Can it possibly be over a month since we returned from Costa Rica? Granted, even with its extra day, February was the shortest month of the year but still, where did it go?
Back in November when we booked our vacation, I noticed an optional $10 per person “help fix our school” charge on the invoice. Considering the amount that we were spending for a fairly luxurious holiday, that seemed little enough to give back to the people of our host country so I paid the amount in full. I couldn’t help wondering about that school though. I emailed our travel agent and asked her if it was located in or near one of the communities that we’d be visiting and if so, whether it would be possible or appropriate for us to take some school supplies with us that we could donate.
“It is absolutely possible and appropriate — and so refreshing, you’d be surprised by the number of people who complain about that $10 and don’t want to donate even that,” she told us. She went on to tell us that the school is located just a few minutes off the main road in La Fortuna and that if we wanted, someone from the tour company that would be providing our zipline and waterfall tours would take us there. We decided that that would be a good idea since we don’t speak Spanish and might have a difficult time explaining why we were there if we went on our own.
We always travel light. In fact, we didn’t even take the full allowable amount of baggage when we flew to Japan to teach for a year. Taking an extra backpack on this trip would be no problem at all. I found a bright red almost new one at our local thrift store. I think it cost me a dollar!
Then began the fun of filling it. I didn’t keep track of how much we spent but most of our purchases were made at bargain stores like Dollarama so it really wasn’t a lot. First we bought the basics: pens, pencils, rulers, erasers, pencil crayons and glue sticks. Schools always need paper so in went a package of plain white photocopier paper and a couple of packages of multi-coloured construction paper. There was still space so we started to think of some of the fun things that teachers and children might use. A big bag of colourful balloons didn’t take up much room. Neither did a couple of packages of brightly coloured pipe cleaners. Little nooks and crannies were filled with packages of paper clips, elastic bands and post it notes. Last but not least, in went a small foam ball painted to look like a world globe. I even checked to make sure that Costa Rica and Canada were both clearly marked!
The red backpack flew as one of our carry-ons and travelled around the country with us until we reached La Fortuna. That’s when we learned that we wouldn’t be able to visit the school after all! We had arrived at vacation time. The children wouldn’t be back in school until late February but Ericka from Sunset Tours met us at our hotel, took custody of the backpack and promised to deliver it for us. Today an email arrived with these pictures!
Education is valued in Costa Rica and the literacy rate is high but like much of the infrastructure, the school system has been in a slow and steady state of decay for decades. Poverty isn’t as rampant as it is in many parts of the world but the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening for years. Tourism has become one of the country’s major sources of income and we were more than happy to be able to share with the school children of La Fortuna just a bit of what we’ve been blessed with.