Year End Report 2009

CEDULA JURIDICA: 3-006-204046.
Gail D.  Nystrom,MA Ed.
Executive Director
Apartado: 458 Santa Ana Centro,
San José, Costa Rica
Telefono: (506) 390-4192
Fax: (506) 282-7629

Year Report 2009

Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation

Every year I say it’s not possible that a whole year has gone by and here we are in December again.  It is so wonderful to look back over each year and share some of the highlights with you.  The main thing is, we have remained true to our mission and have accomplished so much…some of which border on miracles for us.

We started the year with our new program called A Bed for Every Child …Bobby Ghorman, volunteer from Colby College,  was the impetus for this project and we got a workshop set up right on site in La Carpio next the home of a family with nine children.  Guy Hesse, a local expat was kind enough to organize the workshop and spent hours training volunteers on how to make and assemble the bunkbeds.  My son Fransisco was a good volunteer coordinator and helped out with the groups especially during the summer.  Funding was provided by volunteer donations, SOFTLY international and the people who received the beds.

Along the same lines, we had another great volunteer, Noelle Saveaugre who spearheaded our new food bank.  With a seed donation from Barry Schwartz, and  her wonderful infrastructure support, we were able to set up a system in which we distributed basic food baskets to help feed over 6,000 people during the year.  Twice a month we had a distribution of 100 baskets and a hot meal program as well as distribution of used clothing and shoes.    At some of the food bank days we had music and singing and playing with the children through our volunteer participation.

Our women’s cooperative continues to grow in all ways.  They were able to make over $4,000 this year with the sale of their cloth bags, jewelry and woven newspaper objects.  But, even more than this, they grew in confidence and ability to manage their project. They worked out some of their difficulties with logistics and shared responsibilities. They also created, with the technical training and support  of Sharon Fletter, beautiful Angel dolls that were sent to the “My Guardian Angel” project for children around the world.  For next year, the women have been contracted by Café Britt to make the bags for items bought in their gift shops around the world out of used coffee bags. This is a really nice contract and will keep a lot of women busy and paid for quite a while. We are so grateful to Nancy Tibet, the volunteer who had the vision to start these women on their journey to creativity and productivity.  The women also now have their own room to work in as part of the new center we have opened.

We just finished working with volunteer and Global College student Rachel Lagare on an impactful photo exhibit in which the women express the hardships they have had in their lives as a result of institutional and familial violence.  The exhibit was shown as part of the International Day Against Violence Toward Women.

We were given a stipend by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and with this were able to fund, along with general Foundation funds, the preparation and presentation of a play about breast cancer and healthy life styles. The play was presented over 50 times to a wide variety of audiences including coffee pickers, people living in rural and low income communities and volunteer groups.  It was a huge self esteem boost for the women to be able to present their play and work directly with people from all over the world at many different socio-economic levels. It was a wonderful experience. We also participated as a group in the march against breast cancer sponsored world wide by the SGK foundation.

The final presentation was to a group of 30 clowns and Patch Adams himself as well as a group of 40 students from Global College.  Imagine the pride the women felt when all those clowns dressed in their hats and silly outfits gave them a long, standing ovation for their work and their efforts

This year we worked with youth and art and were able to motivate children to express themselves through their art work. The motivator for this project was Michael Urena, a 26 year old who had been shot and paralyzed at the age of 8.  He has become a leader for youth in La Carpio as a result of our motivation.

Thanks to the donation of books from the Women’s Club of Costa Rica, we were able to provide books for the library at LaCarpio and its 2,500 children and to put a book in each of the bags we give to children who receive bunkbeds. Our play, Stone Soup, was well received in several different communities as we taught the concept of working together to make wonderful things happen.

We worked actively with a new sports committee in LaCarpio and now have sponsored 20 teams of 20 youth each for soccer, daycamps and recreation activities as well as physical health checkups and motivation to a healthy life style. It was a highlight of the year to see the winning girls team drive in a caravan through the streets with balloons on the cars, celebrating their great victory.  I am so pleased to have found this ethical, caring group of community leaders to share responsibility with in this endeavor.

This year we worked with nearly 1,500 volunteers, especially in March, June, July and August. These great groups, along with their kind and responsible leaders helped with so many projects.   Lifeworks worked on the lunchroom for the high school in Picagres, AAVE worked with the construction of a special education classroom in Las Nubes, Overland built a computer lab in Matanilla and renovated a classroom on the Atlantic coast as well as financing the construction of volunteer cabins for future use.

