Prior to our Costa Rica trip, we had learned about a program called Pack for a Purpose, in which participating hotels offer the opportunity for guests to bring items from a list to be donated to local schools. Because La Quinta de Sarapiqui is a participating inn, we packed art and school supplies. Dana and her family, fellow “Gift of Happiness” recipients that we met on the trip, had done a drive at their daughter’s school and brought a box of school supplies, backpacks and athletic shoes. When Ana mentioned to our families that she would be visiting the local school, Llano Grande, in the morning, we all jumped at the chance to tag along. Little did we know it would be one of the most special and memorable experiences of our whole trip.
Ana explained to the children, who seemed to range in age from about 9 to 12, that we were all recipients of a “Gift of Happiness” tour and had come to see the “Happiest Country the Planet” so we could go home and share with others that “Costa Rica is a happy country, full of smiles”.
The kids were all very attentive and interested in the group of visitors. In our matching khaki shorts and cameras, I wanted to say, “We have a uniform, just as you do!” We shared a little bit about where we lived and what we did. I asked (in the best Spanish I could) what the students wanted to be when they grew up. They went around the room, sharing, some boldly, some shyly, Ana translating as needed. There were two future policemen, a fireman, a writer, an English teacher, more teachers, and two farmers. We were told that many of them were children of pineapple and yucca farmers.
Below, Ana and the Ekarintaragun family. Michael (Lippy) “illustrating” his work as a cartoonist. One boy was especially excited when he said he worked on computer and video games. (We did notice a computer in the classroom.)
At recess time, the kids went outside to play basketball and soccer, joined by the classroom of younger children. It was so much fun to just watch them laugh and play.
Food is harvested from the large school garden throughout the year. We were told that, while primary education is mandatory in Costa Rica, and school lunches subsidized, many children stop their education before high school because the families can no longer afford the lunch. We were also told that some of the children in rural Costa Rica live with as many as five families in a small house. We also learned that the school uniform in Costa Rica is universal, which seems like it would be very helpful for these kids and families, as uniforms can be passed down and other clothes aren’t needed for school.
After washing up, the children went back to their respective classrooms. We gave our supplies to the kids. The teacher mentioned that one boy, who wasn’t there, would be so happy with the shoes, as he didn’t have any. All the kids nodded in agreement.
Michael asked to share one more thought with the kids. In his best Spanish, and a little help from Ana, he told them that it may seem like Americans have a lot of things, but that they, the Costa Rican children, who lived in a beautiful, natural country that cared deeply about and was practicing sustainability, were truly the children of the 21st century. It was a beautiful thought that encapsulated much that we had already learned about Costa Rica in our couple of short days there.
We all left very moved and hoping to be able to visit again.
Stay tuned for Part 5 of our “Gift of Happiness” adventure.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman