By Ann Needle
Two weeks of sea turtles, eggs, painting, a new language, and rustic living all added up to an unforgettable adventure for Stow’s Katherine Hamilton. In July, the Nashoba Regional High School junior journeyed to Costa Rica and Panama on a service project sponsored by the Girl Scouts and Outward Bound, building a packet of memories along the way.
“It really was unforgettable,” Hamilton said of her trip to Central America.
Hamilton explained that, in looking for a service opportunity for the summer, she became one of the 23 Girl Scouts on this Girl Scouts Destinations trip, which gives the Scouts an opportunity to meet each other, see the world, and challenge themselves. On this trip, Hamilton noted her fellow travelers included Girl Scouts from states that included Maryland, Virginia, and Texas.
While the Scouts paid for their own trips, Hamilton did have some help, becoming a recipient of an Elliot Wildlife Values Project Scholarship. The scholarship is devoted to sponsoring Girl Scouts who demonstrate a commitment to the environment and wildlife conservation,with Hamilton receiving only one of the nine awarded for that trip.
Hamilton’s smaller group of nine Scouts and two instructors launched their trip at a rainforest reserve in Costa Rica. The group dug trenches to aid in water run off, learning about the importance of preserving and maintaining the land’s biodiversity. The next stop in Costa Rica was a small indigenous village in the Talamanca region, living with a family there. Hamilton said that most of their service time was spent painting the local school. But it was the family living experience that she termed “eye-opening.”
She decribed the small house – holding seven family members across three generations – as wide open, with most of its few rooms having less than four walls. The family cared for horses and several chickens, but
did not have any kitchen appliances or running water, she reported. Communicating with their hosts could be a challenge, given the family didn’t speak English and the group offered limited Spanish, she explained.
After leaving Costa Rica, the group journeyed to Panama, and to what Hamilton called “my favorite memory.” This involved a project dedicated to the conservation of the endangered sea turtle population. Located at the San San Pond Sak wetlands, the girls helped maintain the habitat of 375 sea turtle eggs, performing night patrols aimed to protect mother sea turtles laying eggs and safely releasing newly-hatched baby turtles into the wild.
That favorite memory was “setting the baby sea turtles free,” with the group able to send two nests of baby turtles into the ocean, Hamilton recalled. On the other end of this process, the girls went on night patrols at the beach, waiting for the mother turtles to arrive and lay eggs. When they did, the girls quietly took the eggs to a special hatchery. “I literally didn’t expect to see any mother turtles, but I think we saw about three species,” she said.
Hamilton explained that, while taking the newly laid eggs to a hatchery may seem mean, it has become a key component of restoring sea turtles to the area. “Poachers are always around to take the eggs, and turtle is a [food] delicacy,” she commented.
Back home, Hamilton noted she will continue working on such Girl Scout service projects as being a penpal with residents on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, something that also helps hone writing skills she hopes will take her through a writing-related college major such as journalism. Hamilton also said she is working on achieving a Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting.
But, July’s trip has, so far, been the highlight of her Girl Scout days. “I grew and learned so much during this course,” Hamilton reflected. “It was the best experience of my life!”