Costa Rica is prosperous compared to the rest of Central America. Positively rich, compared to Nicaragua (our immediate neighbor to the north and the 13th poorest country in the world). Costa Rica does well due mainly to its stable government. No genocide here, no army, very peaceful, no dictator taking back your land, changing the rules on you without warning. No guys in uniforms standing around with huge guns. Except at the bank which is where you want them. This stability invites investment from all over the world, bringing jobs and money.
Still, there is real poverty here. Real hunger. REAL lack of educational opportunity. To those of us from developed nations, seeing all this up close and personal is shocking. And unbelievable. For me, anyway. At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I actually thought – God, you are going to think I am such a spoiled brat (like that’s news?): "This must be how locals in developing nations live."
Yeah. How could I be over 50, with a college degree, having owned my own successful businesses, have a pretty good marriage (ok, he’s not perfect today), blah blah blah… and still be so ignorant?
The only saving grace is that I KNOW I’m not alone in this. Until you see this kind of poverty up close and personal, you can’t even imagine it.
Evidence of it is impossible to miss, particularly in the city. I have never been surrounded by dirty barefoot children
begging, like we were in Nicaragua. (You see a few panhandlers, but my
sense is that Costa Ricans are too proud to beg.) But I all too often see "living quarters" and "neighborhoods" that are hard to look at. I force myself. These aren’t cute natives who are so used to living this way, they don’t mind. These are fellow human beings who are so poor they are living in conditions you and I don’t even want to look at.
What you won’t see, unless you make considerable effort, is how all of the indigenous people of this country live. Which is the same way many illegal aliens, mostly from Nicaragua, live. And, I imagine in some cases, ticos in the most rural areas. Subsistence farming is key to survival. Dirt floors, grass huts, no plumbing, no electricity, no phone, no shoes, you eat what you grow or can trade from a neighbor, no medical care. And, too too often, NO SCHOOLS. No real way to get a leg up.
I cannot fathom such a life.
I CAN help alleviate some of the stresses. You can, too. Here’s how.
Money is helpful, no question. If you want suggestions on where to mail a check or push a Paypal button, let me know. I will share with you the places and people and organizations I know about. There are some VERY good people on the ground here who are hands on and doing incredible work. I’ve seen it. Your money will not be wasted on office equipment here in Costa Rica!!!
The only real downside to donating money in a developing nation with a dearth of good shopping and a pitiful selection of goods, is that you pay double (because of duty) what you pay in the states… IF – and this is the critical thing – the item is available at all.
I don’t mean to discourage monetary donations. Please – have at it!!!! The beauty of donating money in a developing nation is that $10 goes a looooong way!
WHAT TO BRING
If you can bring anything on this list – even one box of crayons or one pair of children’s sneakers that you saw at Kmart or Ross for $2 and couldn’t resist or a G rated DVD with Spanish subtitles – please do.
HOW TO GET IT TO THE RIGHT PLACE
I can think of two easy options.
1. The best thing would be to ask the proprietor of the place you are staying if there is a drop-off or local organization that could use what you can bring. That would be simple, immediate and completely gratifying to help out "your" area! If your proprietor doesn’t know anyone, contact me and I will see what’s available where you will be. Once I find it, I will also let the proprietor know for future reference.
If you have some extra spoons or crayons or construction paper, just stick it in your suitcase. Maybe an opportunity will present itself on your Costa Rica travels.
If bringing stuff is too much to think about for your first visit, please consider it for your second. You will be back. In the meantime, there’s always money.