Year Report 2016
Unbelievably, yet another year has gone by and our organization continues to grow and thrive in its search to provide support for improving quality of life for those most at risk in Costa Rica. Our expansion into other areas of the country has worked well and thanks to the support of volunteer groups and their leaders, we work at many levels to create infrastructure, curriculum, financial support and direct services to thousands of people all over this country..
Family Well Being Centers
The Centros de Bienestar familiar or Family Well Being Centers are now a common name in three different communities. The name is important because it creates a way to think about poverty, violence, drug use and how to make a thriving community. After so many years of work with these populations we feel we have found a simple but effective model for how to eradicate poverty by seeing the situation as a spiral/continuum with steps toward full potential realized
Children at the Model Education Center continue to receive loving care and guidance at the hand and heart of our two teacher/guides Zaira and Gloria. This year we graduated a very enthusiastic group of children and watched in admiration as their proud parents took photos and applauded as each child received a diploma. This program is well established and the traditions we started so many years ago continue. Our children are at the head of the parade at Independence day, each dressed as what they would like to be when they grow up. Once again, the police and the princesses won the day. It is hard to believe that Gloria is calling to let me know when it is time to graduate another group. Space is hard to get in this program and we have a long waiting list!
In the Libertad Center, the three teacher guides, Marlene, Francis and Rosario, continue to provide quality tutoring and special events coordination to members of their sector, including the children and adults who live down by the river. We attempted this year to rebuild the bridge so that people would not be hurt crossing the river, however, the police took down our cables and requested that no bridge be rebuilt there. It was too dangerous and we could not guarantee the safety of those crossing. So, we began a program to provide housing upgrades to each of the thirty families living in this sector. It is not an easy job given the conditions of dampness and the precarious nature of the houses. Volunteers from ISA were the main support here as they worked with the children, mixed the cement, weeded, made murals and provided special events for children.
In the Montessori Center, we have been blessed with a donor who is committed to our idea of a hot meal program. So, we are now serving over 200 people a quality hot meal every Saturday. We have established routines for the day and are pleased to see the children responding by taking time to wash their hands, say a grace before eating, learning to like vegetables and see the value in them, and, at the end, Reading together. Our donor,, Gary Kaplan, and his office staff arrive with food ready for children of all ages and their mothers. We have improved the food quality of life for all these folks through this program.
The daycare program provided care for children twelve hours per day and with the assistance of a group of university students, the children were provided with a high level of education an life learning skills. This was all possible after a complete remake of the physical space for the classroom due to a donation from a family whose daughter passed away in a traffic accident.
Thanks to the support of the Lifeworks and Overland groups of volunteers, along with a donation from REEF International, we were able to complete the construction of the Family Well Being Center in this beach community. The teacher/guide, Erika, followed our curriculum for Camine Une Milla and the kids were thrilled to be able to go to San Jose to participate in our exhibit. The property is almost completely paid for and our hope is to finish this property payment in July of this year. Francisco, my son, has been the main leader of the construction Project and he helped all the volunteer groups with their activities Due to our presence, the hotel called Sueños Tranquilos was able to stay open this year and the local people are very grateful for the boost to the economy that our presence represented.
CBF San Carlos
In our center on the northern border we were proud to be able to work with children who immigrate with their families to the region from Nicaragua. Nela, Antonio, Kela and baby Benji are well established in their new home thanks to the donations of Lifeworks, Gary Kaplan and general funds. Nela and Kela are happy to work with these children as their parents search for a way to survive. Most of the work in this area is based on production and care of chickens and the work involves cleaning the enclosures where they are raised. It is difficult work and not well paid, but it is apparently better than what they would have in Nicaragua.
