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  • Meghan Stepnowski

Starting and Ending with Gratitude

The past month brought to a close the 2016 school year in Costa Rica. The school year ends quite differently here, with exams that are staggered over the last 2 weeks of November, into the first week of December. We spent the last week of November as a community hunkering down awaiting a direct hit from a rare hurricane that eventually missed us completely but pounded the northern part of the country. We had quite a few days off during this time, which co-incited with the Thanksgiving holiday. My now fiancé and I decided that we could not let the holiday go by unnoticed and decided no matter the date on the calendar, to throw a gratitude dinner for all the girls and their families thanking them for welcoming us into the community so easily and with such open arms.

The dinner was an event that involved the full village. In order to cook most traditional Thanksgiving items, one needs an oven. This is a luxury we, and most typical Costa Rican families don’t have. So, I started baking days before. First, I went to the house of a friend, to make a version of pumpkin pie and apple crisp. My vegetarian boyfriend spent the entire afternoon cooking chicken in the house of one of the girls, while another parent volunteered to make a massive quantity of rice in case we did not manage to pull off food for around 40 people.

The day of the meal, the girls helped prepare mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, salad, and frosted two cakes at the Peace Through Yoga Center. While some girls cooked, others set the table, lit candles, and gathered flowers. This event was only made possible through the effort and collaboration of all education stakeholders; students, parents, teachers, and property managers. As Ryan and I stood back that night and watched, we felt truly proud and grateful for the opportunity to feel so connected, cared for, and vital in such a short period of time. This group of young women and their families who materialistically have so little, have hearts that hold space for all.

A few weeks later, at the elementary school graduations I attended in Carbon and Hone Creek, I had the opportunity to once again witness what an honor and a privilege it is to be connected to these girls. Most people in town attended the graduation celebrations, which were elaborate, and each lasted around 3 and a half hours! While it pains me to say so, for many students, elementary graduation is the only graduation they will ever attend. Witnessing our girls receive their diplomas drove home for me how important the work of Peace Through Yoga truly is. Our mission to empower and inspire young women is of the utmost importance. Often times, between elementary graduation and the end of high school, life changes drastically. Many times, these vibrant children are pulled away by work, tradition, or temptation. It is my hope and my belief that through community, inspiration, and dedication to life-long education, the graduation of our girls will be the new rule and not the exception, starting a new trend of high school graduation, college acceptance, and beyond.

I am honored and inspired by such young vibrant souls to do all I can to be a support and an anchor in their lives. Thank you so much to everyone who is a part of Peace Through Yoga ultimately allowing us to be here in this space, with this community, weaving the threads of our lives together. May you end your year in peace and gratitude with ample time to reflect, to listen, and to appreciate all that you are, all that you give, and what a beautiful community you help to create.

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