Sloths: Humble Creatures of Pure Zen

Sloths: Humble Creatures of Pure Zen

Julia Wilson, Editor

As April approaches, many members of the NDP community are eagerly awaiting Spring Break with thoughts of Easter Sunday with family or the final arrival of spring. However, most of us are not preparing to go to the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. This sanctuary is the location of a relatively new service opportunity which started last year with a delegation consisting of two members of the Class of 2013, Oona Peacock and Adri Tompros, and two teachers, Ms. Strausbaugh and Ms. Meros. This year the Costa Rica Delegation will continue its service work and has expanded to include four seniors: Breanna Crowley, Chloe Roberts, Meghan Stewart, and Margaret Herr. This year’s chaperones will be Ms. Strausbaugh and Ms. Macek.

The sanctuary’s mission is to rescue sloths, protect the rainforest, and educate the local population. Currently, there is an issue involving the big banana plantations in the area which spray toxic pesticides everywhere, even over the sloth sanctuary! Due to these toxins, more and more sloth babies are being born deformed. Additionally, not only are the rainforests being destroyed, but some sloths are tortured by humans. Fortunately, due to the sanctuary’s efforts to educate the population and spread awareness about the issues, many locals will now call the sanctuary when they see a sick or injured sloth.

Due to my curiosity of the Sloth Sanctuary, I asked Ms. Strausbaugh, who initiated this new service project, for an interview in order to learn more about the mission of the delegation, her thoughts about last year’s visit, and her hopes for this upcoming delegation.

I was immediately interested to know what sparked Ms. Strausbaugh’s interest in sloths. She explained to me that her passion for sloths started in the spring of 2011 after viewing a video from the sanctuary which had gone viral. After our interview, Ms. Strausbaugh sent me the link to the sloth video: http://vimeo.com/11712103. (I ask that you to take a break from your reading to view this video which makes it evident how lovable these creatures are. I suspect that after viewing the video, you may so charmed by these animals that you may spend some time googling images of sloths, and I hope you will return to this article to learn more.) Because I had not yet seen the video, I then asked Ms. Strausbaugh, “Out of the animals in the world, what makes sloths so special?” She responded, “They are such humble animals. They need so little to live. It would be tragic to lose them because they bring something special to the world.”

Inspired by her discovery, Ms. Strausbaugh decided to visit to visit the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica wondering: Could this possibly work as a good service opportunity for the girls? She discussed this possibility with the director of the sanctuary, Judy Avy-Arroyo. Ms. Strausbaugh expressed her desire to bring NDP seniors to the sanctuary, but Ms. Avy-Arryo originally thought that this would not be a good idea. Perhaps, the director’s hesitancy was due to a stereotypical idea of teenagers. However, Ms. Strausbaugh was able to persuade her that the “girls would be wonderful.” After last year’s delegation, Judy Avy-Arryo no longer needs convincing of this.

When I asked Ms. Strausbaugh about the experience of the first delegation, she said, “It went better than I could have possibly hoped for.” A typical day began around 6:00 a.m. with breakfast. However, Ms. Strausbaugh would wake up early around 4:00 a.m., which is when the jungle comes alive. She told me that “to experience dawn in the rainforest was incredible.” Around 6:30 a.m., they would help clean the enclosures and feed the sloths. Afterwards, the Adri and Una would take a break to go down to the pier to do yoga led by Ms. Meros. Next, they would spend some time chopping vegetables for the sloths until lunchtime. After lunch, the girls would take a break to write and post on the delegation’s blog:  http://slothsrock.wordpress.com/. (I encourage you to take a look at their blog in order to read a firsthand account of their experiences and to see pictures of the sloths and sanctuary.) Then, the delegation would help with more feeding and cleaning around 3 p.m. After 4 p.m., the group had the opportunity to visit the sloths, go to the local beach, or go to the National Park. The day would conclude with dinner at 5:30 p.m., and as soon as it got dark, they would go to sleep.

This trip was certainly a learning experience as well for the students and teachers. Ari and Una got full one-on-one time with Becky Cliffe, a young, British zoologist who is doing original research at the sanctuary. When I asked Ms. Strausbaugh if she learned anything new about sloths, she explained to me that she learned about the two different species of sloths: the “Two-fingered” sloth and the “Three-fingered” sloth. Interestingly, she explained that these two sloths types are so distinct and “temperamentally as different as cats and dogs.” Ms. Strausbaugh also learned that new research shows that a sloth’s digestive system is so slow that it takes about thirty days for a sloth to fully digest food and process a meal. Additionally, she liked being able to observe the different personalities of the sloths as well as being able to see the baby sloth that was born shortly before the group arrived in Costa Rica.

After interviewing Ms. Strausbaugh, I would argue that we could learn a lot from the sloths’ slow lifestyle, and I think she would agree. “Sloths themselves are pure Zen,” said Ms. Strausbaugh who explain to me that the “different pace” of life there was so peaceful that one feels an inner slowdown. Like the sloths’ lifestyle, the delegation’s experience was simple and slow. This trip certainly has a spiritual dimension. Perhaps, this “slowing down” or the Zen of the sloths aid in connection to one spiritual side. Ms. Strausbaugh added that it was especially nice to be there during Holy Week.

I then asked Ms. Strausbaugh about her hopes for this year’s delegation. She hopes that the girls are not only helpful, but that they get the depth of the experience of last year’s delegation. Ms. Strausbaugh wishes that like last year’s girls, this year’s students will be changed in some way to help endangered species. “Every time I come back from Costa Rica, I am so aware of the fragility of nature and our increasing responsibility to protect it,” Mrs. Strausbaugh told me. She believes that there is a “need to expand our service program, our theology, and our thinking to include service to the Earth and animals because it is such a core part of the Catholic Social Teachings.”

I hope this year’s delegation has an incredible experience, and I encourage you to take a look at the blog and video as well as ask the girls about their experiences when they return from Costa Rica after Spring Break. Also, I would like to say a special thank you to Ms. Strausbaugh for meeting with me to do the interview and for providing links to the blog and video as well as pictures.