CBF Rio Claro
Anyone who knows Fatima cannot help loving her. She is so warm and kind and generous and compassionate. Just the opportunity to work with her is a role model for all our volunteers. And, thanks to Lifeworks, the brand new classroom is now finished and up and running. Fatima is seeing 60 children per week between her tutoring, the school age program and the arts program. The children see her as a friend and guide and turn to her when they are troubled by their life challenges. We are very grateful to Fatima for her ethical and unwavering support for all our programs. These kids were also able to go to San Jose and participate in our Camine una Milla program
We continued with our upgrade and preparation of the Finca Hope for the people of la Carpio. Volunteers from Lifeworks planted new plants, made murals, created a lookout area and walkway and fixed up the fences.. We used the finca twice a month all year long as we were visited by the children of our education centers, the abuelas, the soccer teams and members of our staff who wanted a chance to be away from the life in la Carpio. Visits always include time in nature, a little hike or walk, work in the garden, a swim in the pool and finally a good lunch or snack. Books about nature and crafts are always available.
We now have firmly established relationships with five different indigenous groups and our very enthusiastic to have been able to create learning/teaching cultural interchanges between many volunteer groups and these different groups.
Most of our volunteers begin their time with us with a visit to the Huetar group just outside of San Jose. Here, our friend Juan Sanchez and his son Nelson give lessons and ceremonies related to indigenous Cosmo vision and long held beliefs. It is interesting that the words they speak have so much in common with other international groups and provide guidance for a way to live our future.
Our Lucas Drummond cultural interchange program is flourishing and dear friends Jenny and Leonel have taken off with their ability to care for and share with groups from all over the world. The program is now organized so that they can organize the tractor ride up the hill, the visit with local people, the artesan Project, healthy meals, hikes to the upper mountains and interaction with the schools. We are quite certain that Lucas would approve wholeheartedly the evolution of this project.
This year, a group of doctors and dentists from the US provided nearly 500 medical and dental appointments, for people from far and wide in the region. This Project was one of the most complex we have ever done and required hours of prep time to get the legal permission from all the government agencies involved. But it was well worth it in the end. We hope to have a return visit by this group in coming years.
We are also well linked now to the Amubri Project where Roger hosts us with his wonderful stories about the region and its beginnings. The Casa Koswul where we stay is a peaceful, quiet and healthy place to learn and contemplate life. We were lucky enough to attend the inauguration of the new elementary school which is at the site where I lived in Peace Crops in 1980!
Both the Boruka and Terraba groups hosted our volunteers this year and we loved learning about the art of Kamel, the magical artist and the customs of the Terraba at their shelter. It is so interesting to see how these groups all have a similar Cosmo vision and take very seriously their commitment to protect nature and the world from our self destructive habits.
The Auto Mercado supermarket chain has continued to provide us with fruits, vegetables and bread for 15 families per day as well as for our own daycare center and another daycare center in Leon xiii. Veronica and Nina are both single mothers who, along with the driver Marcos are able to divide the C1,500 that the people donate for their services and provide for their own families. On the final days of the year, we took food to from Auto Mercado to over 50 people living on the streets.
We have continued to upgrade houses in Carpio and have seen that the walls we build, the floors we install, the small houses we build have made many people happy. Volunteers love doing this very concrete work.
Carpio Clean, Green, Healthy Happy
Through this program we have now completed our mission to paint the front of 3,000 houses and to do home upgrades. Our gardens continue to grow and most people are giving them the care they need. We provided hundreds of hygiene kits to both children and adults and gave out over one thousand pairs of shoes and quality clothing with the support of the Allen Stevenson group from New York and other volunteer groups.
The Patch Adams clown group had a big impact n the community this year and after two parades through the town, wrapped up with a presentation in the ne park at the entrance to the community in which over 500 people attended the plays and theater presentations provided.It was a wonderful day with clowns from all over the world playing with the children and enjoying their time together.
Camine Una Milla
I watched in horror as pictures of Syrian refugees fleeing their country were broadcast on the news. Surely, I thought, there must be something we can do about this. So, with the support of the Swiss government, we developed an education program called “Camine una Milla…en Mis Zapatos”. This curriculum gave all the participants in all our programs a guide to think about their own situation – most of them are refugees or descendants of refugees – and to write and think about how they could educate other people to develop compassion for the situation. This four month series of lessons culminated in a day at the Children’s Museum with an experiential display of refugee status and the struggles people go through while searching for a better life. It was an amazing and wonderful moment to see the more than 300 people gathered to honor and experience the refugee situation worldwide. Many thanks to Alexandre Guyot for his belief in our program and to the Swiss Embassy for their financial support for this very impactful program.
