Yes I will admit I have been “la perdida” (the lost one) in terms of blogging. I’m sorry that I haven’t been keeping you all in the loop! I’ll keep this short, sweet, and to the point!
Life in Costa Rica has been great. I remember before coming here I tried to eliminate any expectations and just dive into the experience with a blank slate – ready to learn and ready to live. I have been in country for almost 17 months now and can tell ya I have been doing just that! Live & learn!
I might be what some call a “site rat” in which I don’t leave my community too often. I live away from central hubs so sitting in a bus for 12 hours in the heat sometimes isn’t worth 4 hours on the beach! The past couple months I’ve gotten to travel around the province of guanacaste which is along the pacific coast and is known for its year round beach weather in the country so that has been a treat! Another reason why I’m quite a site rat would be the disconnect i feel from community members and my projects when i leave. The idea of traveling for leisure is much different in the eyes of us “Norte americanos” than it is for a rural and more or less poor Costa Rican.
Many of you have been asking me or asking yourselves WHAT IS SHE DOING THERE! … Here are some highlights of what I call my HANDFULL PLUS 2 (EIGHT!) projects that I have been focusing on this past year and the year to come. Ready. Set. Go.
La asociación de desarrollo (the development assocation) – this group serves similar to any local body of government with a president, vice pres, treasure, secretary, etc. I work very closely with this group and I enjoy it because all of the projects and activities serve the community as a whole. Currently I am working on 2 projects with them and both projects are extremely ambitious. The first is in collaboration with funds from peace corps aka your tax dollars, we are hoping to put in a futbol 5 field and a health exercise gym. These serve both as a business for the ADI and as an opportunity to promote health to all community members. Futbol 5 is a sinthetic soccer field in which there are two 5 people teams. Each team pays the equvilant of 12$ per game ($24 total) and we’re hoping for at least 1 game per night and more on the weekends. The gym will serve more for the women of the community and will charge around 10$ a month. With the amount of rain in the area it is hard for women to stay active. With the money earned with the gym and the field, the ADI must colon rate with the community and present at least 6 projects in which they will execute during the following fiscal year. And of course, the promotion of health, recreation, and a safe place for youth and community members to occupy will be open to the public!
The other project with the ADI is an agriculture cooperative between 10 chosen families in the community in which “the lions club” (similar to rotary club) has offered us a direct deal with produce markets in bigger cities. This eliminates any middle man fee so the families will receive direct profit for their produce. We had a meeting with the president of the club last week and he said to us, “con comida, hay vida,” – with food there is life. This struck a chord with me because many people in my community do not have jobs and this man reminded them that if there is food, we are alive. It’s as simple as that. The idea is to unite the families to work together and build a stronger concept of family and in the end, hopefully make a great profit from their hard work in the farming of the produce. It’s also to reinstall the agricultural foundation in which this community was funded to the youth.
Youth group – probably my favorite ! Since I’ve been in site, I’ve started up a youth group of about 15 kids from my community ranging in ages 12-20 both girls and boys, different religions, attending different high schools, and coming from different family and life values. We try and meet every week but because of the high school schedules sometimes it ends up being less. Our current goal is to redo the park in the community and put a stage to promote theater, music, and art and more than anything a safe place for the youth to gather. They also want to put in a water fountain, a jungle gym, new benches, tables and pretty flowers 🙂 they do different events in the community like movie nights or bingos in which they raise money. Our goal is $1000 before we start purchasing items and right now we are $800! All of the money is hard earned by them and the idea is that with this hard work, they will feel responsible for taking care of the park. I love the time I spend with them and the relationships I’ve built with them. Each one is very special to me. We talk about continuing their educations and/or finding a place in the community by entering the agriculture side. They are everything to me and sometimes I think more than anything is because as most of you know – I myself grew up fast and skipped those teen years. The Latin culture is very similar – and I try to urge them to enjoy being young.
Recycling committee – also another favorite! We currently received a grant from peace corps and world connect to purchase 4 recycling bins for every house in the community (only 65 houses). The idea is that community members practice separating their recycling in their homes- a bin for each plastic, glass, cans, & paper/carton. As we have no sort of trash system here, we have to result to burning or burying our trash. We want to maximize recycling and minimize smoke / pollution! We’ve joint forces with the elementary school witha “pick-up” program in which every other Thursday kids from each neighborhood have to bring the recycling bags that each house sets out on the street. Once every 3 months a truck from a city 4 hours away comes to pick up our recycling but we have to pay them 80$ plus our recyclables for the cost of the trip. We are looking into a more efficient way. We are also looking into building or purchasing a trash incinerator because there are several unrecyable items (septic tanks don’t hold toilet paper here). This has been a very educational project for everyone in the town and everyone has really United for the benefit of the environment of the beautiful rain Forrest that we live in.
Empresa de crédito business of credit– I also work witha local banking business here but I dont hold much knowledge in this department so I try and help with basic organization and technology skills. The bank gives out loans to qualified candidates with sustainable projects at an interest rate. Anyone (preferably locals) can purchase shares and the interest between all loans is then divided between share holders at the end of the year. I still am working the ropes to fully understand the process, especially in Spanish, but I hope to lend more of an organizational hand of help to this local banking system before I part ways with peace corps.
