Yesterday we were invited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Escuela . . . and the unveiling of another donation from Fundacion Educar - but a little different one this time - an art piece called "Remembranzas de Tuetal Sur". The story of a remarkable influence on the children of our village is told on the foundation web site. But it would have to be a much bigger web site to tell the real story and it will be years before the real story plays out in the lives of children who were not held back by being poor.
The Educar Foundation (Maryland, USA) is the brain child of Jim Locke who decided to help some kids in Costa Rica - today 1000's of kids have been touched by the work of the foundation.
Our small school was built 20 years ago thanks to the vision of a small group of residents who ignored the local school officials who thought the village would never amount to much. They convinced a local farmer to part with some of his finca for a pittance so the kids of the village could go to a "local primary school". They scraped a few hundred dollars (in colones of course) to build a school house. The bathroom would have to wait.
By the time Jim Locke discovered the school it had a few classrooms, two bathrooms and about 250 kids in what most would agree a very poor neighborhood. Like most everybody in Costa Rica, this didn't mean their kids were hungry but it did mean some parents often had little work and there wasn't a computer or a book to be seen in the neighborhood.
There was however something interesting going on at the school . . . situated between the Caja clinic (EBAIS as it is known in every village of Costa Rica) and the church. 3km or a mile or so down the road some of the kids were coming out of the bad barrio (known as the Infernillo by all around it) and showing up at school every morning in uniform. There was and is a high rate of teen pregnancy and some families with big problems unable to provide supplies for their kids or an evening meal. The school, Jim observed, despite the poor neighborhood and some questionable parents from the Infernillo was well disciplined. The neighborhood was quite rural and yet somehow the school had managed to snag a full time psychologist (unheard of in rural schools) to help the troubled kids. The neighborhood was known for youth problems and yet the kids in the school were polite and very well disciplined. The neighborhood was dusty and unkempt but the school was spotless.
Today, the school is still spotless and orderly . . . there are over 350 kids, more bathrooms, a covered sports/assembly area, twice as many classrooms, a library well stocked with books, a computer room with 26 PC's and a trainer to maintain them and teach the kids. Much of this came through the foundation and organized into a teaching tool by another remarkable individual . . . the director, Senor Humberto Soto. Mr Soto leads an excellent team of teachers and assistants finding new ways every day to manage meager resources (such as a government allowance of 30 cents for lunch) into appetizing meals for the body and the brain.
The 20th Anniversary of the school had some unusual guests of honor - the business charge d'affaires, Peter Brennan, from the US Embassy who spoke about the strong connection between the US and Costa Rica. Also invited was the artist who designed the statue, Ruth Moreno who engaged us with her tale of how the village is intertwined in her art piece.
The village is named after the Tuete bush a rather weedy looking thing that is constantly under threat from neighborhood gardeners who mistake it for the weedy thing it looks like. Two Tuetes are known to be in protected captivity (as a result of these continued assaults on the village mascot) - one at the front of the school and the other in the Pura Vida gardens. Maybe the school officials who originally ignored the pleas for a new school 20 years ago knew something about Tuetes?
The next step in the evolution of the village may be the addition of a sports field and perhaps a small road around it to create a village center (and perhaps slow down traffic at the school). There is the beginnings of a plan . . . something that has made no progress in 10 years . . . and has no funding. The village and the school may bring this forward? A first step at "centering" the idea may have come at this 20th anniversary event - the arrival of the "Remembranzas" below (with "Mr Jim" as the staff and kids know him being interviewed at the ceremony):
On this day of the 20th anniversary there were a number of visitors who were surprised by what they found at this little primary school in a so called "poor village". Our guests who come visit the school most weeks of the year bringing a book or maybe a bag of books for the library are also surprised by what they find. Loud and clear the message goes out around the world that Costa Rica has achieved one of the highest literacy rates and then I explain . . . "they did it without books" (another tale on this subject is here: "what is literacy in Costa Rica?")
Well they are doing it without books in most schools here through the creativity of the teachers, the drive of some good directors, a pretty decent infrastructure and in a few cases the additional support of Fundacion Educar. As Jim Locke puts it when asked "Why Costa Rica?"
He replies simply, "Costa Rica will do something with my investment."
You'll be welcomed too on your next visit.