As Tara Bertrand Hein completes grade 11 and plans for her future, she reflects on our school, our world and her future contributions to it with a bravery and vision that epitomizes the vision and mission of our school.  If you remember her blog post (here) after Tropical Storm Nate, you already know this young woman’s passion and drive, and know that you will enjoy every word of her post today.

As my fingers fly across the keyboard, my eyes flicker back and forth between the swaying trees outside and one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes scrolled across the classroom wall. An innate sense of peace fills the room, and a cool breeze ruffles through torn out notebook pages on the table. Sweet familiar notes of Manu Chao’s “Bongo Bong” tickle my ears and drift out the open window. My mouth begins to water at the thought of a warm cup of coffee from the local coffee shop just down the road. Although this is only another Monday afternoon to me, I am in awe of this way of life. “Surrounded by nature, supported by love” is how the Monteverde Friends School describes itself, and, to me, this phrase also describes my childhood. I spent my summer vacations horseback-riding along the Tilaran mountain range, I spent warm March afternoons on strangler fig trees with my classmates, reading “Magic Tree House” books, or, my personal favorite at the time, “Because of Winn-Dixie”, I learned how to make recycled paper, and sang songs of peace in preparation for Wednesday meeting. Surrounded by nature, supported by love. I grew up guided by the January winds, sheltered by the tall trees and their epiphytes, taught by capuchin monkeys dancing through the canopy.

As it turns out, the Monteverde Friends School did more than teach me to read and write. A while ago a group of students from a Mennonite high school in Canada came to spend the day with us. It just so happened that they were there on a Wednesday, and were able to join us for meeting. On that day, students across the USA were walking out of their classrooms, and having 17 minutes of silence in which they honored and remembered the lives lost in the Parkland Shooting in Florida. In light of this, a student from our school had written a poem, which she chose to share during our gathering. She stood up, with glassy eyes, and shared incredibly powerful words that spoke to the fear of being shot whilst sitting in a classroom. The irony was clear. We could hardly be in a more peaceful place on Earth in that moment, and yet, in the seconds in which she read the poem, I felt a shiver run down my spine. Throughout the 45 minute meeting, several more inspirational messages were shared. A woman visiting us from Honduras spoke about the terror many people in her country were experiencing at the hands of their government. She asked us to hold them in the light, as children, women, and men, were fighting for their lives. The last message was perhaps the most powerful of them all; it spoke of an event that had touched the lives of several people within the room. Telling the story of a bank robbery that had taken place 13 years ago in Monteverde itself, the message showed a new perspective. This event is considered one of the bloodiest in Costa Rica’s history, and this message spoke for the attacker. His brother had been killed, and his own fear and grief drove him mad, and causing him to open fire in the bank atrium. After meeting, most students went out into the sunshine to hold the silence for another 17 minutes, in memory of the deaths that took place due to the Parkland Shooting, joining thousands in the USA in solidarity.

I was amazed by this morning, and wondered what the students of the Mennonite high school thought of our school. I realized that this what that morning witnessed wasn’t even that abnormal. The Monteverde Friend School is unarguably a small gem shielded from the world by the fog that hangs over the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and the two oceans that kiss Costa Rica on both shores. And yet, this school is in no way ignorant about the realities taking place out of this shelter. Constantly in my education have I been taught about the world beyond this bubble, about the cruelty and sorrow that so many endure. How can I sit here in this classroom, reading the quotes about peace on the wall, watching the trees sway, when I know that around the world children look through garbage to find food? When I know that a mother cries because her child was taken in war? When I know that a girl will never be able to do what her brother does? It is not right. It is not normal.

The wall in this very classroom is home to another quote, this one was not said by Gandhi, but by Mary Oliver; and, perhaps, none could be more fitting for this piece of writing, it reads, “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”  It is because of my education, and the way I grew up that I want to do more in this world than simply lead my life for me. I believe that every child should have the chance to grow up safely, happily, and loved, the way I did. It is this fundamental belief that is the fuel behind my ambitions.

When people ask me what I want to study, I answer, “International Law.”  And they? They don’t know what to answer. They vaguely ask, “you want to be a lawyer?”

No. I do not want to be a lawyer. I want to understand why society works the way it does, I want to understand why it is that some children never set foot in a classroom while their governments pour billions of dollars into weaponry, I want to understand why a woman only earns 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. I want to dedicate my one wild and precious life to working to change these realities.

There is a program I will attend this summer, Cambridge Immerse Law, in the UK that is a big step to achieving this goal. This program allows students to live at the University of Cambridge for two weeks. During this time students receive law courses from Cambridge tutors in the mornings -these take place in the form of lectures or seminars. In the afternoon, small personalized workshops take place -these include a visit to Cambridge Magistrates’ Court, and a chance to observe barristers presenting legal cases. Additionally, the course offers students a chance to work on their personal statements (admissions essays) as well as their interview skills, and preparation for the National Law Admissions Test. This program is a chance for me to experience undergraduate life at one of the world’s best universities. It would prepare me for my own studies next year by taking university level law courses, and helping me strengthen my application. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me that would take me a big step closer to achieving my goals. Your support will help me enroll in this program. Please check out my GoFundMe campaign, every small donation helps!