Our friends at McMath high school in Richmond BC, under the competent guidance of director Alex Campbell,  returned this year and worked as a pilot project at a school for special needs students in Turrialba. They renovated a classroom, painted three murals and worked with the kids.  We so appreciate their donations…their soccer uniforms and equipment went all over the country from the remote indigenous reserves to the newly formed teams in La Carpio!

Student Voyage leader Eric Shamas helped to renovate a home for one of our sponsored women and helped to finance the purchase of a home for Pilar and her four children in Nicaragua.   McMath School built a classroom and painted murals in the special education school in Turrialba.  Montauk, Colby and Adelphi worked on our bunkbed project.

In the medical area we were also active with our volunteers.   Common Ground  provided great medical care to hundreds of people with their education and medical consultations with people.  Wayne State also did medical clinics for our populations.  Students from Duke University also worked with health care as did the group from UCLA.   Many of the group were concerned about reproductive health and provided us with condoms to give out when requested.

Local high schools Country Day and Blue Valley helped with daycamps for children, Christmas parties, food bank and donation of educational materials. Vicki Skinner and her House of Self Empowerment were very helpful through the collection of donations for all our projects and networking about what we were up to.

We kept up our work in Carpio with La Libertad daycare center attending 30 preschoolers in the morning with hot lunch provided, 30 school age children in the afternoon for homework support and snack.  At the Model Education Center we took care of 40 preschoolers with an education and snack program and 30 youth in the afternoon with English, homework support and computer skills training.  The creativity and imagination of the women is something to behold as they work daily with children to give them training and exposure to so many different topics. We are proud to announce that we had a 100% pass rate for the kids in our academic programs.   These programs are all run completely by the local women and some of the parents have begun to give a small weekly stipend to cover the cost of the food provided.  We are so proud of our happy, confident, smart kids.

The community clinic continues to attend to 20 patients per day and works with education towards healthy life styles.  Dr. Evelyn Sanchez did a marvelous job all year, supervising university students, helping with our workshops and seeing patients directly. She is a model of consistency and persistence and never falters with her patience and smile.

The big news is that we have now taken the big leap and opened a Montesori style daycare center right in la Carpio. This was a huge step for us and we debated a long time about whether to have it in Carpio or outside as a for profit operation to help fund the projects in LaCarpio.  We finally decided to rent a very large space in the community and are proud to see that we have 20 fulltime students which our six local women teach and provide a hot lunch to.  It is very exciting to see this kind of quality education provided to this population and to see the way the community is responding positively

We must give a huge acknowledgement to the twenty women who work hard every day to provide these quality services to so many people in the community.  They are always ready to work and collaborate and to help others and are real role models for others.  With their weekly stipend, we are helping to keep a combined nearly 100 people fed and clothed and housed.

Our project of educating people about the dignity of poverty began and continues this year. We plan to develop a new play about this topic as well as continuing with our endeavors to fight breast cancer.

The indigenous women are now almost totally independent in their work in the Atlantic zone. The cabins that we sponsored to be built two years ago are fully functional and very beautiful.  We want to thank the Overland group of volunteers for the help with the cabins…The women now know how to host volunteers and visiting tour groups. Their crafts continue to be whimsical and fun and we are looking forward to getting some better marketing going for them. In the indigenous area we built a lunchroom and another clinic.  We give eternal thanks to Chris Thomas for her faithful support for this project and for her contacts at Country Day School that keep this project going.

The boys in prison continue their journeys of self discovery. The road is rocky for these kids who had such a terrible start in life. They struggle every day to figure out who they are and why they are.  It is a privilege and a blessing to spend time with them.  Abram, who has been with us for more than ten years, is in prison for old cases and during this year, his mother was murdered. It was very very hard on him and now, I am the only mother  figure he has.

My dear Nela is now living with her steady partner, Jonathan. They have been together for three years and, although they have very big ups and downs, they seem to be moving forward.  They both would like to find a way to work in a decent job so they can support themselves completely.  Thanks to Willi Smith, we were given a house and Nela and Jonathan live there and take care of it.  Keyla, the lovely Keyla, is living with me full time and she is a real dynamite of a six year old. She just completed first grade and is looking forward to school again next year. She visits with Nela and Jonathan for some weekends and vacation time when they are able to have her.  So far the arrangement is working out fine.  It keeps me young and active to have such a fireball in my life and I miss her when she is not here.

