*This is the final blog in a series documenting a recent trip to visit Kids to Kids projects in Costa Rica by Patrick, Kids to Kids Program Coordinator.

Quitirrisí

Quitirrisí is located about 45 minutes southwest of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, high on top of a mountain. The region contains many mountains. Everywhere you look there are steep slopes leading down to beautiful green valleys. The view from Quitirrisí to the surrounding valleys is stunning.

Quitirrisí is one of few indigenous reserves in Costa Rica, making it an extremely important community. It is recognized and protected by the Costa Rican government, however the majority of the Native Costa Ricans living in Quitirrisí remain very poor. Due to the reserve’s close proximity with San Jose, indigenous residents of Quitirrisí  have for many years traveled to the capital for work. Over time, this contact with mainstream Costa Rican society has caused native ways of life to fade, and left residents with a constant struggle to maintain an oral history and pass down the traditions of their indigenous ancestors. But there are dedicated community leaders and teachers in the community working hard to educate the children of Quitirrisí to respect and preserve their cultural traditions. A great example of this is found in the Quitirrisí local primary school, where every classroom is named after a Native Costa Rican hero.

The Project

The original idea for a Kids to Kids project in Quitirrisí was to develop an agricultural program at the primary school, where kids would learn to plant and harvest local vegetables and the plants used to make traditional handicrafts. The plan was also to have the kids design and paint a mural at the school celebrating the local environment and indigenous culture. The project was just getting underway in Spring 2010 when Mother Nature decided to step in and put a wrinkle in the community’s plans. The area was hit by heavy rainfall causing a dangerous landslide on a steep slope located directly behind the primary school.

Thankfully no one was hurt, but land came crashing down on the school building leaving it damaged and in need of major repairs. For almost three months the students were forced to attend class in a temporary, outdoor classroom on the front of the school property, and the intended Kids to Kids project had to be put on hold.

A Profile of Community Leadership

What Quitirrisí lacks in resources it makes up for with strong, kid-centered community leadership. Community leaders and the local Peace Corps volunteer acted quickly and decisively when confronted with the landslide. First they reached out to the government in order to have the rubble from the landslide cleared out and the land behind the school restored.

Second, with the approval and support of Kids to Kids, they redesigned their Kids to Kids project, incorporating the students into the recovery efforts and shifting the focus of their new agricultural education program from gardening to reforestation. By reforesting the low-lying area behind the school with native tree species, the students will be protecting the school and maintaining the precious balance of biodiversity in Quitirrisí. Over time the roots from the reforested native trees will grow deep and strengthen the loose soil behind the school, lowering the risk of future landslides; and the trees will provide sanctuary and nutrients to many important local species of insects and animals.

From the Kids to Kids Program Coordinator

“After a lot of reflection, I realized that my visit to Quitirrisí was about the strength and perseverance of community leadership. I couldn’t stop thinking about that famous quote, “the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.” The original project was a neat, creative, well-designed education project that the community really wanted to be successful. But sometimes life gets in the way. Thankfully, Kids to Kids projects support kids and communities. In partnership with Peace Corps Volunteers we’re able to identify strong community leaders who can make good decisions when faced with unexpected challenges. And that’s exactly what happened in Quitirrisí. It’s taken some time to recover from the landslide, but there is real excitement on the part of the kids and the community for the reforestation project.”

To hear about the project and its impact in the words of the Peace Corps Volunteer, click here: Video_01

To see more pictures of Kids to Kids impact in Quitirrisí, become a fan of Kids to Kids on Facebook and visit our photo albums. To support more Kids to Kids projects like these, please make a donation to the Kids to Kids All-Kids Fund here.