Las Abuelas Esforzadas y Felices
This grannies really rock…their play has now been improved and upgraded by several professional theater producers and renowned artist Patrica Erickson has created 8 paintings about the play which we will soon turn into a book. The Abuelas present their play to all volunteer groups and are beginning to make contact with schools and other institutions outside of la Carpio. We thank the Little Theater group of Costa Rica for their support of this program. With this initiative we hope to educate local school children and teachers about many topics such as gender equality, government repression, alcoholism, abuse and child rearing.
The Recyclers Group
These young adults are the ones who jump on the garbage trucks as they come and go in la Carpio and we now have a small workshop for them where they can turn their trash into treasures. They have created, with the guidance of local artist Juan Carlos Chavarria, several Works of art that are collages of reworked garbage. We hope to continue this program in the next year and to have enough Works prepared to have their own show. Fanny, who is the leader of the group, will be featured in a television program in Holland about travel in Costa Rica.
The Soccer Boys
With the constant support and love for the boys that he has in his league, coach Pedro Roa has been able to maintain over 100 youth in school and free of drugs. They win a lot of games, go to the championships and, more than anything, have formed a strong bond with each other as they work toward becoming productive youth for a better future for themselves and their families. The boys and their league will be featured in a Dutch television travel program in January as well.
The Christmas Party to End All Christmas Parties
Imagine if you live in La carpio and maybe just maybe your parent can get you one present for Christmas. Then, imagine you get invited to a party where there is a whole program for you….ponies, cotton candy, popcorn, all the food you can eat, soccer, games, a swimming pool, present, and being surrounded all day long by people who love and care about you. Who you have known and developed friendship with during the year. Imagine. And this is what Gary Kaplan and his staff provided for our children this year. It was magical, wonderful and full of love and light
We love our volunteers and are so happy when they come to visit us. They are an integral part of our work because they motivate us to continue to have quality programs and help us to believe in ourselves. It is a challenge to be the Bridge between the “haves” and the “have nots”. But, we are learning each season about how to be more efficient in providing for their needs. We have interaction with hundreds of youth and are proud to be able to show them what we have accomplished over the year. We thank the teachers and guides who are able to bring their students and who watch over the safety, well being and evolution of their charges. They are great people and we are honored to have them come and help us out. We receive feedback which shows people are taking home a deeper understanding of different situations, which is part of our vision.
We now have a full time assistant in La Carpio who is doing a great job keeping the donations oganized, doing work on the computer, making lists of beneficiaries, repairing broken things and in general just being a steady support for all our work in Carpio. Since Katya is so multi talented, she also gives computer classes in our new computer classroom which was created thanks to the donation of Jeff Fischer, Michael Nash and Global college computers.
We also have a university student in accounting who is helping to digitalize the .thousands of receipts that we produce during the year and she Works diligently with our accountant to keep us up to date.
Lorena continues to be a loyal and faithful assistant in our homestay program as she plans and organizes all the groups who stay with us.
Our Costa Rican Board continues to be a stable source of support for us and we are grateful to them for their expertise in indigenous work, technical computer needs and advice in moments when we need help with different situations.
We continue our presence in the Wells Mountain Foundation which is our sister organization in the US that receives our tax exempt donations and processes them for us. We are enjoying seeing how this organization has also grown over the years and are proud to be part of their mission to create educational opportunities for youth in Africa, Asia and some Latin countries.