We were lucky enough to begin work with Angie in August. She is an 8 year old girl who has bone cancer. When I first met her doctors, they said that she would not be here for Christmas. They were quite insistent that she needed to have her arm amputated in order to take out a large tumor growing there.  We especially want to thank our good friend Donna Tabor for her efforts to help us get outside medical assistance for Angie.  We worked with Angie’s wonderful parents and were able to buy the family a new house in La Carpio where they can live in more peace.  We are thankful to Michael Purpura and his fifth grade class from Blue Valley School for their support for this little girl.  It is a beautiful story because Angie is still with us and is feeling fine. She is undergoing chemotherapy, but we are giving her every day as much love of life as possible.  We were able to take Angie, Keyla, Abigail and Angie’s mother to see the magical presentation of the Nutcracker ballet at the National Theater and afterwards went backstage where the Prince and Fairy queen both gave Angie a huge hug.  We know she may not be around for a long long time, but on the other hand, who knows???

Another miracle this year was the safe recuperation of volunteer Sierra who was hit by a car when crossing a side street on the way to a medical appointment.  As luck would have it, this happened right in front of the hospital and, although all the staff of the hospital thought she was not going to be found alive, she recovered from her experience and her frightened parents were able to spend some good quality time with their daughter.

In February, I was able to fulfill a long time dream of mine and was sponsored by my dear friend Elinore Detiger to go to Findhorn community in Scotland.  It was an amazing trip and I returned very inspired and fulfilled.  It was amazing to me that such an orderly, calm place could co-exist with the poverty and chaos that we live with every day here in Latin America.  The main message I got there was, “start with the children” and “work with the angels”. The women in Carpio are so kind and when I returned we decided to dedicate our new Montesori school to the guardian angels of the children….

My other travel for the year was with Global College visiting the indigenous region of Ecuador and taking some of my favorite educational materials to the school there. It was so wonderful to be able to share some ideas of how to set up daycare centers and kindergartens with the people there.  We were able to participate in a powerful ceremony with a local shaman.  And, of course, it was great to see Quito again and spend time with the artesans there.

We finished our work year with parties for 300 people at Christmas time. One of my favorite moments was when Efraim, the young man who helps with maintenance at our La Libertad project, at the age of 16, received his first ever Christmas present from the women who work at that center.

I cannot finish this letter without a huge thank you to my ever kind, patient, faithful and active “staff” of the CRHF.  Even though they receive no fixed salary, Norma, Ana and Africano have been the rocks upon which this whole organization is built. They are incredible people, the likes of which I doubt you would find in many places.   Ana now has the accounting so up to date that I can know exactly what I spent on any item in any year at any time.  And I can know exactly where I stand financially within one day of lapse time.  Pretty amazing!  Our homestay families once again came through for us, providing safe, healthy, fun family experiences for our volunteers.

I would also like to thank especially our financial sponsors who have also been loyal and understanding and ever kind to us. Without you, none of this would be possible.  I have said so many times, but to Doug Lowy, you are a prince. To Barry Schwartz, you are a savior.  Bob Epstein comes along just in time to help us out.  We are very grateful to Dean Robert Glass of Global College for his recognition of the value of our work to students and his donation to our work through the university.  Our new donor Paul Hunt is welcome to our group and we thank him for following through on his donation at the start up of the year.  We also want to thank Ken and Rhoda Burrill, the foster family for Stela and her five kids, Marlene and her two… And to all our other donors and volunteers, know that what you are doing is changing the world in big and small way.

As for me and my family, it was quite an eventful year.  First, I was able to spend time with my mother in her nursing home at the end of 2008 and five days after I returned to Costa Rica she passed away on January 8, 2009.  I was quite surprised at how this knocked me off my feet.  I felt so desolate and alone and very very sad.  And also grateful because she had a very peaceful death in the arms of my father.   Sxity years of marriage is nothing to sneeze at….Sara is now 18 and is studying at the university and working, Fransisco is 24 and graduated from the university and is working. He has helped so much in many of the projects with the Foundation. He is looking at graduate school for next year. And Felipe is now 26 and living in an apartment and working. He still is interested in all sports. And his son Matthias spends weekends with him and us.

Once again, I have written a lot and hope that this gives you the sense of wonderment and extreme gratitude that we have for all our accomplishments and learnings this year.  It has been a great year and we are now looking forward to our short vacation.

I hope you have a great holiday season, Merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate and again, heartfelt thanks for all your great support.