Grupo de mujeres (women’s group) – this project was started by the pervious peace corps volunteer that served in my community and I have been helping to expand on the original ideas. Last year the group built an adorable little cabin in which they make jewelry, arts and crafts, and cook/sell amazing typical Costa Rican food. We do have a small influx of tourists that visit a local tourist ranch in the community and the owner has a genourous program in which tourists can tour the women’s group home. Our current project is also quite ambitious. We have been doing extensive research on how to extract PURE ginger oil from ginger root. If this process goes well, we have a donation of ginger root and we will grow it in excess and bottle and sell the oil to tourists and any market (local/global) that we can find. Pure ginger oil is difficult to make and hard to find BUT ginger is easy to grow where we live and the women are very dedicated to the process so the odds are in our favor!
Finca la Anita – the finca la Anita is the only tourism location in the community. It is a beautiful Eco style ranch with 7 cabins that recieves a small influx of tourists whom are looking for a rural and natural Costa Rican experience. I work with the owners to bridge any sort of tour in which the tourists can interact with the local community members. Sometimes we do community service projects if it’s a group of American students visiting the farm like paint the women’s group cabin or weed their garden. We also visit the elementary school where kids will have pen pal programs and then are given the opportunity to plant trees together donated by the owners Of the ranch! Recently the owners have ventured into a chocolate making business because they grow coacoa on the farm! It’s delicious and can range up to 100% pure dark choclate! They employ a majority of the town (10 people) so it’s always a pleasure to see both ends of the business spectrum.
English! Lastly and least lay there is english. Yes, this is my least favorite project but always in demand. I mainly work with one elementary teacher in improving her English and English teaching techniques. I used to actually help her teach classes but I found it more sustainable and useful to spend one on one time with her so she is more independent in the classroom. I also help the high school kids with study groups and this year alone we have been seeing an improvement in grades. Often people will come to me asking for help with pronunciation or vocabulary, especially people who work at the farm with the tourists to became more qualified employees. Costa Rica is quickly becoming what some might consider a bilingual country especially in the more tourist developed areas so it is crucial to learn English.
Aside from community projects I also hold a couple roles with peace corps by serving on the diversity committee and also a member of a group of volunteers who serve as resources for all volunteers for a measuring and reporting system all volunteers must participate in.
I know I said short but I guess this is what I get for not keeping up with the blogging process! But as you can see I am busy but believe it or not with all of this there still are days in which I have nothing to do. These are all projects that are dependent on the passion, motivation, and work of community members. Some of them are merely an idea- a tiny seed planted that needs the water sunlight, and care to grow. They may die off and fail – that would break my heart a little bit but that is the name of the game in development. I cannot be the leader and/or the foundation of any of these projects it must come from their brains, hearts, and hands. I will keep you updated on the process – send me some good vibes! And keep your eyes peeled for ways you may be able to help!
Like I said, there are days in which I don’t do much. There is lots and lots of rain here right now so it can get a little stir crazy. I read or draw or write. But most of the time if I’m not working on projects or in meetings, I am with my host family or a dear family from the community where we pass the time with cafecitos and gossip. 🙂 I recently got a puppy and her name is California and is definitely more popular than me! She is a great companion and learning tricks quickly!
Life has been good. I feel comfortable saying I have never seen the world so clear through these brown eyes of mine. To me things used to be an hour glass – sand rushing through the middle never knowing which part is up and which is down. Nor knowing what the race against time was. I am beginning to see life a little clearer and more tranquil. The sand is settling – the water less murky. But of course there are the days when it’s all shoken up and I loose my place for a moment but it always settles – sometimes may takes days but it will settle.
I’m not sure what the future holds. I have thought about extending with peace corps to see out these handful of projects I have going. time passes so quickly and I only have 9 months left here! And really the last 3 months we are in the closing part of our service and can’t do much. We’ll see! I will be sure to keep you all updated.
I miss you all so much and hope that we can all cross paths one way or another some time soon. Of course I will be coming home next summer to stand by my beautiful cousin on
her big day. Sending lots of love and PURA VIDA!
Here are some pictures to enjoy
When I just got Cali! One of the projects the local bank helped fund – dairy farm
Some of my best friends in peace corps! Soccer game
My peace corps tico group! The volunteers in the northern zone of the country (basically Nicaragua !)
Cali with all her new toys grandma penny sent her! New hammock for the balcony.
Best friends! Just drying some clothes
Cali digging holes Cali relaxing
Ba group of students from the states helping the women’s group with the ginger extraction project tourists buying jewelry from the women’s group
My host brother and I exploring some rivers Cali loves to swim!
One of my best gals I met in peace corps! Off exploring pretty beaches!
Celebrating quarter of a century!
My youth group threw me a surprise birthday party! I love these kids!
Cooking and cleaning with the kids preparing for an event Yes this oldie still plays soccer! Talking with the engineer of the futbol 5 field and the president of the lions club before my game!
Enjoying some coco with my bestie from Milwaukee! Enjoying some “copos” with my bestie from Thousand Oaks!
What a sight!