Last Two Days in Costa Rica

Our last two days in Costa Rica have been filled with service–and thankfully, good weather!

On Wednesday and Thursday, the students have continued to serve at the high school, elementary school and elderly home in the mornings. In the afternoons, they’ve rotated between the recycling center, Lion’s club and high school. All of these opportunities have allowed the students to get to know the community better and learn more about themselves along the way.

For our final evening, the SHU and TEC students will present their most memorable events to the groups and staff before heading to their homestays for their last evening together.

This has been a very full week, and we’ve enjoyed watching the students stretch themselves by taking on new tasks and encouraging each other along the way!

Guatemala: Union Victoria

The Guatemala group spent Monday (March 2, 2015) in the rural community Union Victoria. The community members there are displaced indigenous Ixil who continue to recover from the war that persisted through the 1980-90’s. The Ixil leaders spoke to the group about their history and their current needs and issues. Guatemala 2015Later in the morning the group worked side-by-side community members in painting their community center. The community later provided a traditional lunch of tomales and chicken soup.

Costa Rica: Soccer & Samba

Costa Rica 2015 TuesdayAnother group went to Sucre High School in the morning. There was an assembly where the students of Sucre, SHU, and TEC got to listen to some amazing music produced by the faculty and by the students.  After the morning festivities, we had a huge soccer game where the SHU and TEC students played against the high school team.  In the afternoon, we headed off to the recycling center which is managed by a women’s association working to make the community a greener place. There we helped to sort the materials.

The last group spent the morning at a home for the elderly. The home provides educational, social and health support during the day for 18-25 elderly. One of the highlights of the students’ visit was learning to samba with the members of the home!Costa Rica 2015 Tuesday

After lunch, they went to the high school and volunteered in the English classrooms. The high schoolers enjoyed asking the SHU students questions and playing English games together like Simon Says.

Costa Rica: Butterflies, Crocodiles & Cows (Tractor-Bus Tour of TEC)

Costa Rica 2015_ButterflyToday students from SHU and TEC met at the university. We started with an introduction to the school of agronomy. The focus was on applied research that answers important questions to help out the local farming community and the industry associated with farming in Costa Rica. Meanwhile there is a push to develop the technology to improve and increase production quality of local agricultural products.

For example one of the current research projects undertaken at TEC is to develop a way to extract and purify a specific type of fungus which is utilized to enhance the organic matter decomposition of waste products.  Organic waste products are a haven for a type of fly which affects the dairy farms so by reducing the amount of organic matter you are thereby reducing the total amount of flies being born and therefore helping the dairy farms.

A brief discussion followed about the conflict between large industry based agriculture and small local production and functioning in a market driven economy.

Costa Rica 2015_University tourFollowing our discussion, we went on a fantastic tractor-bus tour of the university campus including the pig and dairy farms which are used for education and research at TEC. Students had the opportunity to see baby pigs and pet young cows. We visited an experimental forest where students tried fresh papaya and sugar cane. On the way back to lunch we stopped to take pictures of a 5-ft iguana.

Following lunch, we visited the crocodile enclosure in which more than a few dozen large and small crocodiles reside. The students learned about the study of the crocodile population, fed them, and even got to hold a small crocodile.

Our day ended with a tour of the butterfly observatory and herb garden.Costa Rican 2015_University Tour

It was really impressive to see the way students engaged in the interactive and hands on experience!

Costa Rica: Rain, Wind & the Rainforest

A fantastic, first, full day in Costa Rica started “mucho frio” with rain, wind, a little bit of fog, and the group heading (somewhat apropos) to a rain forest. Upon arrival in the “Parco Nazionale del Agua San Juan de la Montagna” the group was greeted by two professors at TEC, Olivier (name) and Arnoldo (name). Both Olivier and Arnoldo are environmental scientists specializing in the field of amphibian research and soil research respectively. During the morning the group was treated to a series of lectures regarding the history and foundation of the park, the role of a social cooperative group in the development of the park, and the story of amphibians, specifically Green-eyed frogs, which reside in the park.Costa Rica 2015_Full Day 1

Unlike other national parks in Costa Rica, this park was not designed for tourism, but rather education and research. It was founded ~ 14 years ago by a group of concerned citizens who have received millions of dollars in loans and donations to purchase land from private landowners in order to preserve the most precious resource we have, water, hence the name of the park. The mountains encompassed in the park are the source of water for 150 communities in the Alaluela and San Jose provinces. In addition, to the utilization of water for human consumption, hydroelectric power generated by the water sourced in the park, provides 83% of the electricity needs of northern Costa Rica. A very large social cooperative named Coopalesca (which has over 70,000 members) was able to raise the money to preserve the area. These members, by pledging only 50 cents per year, have been able to protect and conserve over 1100 hectares (~2500 acres) of precious land for posterity, creating a truly social national park that is unique in the world. Meanwhile Coopalesca, has provided a significant and reliable source of energy for Northern Costa Rica, and received an award in 2013 for being the first carbon neutral energy distributor in Costa Rica.

Beyond water, the other main impetus for preserving the land is the fact that it is home to an endemic frog species (the Green-eyed frog), which was first discovered in San Juan de la Montagna in 2007 by our host Olivier and colleagues. This frog, which is officially listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list, is now only found in this park and in the neighboring Monteverde National Park between the elevation of 1700 and 2500 m (~5300-8000 feet).Costa Rica 2015_Full Day Rainforest

After the lectures were completed, the group were then led on a circa 4 mile (round trip) hike through the National Park to a beautiful greenish-blue lagoon known as Pozo Verde. On this hike, the students, who were partnered with Costa Rican students from TEC, walked through diverse ecosystems of ever-changing tree species, flowers, plants, etc. They hiked through fields and over rock scrambles, appreciating the true beauty of this diverse countryside. The late afternoon was marked by beautiful sunshine and fresh mountain air accompanying a breathtaking ride back down into Ciudad Quesada.