A few months ago we wrote about a donation project we were proud to begin supporting (Would You Take A Moment To Comment On A Post If It Meant That A Costa Rican Child Would Have An Opportunity To Follow Their Passion? Here’s Your Chance). We began collecting futbol (soccer) shoes and equipment to donate to local Costa Rican school children who love the sport but often play in bare feet (or rubber boots, if available) given that they cannot afford the proper footwear. Despite the risk of our donation appearing to be trivial (who needs soccer shoes when others have little food to eat or water to drink?), we did not hesitate to proceed with the initiative as we know firsthand how futbol changes lives in Costa Rica. Not only does the sport offer children an opportunity to participate in a fun and competitive game but it allows them to take part in a communal passion. Play offers them a chance to socialize, fraternize, and identify with others. It lets them be children in a country where adulthood (and often parenthood) comes early and it is a means toward a much-needed social, educational, and collective end.
Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated runs the Reach Out Costa Rica Travel Philanthropy Project (formally known as the “Travellers For…” donation project). For each reservation it receives from travellers the company donates $1 to a worthwhile cause. Once we added the option to allot some of the donation project funds toward the Escuela De Futbol Tres Equis (an initiative created to provide futbol shoes and equipment to school children in Tres Equis de Turrialba, Costa Rica), travellers were quick to choose it as the organization they wanted Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated to donate to on their behalf. As a result, we ended up with funds to purchase more futbol shoes and shin guards than we knew what to do with (figuratively speaking of course, as there will always be enough feet in Costa Rica for us to slip soles under), and our original vision of collecting enough shoes to outfit an entire class in the small town of Tres Equis grew beyond our initial philanthropic intent.
Since we were able to purchase and collect more shoes and equipment than we had first anticipated (and more than the school in Tres Equis would require), we approached Ricky’s brother Diego for assistance. As we describe in our related post (“Culture May Identify Difference But It Does Not Make Us Different”: Visiting Costa Rica’s Cabecar Indigenous Tribe In Quetzal), Diego has vast experience teaching and working with children and adolescents, especially those of indigenous descent living in some of Costa Rica’s most remote mountainous areas. Diego explained how much the use of proper footwear and equipment would benefit both elementary (escuela) and secondary school (colegio) students. We knew we could help. Together with Diego’s connections to various educational institutions operating within Costa Rica’s Cabecar indigenous zone (not to mention the camaraderie he has spent years developing with native teachers and administrators), we enacted a plan to provide a bag of futbol shoes and equipment to as many schools in the area as possible.
Theoretically, we knew that broadening our scope and shifting our focus towards outfitting multiple educational institutions would be the best way to benefit the greatest number of students. In reality, we were motivated by the concept of a revolving donation project – not only one that would continue year after year, but one that would allow members of the community to regularly give back to their own. We opted out of donating the shoes and equipment to children directly as we learned early on that doing so would be impossible (how could we possibly choose some students over others as the lucky recipients of brand new futbol gear?). Instead, we planned to provide schools with the resources they would need to celebrate passion and play within their educational communities (the shoes and equipment would be available for students to borrow for use before, during, and after school). Doing so meant that such resources would not only be protected and maintained by the school, but that they would be used by a variety of students over many years. We envisioned the students sharing the resources with their peers – partaking in a compassionate form of play wherein the competitiveness of the game is matched by the sense of community amongst its players – and we knew our strategy was a game-winning one.
FROM PLAN TO PRACTICE
If there is anything I have learned from being married to one of the most giving people on earth it is that there is no length that is too challenging to go to in order to help another. Concocting our plan to donate futbol shoes and equipment to Costa Rican schools was easy. Actually delivering the resources to the indigenous institutions was a far more difficult feat.
Most travellers who have visited Costa Rica will tell you that the country is rich in landscape. Mountains span the background of most scenic shots, and as beautiful as people will tell you they are from a distance, few have had an opportunity to trek through them firsthand. Combine beaming sunshine and dry heat with sections of dense, uphill, rugged, and poisonous forest, and you can imagine the degree of difficulty required to make the trip not to mention the level of risk involved. The routes to most indigenous schools are unmarked and take anywhere from 1.5 hours to a number of days to walk, depending on the start and end points. In Ricky and Diego’s case, an approximate 2.5 hour walk was required to get from Roca Quemada (the furthest point at which the mountain interior can be reached by vehicle) and the high school they planned to visit first. The route is a long, hot, and tiring one for anyone making the trip, including native indigenous folk who are required to do so every few weeks in order to collect necessities such as rice, beans, sugar, and sometimes meat for survival a dentro (a dentro in Spanish means “in” or “inside” – a phrase often used to describe the inner-mountainous zones where indigenous residents exist without the architectural, technological, and medical advances of even Costa Rica’s second-world modernity).
Now imagine tackling the trek with a sack of futbol shoes and equipment on your back.
Ricky and Diego left home for the mountains with as much of our donation as they could physically support in sport equipment bags and backpacks behind them. From Turrialba they drove to Roca Quemada, setting forth from there on foot.
The purpose of the trip was to visit two schools in the indigenous zone – one elementary and one secondary. After approximately 2 hours of walking, Ricky and Diego reached the secondary school first. They were met by students who had never known the joy of playing futbol with the correct footwear and equipment and who were overwhelmed by the number of shoes – varying in size, style, brand, and colour – to try on.
While there, Ricky organized a match so the students could test their school’s new equipment. They played for hours before continuing on to one of the indigenous elementary schools in the area. After meeting the students and touring the property they made a quick batch of casado (rice and beans) for dinner and called it an evening. After all, they had another 3 hour walk from the elementary school back to Roca Quemada early the next morning, and although the 24-hour trip had been a quick one, the physical effects of the challenging hike and the resulting sense of exhaustion would last for days after returning home. Fortunately, as is usually the case with any philanthropic work, the rewarding purpose and end result far exceeded the means of achievement, and both Ricky and Diego know it.
To date, we are proud to say that what started as a one-time school donation has progressed into something much bigger. We continue to accept donations for futbol shoes and shin guards as Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated continues to support the cause and we could not be happier doing so. We have begun planning return visits to the mountains in order to continue outfitting elementary and secondary schools in the area with the sport resources we have been fortunate enough to collect. As we proceed with the donation project we look forward to continuing to write about our experiences on our blog for our faithful readers to follow.
NOTE: To all of those individuals who personally donated futbol shoes and equipment to the cause, as well as those Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated travellers who opted to choose the futbol fund as the organization you would prefer us to donate to on your behalf, THANK YOU. Without you this project would not survive, the above-described trip would not have taken place, and we would not have collected photos of smiling children enthralled by the generosity of others. A worthwhile initiative is nothing without the people behind it actually taking initiative, so on behalf of us both muchisimas gracias (thank you so much) for your preference and support.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Which worthwhile causes have you been involved in? How did you help?
As a side note, check out the coral snake Ricky ran into along the way…