Students from Eastern’s graduate program visited Vara Blanca, Costa Rica in order to help those who continue to suffer from the effects of the January 2009 earthquake.
“The option to go to Costa Rica was open to anyone in either the MA in International Development program (both Global and Urban concentrations) or MBA in Economic Development program (both International and Urban concentrations),” said Lindsey Snow, a member of the leadership team for the trip. “However, this trip was not mandatory.”
Because of the way the trip was set up, anyone in these specific MA or MBA programs could go, and the team took a group leadership approach.
“The trip was not for an individual class, but instead designed to serve as a service learning trip for anyone in the aforementioned programs to participate in,” Snow said.
Before 2009, Vara Blanca provided no high school for its residents. According to Snow, “The average education level was 6th grade.” Through an organization led by Tomas Dozier, an Eastern alumnus, a bilingual high school has since been established.
While in Costa Rica, the group of 22 students taught “Developmental Dialogues” on environmental sustainability, advocacy, community, poverty and other topics at the bilingual high school.
“We worked with the high school students to take a census of Vara Blanca to establish who lived in the area, where exactly they lived, how many people lived with them, what their educational level was and what they would like to see in the educational system in Vara Blanca today,” Snow said. “This information will be used by, for example, the Ministry of Health, to better serve the community.”
“With concrete evidence of the number of people living there, Vara Blanca will finally be able to receive a permanent health clinic right in the community,” Snow said. “We call this census taking – mapping, community mapping, if you will.”
While they were in Costa Rica, the group also had opportunities to stay in the homes of native families, tour a strawberry farm co-op, go zip-lining through the canopy of the rainforest and have a Q&A panel with the Ministry of Health, local officials and many other community members.
According to Snow, the trip was a success. “I think I speak on behalf of my group when I say we all really enjoyed the home stays,” she said. “It was a snapshot into the lives of the community members – it was living alongside them, however briefly. Not all of us spoke Spanish, in fact, few of us spoke Spanish fluently, but it didn’t matter. They welcomed us in and loved us as their own children, which was so powerful to watch.”