This January two students were selected as Live-It Fellows, a Macalester grant that allows students to design and live out their own definitions of global citizenship and enact social change.

Geography major Justine Decker ’14 (Waukesha, Wis.) shares her experience in Llano Bonito, Costa Rica, where she collaborated with the organization PROAL Holo-Salud to grow organic produce and medicinal plants to sell to residents. Read full blog

January 4, 2014

Hola y Bienvenidos: J-Term Live It! in Costa Rica

Hola y bienvenidos! After a day of travel last Sunday, I have found my way back to my Costa Rican home.

Last spring I studied in Costa Rica, where I spent two months in a rural zone working on an independent research project at a local coffee cooperative. I ended up in Llano Bonito, a rural mountain town south of San José, surrounded by coffee farms on all sides. During my time in Llano I was lucky enough to be taken in by a host family native to the zone, who temporarily adopted me. The whole community welcomed me during the two months I spent with them and were a huge help in the success of my study abroad project.

When I came across the opportunity for a J-term Live It project, I immediately thought of Llano Bonito. If there was a way for me to contribute to my adopted community, I wanted to do it. I sent a message to my host sister and with her, along with advice from my host mom, we decided on a project.

On our first day working, Kari (my host sister), Olga (my host mom), and I visited PROAL to take a look at the greenhouse and grounds. The greenhouse beds were in rough shape. The next day we cleaned up the beds, removing dead plants, emptying beds that needed to be repaired, and turning the soil in others. Things are looking much better already.

The coffee harvest is under way in the area. When I was last here, the plants were in full bloom, and now the fruit is ripe and ready to be harvested. Bushes full of red berries are all over town. Coffee farms in this area are located on extremely steep slopes, so the fruit must be harvested by hand. Families and migrant workers cover the mountainsides during harvest time—very difficult work. Something to remember next time you are enjoying a cup of coffee.

January 9, 2014

Suimos! The Project Continues…

We’ve made huge strides in the past week. On Monday my host parents and I were all over La Zona de Los Santos, driving to San Pablo, San Marcos, and Santa Maria in search of plants, materials for the greenhouse, etc.

We ended up going to two coffee cooperatives to buy materials, since they are great resources for agricultural products. CoopeTarrazú is the largest cooperative in the area, much larger than CoopeLlano Bonito, where I worked last semester. We also went to CoopeDota, one of the most well-known cooperatives in the area. In addition to the co-ops and a few other stops, we visited a beautiful little plant shop in San Marcos, where it was cool, shady, and smelled great. They sold all sorts of flowers, trees, herbs, and other plants.

We bought the plants, seeds, hoses, plastic, and other materials we needed, getting ready to do more work in the greenhouse. During this week we re-lined beds that were in bad shape and my host dad brought out his tools to remake a few beds that had started to decay.

All in all, things are looking really good. The women of PROAL had their weekly meeting this week. I’m looking forward to joining them next week when they make shampoo, one of the products they sell to support the group. I will get to see the process and how they use the herbs that we are planting.

In non-project-related news, the summer fiestas in Llano start this weekend and people are very excited. The soccer field in the center of town is slowly being converted into festival grounds, with a stage, food stands, and more. Also, I paid a visit to CoopeLlano Bonito to see everyone I worked with last semester. I was sweetly surprised to see that the poster I left, with all of the results of my research, was still hanging inside the front door. My mentor at the co-op, Jorge, asked me to return one afternoon soon so that I could watch what happens in the processing plant once the harvested coffee comes in. It has been truly wonderful to come back to Costa Rica and have everything feel so familiar. This experience is different than the last one, but it is so nice to already know the people and places.

January 21, 2014

El Fin…

I can hardly believe it, but this morning I left Llano Bonito. My portion of the project has ended, yet in reality it is just starting. I worked in the greenhouse this weekend and things were looking really good. It is amazing how much the plants have already grown. Even things we planted as seeds are already peeking up through the soil. My host sister has promised to keep me updated with photos of the progress, so I will be up-to-date on the status of our plants.

Tomorrow I leave Costa Rica and head back to the U.S.; I have a quick turnaround and start classes at Mac on Monday. It was hard to say goodbye to Llano Bonito and my family there, since I never know when I will see them next.

The people of Llano Bonito were, once again, fantastic. I left with the words of my host dad, that I am “una verdadera hija mia” (like his own daughter). I hope that the work we did will positively contribute to the community, as I believe it will. The women of PROAL seem pleased with the work we did, so I am content. I am already looking forward to my next visit, though now I’ve been spoiled and feel I can’t stay for less that three weeks without feeling rushed.

January 31 2014

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