Last week my trip members (TMs) and I visited and volunteered in La Carpio, a poor village of Nicaraguan immigrants located outside of San Jose. We spent several days partnering with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation and the entire experience was a culture shock for my TMs who come from very comfortable homes.
We spent most of our time in the Humanitarian Foundation’s workshop, where we cut wood planks and brought them to local houses to assemble into bunk beds for children. (These ‘houses’ are quite small, and the beds wouldn’t fit through the doors had they been pre-assembled.) Making personal connections was powerful for the TMs. Many of them are fourteen years old, and they spent time chatting with a fourteen year old who was about to receive his first bed (and mattress)… that they had assembled. He had slept on a dirt floor all of his life.
The roofs were made of rusted tin that didn’t seem to keep out the rain, and some of the homes were small one-room structures that slept thirteen or more. Many of the TMs brought donations of clothing, toys and school supplies with them. We assembled bags, distributed the items and I was amused to see a boy walking around the next day with a “Matt’s Bar Mitzvah 2009” sweatshirt on. 🙂
The most interesting part for me was coming into more personal contact with the judicial system. In Costa Rica, you are essentially (though not officially) guilty until proven innocent. La Carpio is a dangerous place to be at night, particularly because of gang violence. One of the volunteers at the Humanitarian Foundation shared with me that he was released from prison just three months ago. At first I thought he was joking, but he truly spent the past two years in jail alongside rapists, murderers and drug dealers. His crime? He was attacked in La Carpio. Someone tried to kill him and he still has a 16-inch knife scar down his chest that he showed us last week. He killed the man in self-defense, but the law didn’t differentiate and he was sentenced.
Another family we visited had two physically-handicapped boys, now in their twenties. They were both out at night in La Carpio as small children and were shot by a crazy man. The combination of gunshot wound and lack of proper medical care has led to them being permanently handicapped, one in a wheelchair and the other with a cane.
I have been trying to strike a balance between showing the TMs this world and helping them be grateful, and also not making them feel bad about the type of background that they come from. We are in Flamingo this week, working on a local beautification project. I was under the weather a few days ago but have made a strong recovery and can’t wait for Thursday’s surf lesson!
posted by amybetho