Recent East Troy High School graduate, Rachel Bottum, reads to a group of children at the orphanage she and her mother, Jill Bottum, volunteered at in June. The mission trip is something they have wanted to do for a couple of years.

Mother-daughter team spends vacation volunteering

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN Staff

When it came time to decide how she wanted to spend her last summer at home before heading off to college, Rachel Bottum, of East Troy, wanted to do something new and different.

“Roughly half-way through my senior year I began thinking about it and I knew I wanted to do something to help me keep my Spanish over the summer and something that was more than just about me,” Bottum said. “I was talking to my mom and she always wanted to go abroad on a mission trip, it was something we had talked about for a couple of years.”

So, Rachel’s mom, Jill Bottum, set about researching their options.

“Since we weren’t going with a group, I had to find an organization that took individuals and set them up with projects they could volunteer to do,” Jill said.

The organization she found was Global Crossroad.

“They partner with hibiscus Travel in Costa Rica to arrange these trips,” Jill said.

According to its website, Global Crossroad “is one of the leading volunteer abroad organizations in the world. Since 2003, we have been running the most affordable and highly rated volunteering abroad programs, internship abroad opportunities, summer escapes, mini-adventures, hands on medical volunteer programs, alternative spring break trips, family volunteering projects, and high school and college group programs in 18 countries across Asia, Latin America, and Africa.”

Jill said she felt confident volunteering with the organization would be a great experience for both herself and her daughter.

Jill and Rachel Bottum enjoy some mother-daughter time during their trip to Costa Rica this summer.

The duo spent two weeks, from June 16 to 30, in Costa Rica, working in an orphanage.

“We stayed with a house family in Puntarenas, Costa Rica,” Rachel said. “There were two sons, and a mother and father. Our host father spoke English since he was 7 years old, but our host mother didn’t speak any. The younger son also didn’t speak much English but his older brother knew about as much as I do Spanish.”

The Bottums said they loved their time with their host family, even with the communication issues, and felt they had made new friends.

“Our host mother and my mom really connected,” Rachel said. “When I was around I could translate, but if I wasn’t our host mother would use her phone to translate. They found a way to talk to each other even if no one was there to translate for them.”

Rachel added that their host father also acted as their “tour guide” to the area, rarely missing a chance to share the beauty of the countryside and community with them.

“One of his favorite things in the world is coconut water,” Rachel recalled. “When we first arrived he grabbed a coconut, opened it and served us fresh coconut water. He was so excited to share it with us.”


At the orphanage

Each day the mother-daughter team walked to the orphanage to volunteer with the children.

“It was about a 20-minute walk each way,” Rachel said. “We would leave at about 8 in the morning and tried to leave for home around 4 p.m., but most of the time we stayed later.”

Being on the equator, the sun shines in Costa Rica from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and doesn’t change, Jill said.

“We were mindful not to be walking home after dark, so there were days we said, ‘We really have to go now, it’s getting dark,” Jill said.

Rachel said those daily walks were one of her favorite things about the trip.

“It was so peaceful and pretty,” she said.

Their work at the orphanage consisted mostly of reading, playing and occupying the children, the Bottums said.

“The sisters are so busy organizing, cleaning and feeding the children, what they needed us to do is play with them,” Rachel said. “We used play to teach them things like problem solving and managing their emotions. These kids have been through so much.”

The orphanage they volunteered at is not being named because of privacy concern as many of the children there have been removed from their parent’s care because they weren’t in healthy situations.

“We worried sometimes, with the attachment disorders a lot of these children have, it we weren’t making things worse for them being there only two weeks,” Rachel said. “But I loved every second of it. I loved playing the them, reading to them, everything about it.”

In the end, they decided that anything, anyone could do to help was a good thing.

“Even though we weren’t there for a long time, I feel like every single day we put a lot of energy into it and it enriched their lives,” Rachel said.

Because Rachel knows Spanish, and most of the volunteers the orphanage don’t, she spent a lot of time reading to the children.

On the other hand, Jill worked mostly with the babies and small toddlers because of the language barrier.

“It was a little easier for me to not have that frustration with the not knowing the language. I could hold babies all day and they didn’t care if I spoke Spanish or not,” Jill said.

One of the things that struck both Jill and Rachel was that they had a hard time finding books in Spanish to buy for the orphanage when there were in Costa Rica.

“We found one book,” Jill said.

“And they need books,” Rachel added. “The sisters are building a library for the kids. We set up a GoFundMe page so people can help donate for books.”

“And we’ve set up an email group to stay in touch with the sisters so they can tell us about what they’re up to and how the children are doing. They have two big projects this year, the library and having birthday parties for the kids. So many of them don’t even know they have a birthday.”

Those interested in donating, can search “Rachel Bottum” at

Rachel and Jill both said they were grateful for the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and work with the children at the orphanage, even if it was only for a short while.

“We didn’t know if two weeks would make a difference, but even if it was a drop in the bucket, it’s still a piece of the puzzle,” Jill said.

“One of the things I learned is there is a lot you can do with time,” Rachel said. “Volunteering is a good way to spend your free time. It’s not all about you.”



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