dedicated care of staff and volunteers, he’s getting the assistance and rehabilitation he needs. When he is fully recovered he will be released back into the wild.”
CRARC relies heavily on volunteers to augment the work of its small number of permanent staff. Potter will be involved with food preparation, cleaning and maintaining enclosures, building toys, and providing enrichment for the animals, among other responsibilities. This spring, she got a head-start on her duties by conducting a bake sale on campus to raise funds for purchasing milk substitutes. In addition, she collected donations of comfort and enrichment items to share with CRARC’s youngest and therefore most vulnerable animals.
Potter also applied for and received a grant from Hollins University’s Hobbie Trust Fund, which provides financial assistance for experiential learning opportunities to students involved in a research or service project that is clearly connected to ethics or values.
“I believe this program offers a valuable experience that touches on all the aspects at the heart of a Hollins education: environmental sustainability, intercultural understanding, leadership, and service,” Potter says. “My goals are to provide much-needed support to a reputable organization, and gain firsthand experience of the inner workings of an international nonprofit.
“Ultimately, I want to share these experiences with the Hollins community to inspire a greater awareness of our ethical imperative to conserve and protect the wildlife of Costa Rica and the world.”