One of the things that I feel really blessed with is the flexibility of my job which enables me to participate in activities that, if I had a “real” job, I wouldn’t be able to do.
I’ve mentioned Sábalo and Equilibrium in the past but normally I’m off on my own when I do this volunteer work. So it was really special for me to actually get to take part in the program and see my friends from San Jose at the same time.
On this particular day, we left at 7 a.m. and returned at about 2 p.m. Sábalo is a very small village about 30 minutes southeast from where I live in Manuel Antonio. We passed through African palm plantations and drove along dirt roads with small homes popping up every once in a while and the occasional cow slowly eating its breakfast beside the road. One of the most frustrating moments of the day was when I was told they couldn’t get tourists at the Manuel Antonio hotels to go there because, the reason they thought was, “it was too far”. Tourists go zip lining in an area that is at least 30 minutes away (if not more) from the Manuel Antonio area. So I don’t think it has anything to do with the amount of time it takes to get there. And if it’s because it’s a 4 hour program, then why not just plan a 2 hour day where they leave after the first break? Immersing yourself into the local community is a major part of eco travel and since many of the hotels in my area are considered “sustainable”, you’d think they’d try a little harder to encourage guests to participate and learn about the country and its people. (just one of my many frustrations, can you tell?).
It was a partly cloudy day and Michelle told me to be grateful as most days it had been blazing hot and there are no fans or air conditioning in the one room schoolhouse. At Sábalo, there are just two buildings and a set of bathrooms plus a large grassy area. One room is the kitchen/dining area for the kids and the other is the schoolhouse. About 15 local kids take part in daily studies until noon. There is one teacher for all 15, and the ages range from 6-15. There is no principal or nurse on site. The only adults are the teacher (who actually lives in Guanacaste and commutes home every weekend) and the cook who comes in just before noon to prepare lunch for the kids.
Equilibrium visits the school every Thursday and is responsible for that day’s curriculum. They provide the kids with learning activities and lectures on environmental education and teach them their role in protecting the planet. They started off with a meditation in which Michelle read aloud what each child was grateful for (one of their assignments was to draw on small pieces of paper and write a gratitude letter).
Equilibrium has designed such a beautiful program and you can see the kids are not only engaged but learning and understanding the concepts being presented. Which will hopefully cause a ripple effect as they take these concepts home and talk about it with their families. I was happy to learn that they’ve received additional funding and will be expanding the program to other cities and schools in Costa Rica.
As an aside however, it’s always a bit difficult for me to understand how kids can learn in that type of environment. Not the environmental education, per se, but just day-to-day schooling. I can’t imagine having attended a school where I was 6 and there was someone else who was 15 in my class. You can tell that a lot of these kids are so very smart but they’re in an unfair situation. The teacher does his best but they don’t even go to school for an entire day. I asked how much homework the kids are sent home with and was told…very little.
And then there are the social inequalities and the lack of resources to teach other subjects like health education. One of the girls was pregnant (at 14 years old) and appeared completely miserable and depressed. Several of her friends were touching her belly throughout the morning and all I could think was…oh dear, with no health education, they’re all going to think this is so cool and all get pregnant. I was told that when she has the baby, she can no longer live with her parents and will go to live with her 17 year old boyfriend. Another girl who is 15 but only at the 5th grade level said that she would live with her boyfriend when she gets into 6th grade.
It’s so disheartening. This little village is out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s almost like it’s forgotten (except, of course, by the people at Equilibrium). And I wonder how many other little villages are like this one throughout the country? Education is supposedly so important here. It’s one of the reasons Costa Rica doesn’t have a military – because the money is supposed to be diverted to free education and health care for all. So why are these kids drawing the short end of the stick?
I’m really grateful for the work that Equilibrium is doing but I also wish there was an all together different setup that they could work in.