During our stay at the Parador Resort in Costa Rica, we learned a great deal about their commitment to the surrounding area, not only environmentally but also as a member of their community.
In addition to being a leader in sustainable tourism, they are involved in several civic projects.
We discovered one of them, Pack For a Purpose, from the Parador website, as we were preparing for our visit.
In a simple and effective way to lend a helping hand to schools, Pack For a Purpose asks that travelers make room in their luggage for needed supplies.
We were moved by the idea and happily stuffed pencils, pens, protractors, and other items listed on their website into our bags.
Upon our arrival at Parador we met one of the managers, Moises, who has taken a special interest in the program.
He offered to take us to Anita Primary School, one of the four schools they help out, for a firsthand look at the effect the program can have. We were honored to accept his offer.
In Costa Rica, government education is well-funded, compulsory, free to all citizens, and highly regarded, but there are schools that are not a part of that system.
The Anita School was built specifically for the children of immigrant workers on one of the sprawling palm plantations in the Quepos area.
There is an interesting history to these schools, and the little villages that are home to them.
Early in the last century, the United Fruit Company set up shop in Costa Rica to grow bananas.
At the time, there was little-to-no infrastructure in the area, so everything had to be built from scratch – roads, bridges, trains and ports for shipping, and housing for workers. The housing consisted of little villages, each with a church, a pulpería (a small store with a little of everything), and a school – all surrounding a soccer field.
In the 1940s blight hit the bananas, so the company decided to plant African oil palms instead. The trees thrived, saving the plantations and these villages.
The new owner of the palm plantations, Palma Tica, continues to offer basic first-through-sixth grade education to the children of the workers. But, truth be told, these are spartan accommodations at best. Isolated and showing their age, these communities get by on the bare minimum, and the schools are no exception.
Mostly migrant workers from Nicaragua fill the difficult, low-wage jobs.
These jobs include cutting large clumps of dates from the extremely tall tree tops and hauling them off to the plant to be refined.
While the conditions may be better than what was left behind in Nicaragua, they are far from ideal.
We will carry this in our hearts forever…
Driving several miles down a dusty dirt road through the dense rows of palms, we reached a one-room schoolhouse.
Professor Marino welcomed us, gave us a brief overview of the little school and introduced us to his pupils.
He has been teaching at Anita School for twelve years and, though many of the students are only here briefly, Professor Marino can take pride that he has watched several go on to university with scholarships.
Math class was in session and, like the old frontier one-room schoolhouses, all grades are taught simultaneously with each child at their own grade level.
The folks at Parador had combined the contributions from many guests to make bags for each of the children, and their eyes really lit up as they dug in.
Like kids with Halloween goody bags, they dumped the contents out on their desks and excitedly examined their haul.
By far, the most popular item in each bag was the colorful soft rubber, solar-powered calculator that we’re sad to say we didn’t contribute.
Whoever packed the calculators in their suitcases brought real joy to this group of children – we wish you could have been there to see their happy faces.
Though the excited students no doubt enjoyed the distraction from their math duties (as any kid would – ugh math), we knew we needed to move on and allow their routine to resume. So we reluctantly said our good-byes, thanked Professor Marino, and stepped outside.
Moises explained to us that the commitment from Parador goes beyond school supplies.
Staff from the resort also perform routine maintenance, painting and fixing up as needed, and even built the children a playground. While he elaborated, it was plain to see his pride in this little school.
Most deservedly so, job well done.
Check out these other selections from Manopause:
A Small Space In Your Suitcase Can Make A Big Impact In The World! by The Gypsy Nesters
Travel With A Purpose by Jeff Blumenfeld
Voluntourism: A Baby Boomer Travel Trend by Clark Norton