Monday, August 4, 2003

Teens' Costa Rica trip combines work and play

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

Standing on a stool painting a mural of a toucan overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Nehemiah Frierson is a long way from his Cincinnati home.

"Costa Rica is such a beautiful country," he said while adding a touch of blue paint to sky in his mural. "I like the music and culture here. It is really tranquilo and the people are very nice."

Frierson, 35, was in Costa Rica in July for his third time. But instead of vacationing, the Bond Hill resident, who does landscaping and rents property back home, donated his time to lead a group of high school students from The Experiment in International Living. The Experiment, a 70-year-old international organization, sends students abroad to learn about different cultures and languages, live with local families and make an impact in a community.

Frierson's group lived in San Isidro, about 30 minutes away from the capital city of San Jose, in the province of Heredia. While learning Spanish and experiencing Costa Rican life, the teens also donated time to Casa Hogar Asilo Albernia, a home that cares for 19 elderly people who were abandoned by their families.

The home, which has been open for 13 years, receives some government and private funding but lacks the money and manpower for the painting that the Experiment group does, according to Ana Flor, a spokeswoman for the home.

"We don't have money to paint or do other things because of the economic situation," she said in Spanish, waving her hand to a group of students helping Frierson paint the mural. "The group helps us so much."

In addition to the mural, the group remodeled two gardens at the home and did some other painting work.

"The work we've done has helped the morale of the people here," said Nellie Sweet, one of the students.

Frierson, who recently returned to the United States, said he saw the youths change from their first few days in Costa Rica.

"I have seen a lot more maturity from them, with the different projects and them taking on different responsibilities," he said.

From more information about The Experiment in International Living, visit

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