We have a bright future as an organization. We will be starting our new four year Project called No mas Drogas, No Mas Violencia, No mas Latas, No Mas Lagrimas – no more drugs, violence, tin houses and tears – in La carpio this year. We want to work with women who have been sexually assaulted or whose children have been hurt by others. This program will have a similar curriculum to the Camine una Milla program and will teach us all about the long term effects of drugs, violence and sexual assault. It is time to be brave and face these issues head on. The project will culminate in a walk through the suburbs of Costa Rica with all the people who participate in the classes to educate people about the long term effects of the deep wounds of abuse, violence, drugs, poverty and tin houses…
I have been told for several years that I should dedicate myself to writing about my many unique experiences and my learnings from them. Yes, there are many books in the drawers, half finished writings, collections of so many essays and art work of so many people we have served…And, my head is a vast library of knowledge and conclusions drawn. Most of our programs are now nearly independent and I could pretty easily slip away for a few weeks at a time to organize these writings. This is my hope for the next few years. In order for this work to have a more long lasting and “higher” meaning, there must be documentation. So, I am putting this intention down on paper for all to share with me. Hopefully this will make it happen faster.
I actually found the disc with the original story of the street kids and have read this manuscript. As I was reading, I relived all the trauma and confusion of those days and could hardly believe what happened to them. Reading this material moved all kinds of emotions in me and I shared this with Nela. She confessed that thinking about those days on the street caused her to start having nightmares. No surprise there.
A quote from the found book: “My biggest challenge with the kids is to support them in their process of change and to have compassion for what their lives have been like while, at the same time, protecting them from their own impulses to show their distress through violence. It is like disciplining a toddler but much more complex and challenging.” And the art of the kids is stunning.
We also hope to implement the program “The Path of the Seed People” which is a program of personal pilgrimage for those who want to know our indigenous friends by sharing with them and learning from them about their belief systems and their ability to survive. It is going to be a chance to experience some of the most pristine places left on earth with people who are strong, resilient, kind and self aware.
With gratitude to all who have supported us during the years, CPI language school, West Coast Connection, Global College, Lifeworks, Overland, Tamandua, AAVE, ISA, Bold Earth and the countless universities. To our caring and patient and faithful donors, Britt Palmeda, The Epstein family, Julie Rocap, Allen Stevenson School, Wells Mountain Foundation, Jeff Fischer, Mr. James Nystrom – my father – and all the others who were moved to help us continue our work through their financial and moral support of our work.
A Final Note:
In memorial to all those who lost their lives during this year . Especially I want to honor Bismark, who was one of our original Street kids. He escaped death so many times when on the streets and then moved to be back in Nicaragua near his mother. He found a wife and had children. But the poverty was crushing and overwhelming. He was murdered in the streets in Nicaragua and his young wife and five children mourn his loss every day . It is a challenge to understand these deaths.
I will also include the unexpected death of Debbie Reynolds, who sang and danced in a sweeter time than we live in now. All Lives Matter.
A Final Final Note
The other night I watched the CNN heroes award program.. I felt such an affinity with these folks and I know what they go through to get their projects going and keep them going. I know how hard it is and I wish for all of them health and abundance and cheering crowds….
Then, the next day I saw the little girl in Syria who is bravely using social media to let people know what is happening there. And I thought, all these CNN heroes should give their plaques to the people of Syria…the doctors who really risk their lives every day, the first responders, the mothers who watch their children die, the fathers who can’t provide food for their families. This is an international scandal of epic proportions and we must shine our light on these folks. In the environment of bullying and disparagement that we suffered during the US elections, we should stop and pause and be so grateful for all that we DO have. I would beseech anyone who reads this to strengthen their compassion muscle and help support these children and anyone else who are living daily horrors.
We will be celebrating 20 years since the CRHF was legally registered with the Costa Rican government earning our Cedula Juridica or tax number in 1997. We were one of very few Foundations back in those days and the process to get the legal papers was quite complicated. Since my humanitarian work in Costa Rica began in 1977, we have never wavered in our core principles and have, at the same time, been able to adapt to the changing needs of the populations we serve. It has been an honor and a privilege to be the leader and inspiration in this organization for so long.
Here, below, is a symbol of our work…Kela, the daughter of Nela who lived on the streets during her young years and came to be under our care when she was 13…then we took care of her daughter while Nela straightened out her life. Now, they live in a house we donated to them, Nela has a steady partner and a new baby who she is raising as a very healthy and fun toddler. In this picture, Kela is making friends with Jenny, a girl we met while giving out food to the street people on Dec. 31. Jenny was having a difficult time living on the street and Kela befriended her…These two seem to have birthdays in the same week…