By: Ian Van Buren
Costa Rica is obviously well known as a beautiful island and a major tourist attraction where people can relax in paradise. What most people don’t know is that sitting just behind the perfect beaches and glamorous resorts are neighborhoods where life is a constant struggle.
One of these neighborhoods, El Hueco, or ‘The Hole’, is just that. It’s a community in Jacó of about 100 people who live in single room, shanty homes that are missing doors and windows. Running through the lot of shacks is a river contaminated by sewage. Living conditions are harsh, but somehow El Hueco’s residents find ways to make ends meet.
As ironic as it is that poverty can be found just behind all-inclusive resorts and elegant restaurants, these tourist attractions are the only employment options for El Hueco and other neighborhoods like it. “Jacó doesn’t produce anything,” one resident explains. “If there wasn’t tourism, we wouldn’t have jobs.” Some families living in The Hole manage to live off less than $500 a month, and during difficult times, they are left with no choice but to beg tourists for money.
To grow up in El Hueco and receive an education, even if only elementary, is an enormous accomplishment. Although school is free, bus transportation and uniforms are not. Therefore only a fraction of the children in the community are able to attend classes. In an effort to save money, families use a rotation system where multiple children take turns going to school and will share a single uniform.
The municipality of Garabito is an occasional source of extra income. Home to about 22,000 people and encompassing Jacó and Herradura, the municipality works closely with anti-poverty programs, such as Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social (IMAS), which is funded by the national government. The organization helps poor children get an education and provides aid to families in times of crisis. A new community center under development will also provide free afterschool programs.
According to Garabito Deputy Mayor Karla Gutierrez, volume is the biggest issue. With the tourism in Jacó creating job possibilities, people continue to arrive in search of opportunities. “If we take out two people, six will enter. The problem is there’s no control,” she said.
The problem exists in communities all over Costa Rica, and programs like Avancemos and the National Volunteer Program have been established to raise the standard of living. Avancemos aims to promote the formal education system and help adolescents from families who are struggling to keep their children in the educational system. The National Volunteer Program promotes building healthy societies through social participation that will guide Costa Rica’s development of a new model of social management.
According to the World Bank, as of 2012 poverty in Costa Rica is a staggering 20.6%, which is down from 21.6% in 2011.
Original article: http://bit.ly/1bH7XjH
More info on the Avancemos program: http://bit.ly/1jf3bdV
More info on the National Volunteer Program: http://bit.ly/1jf3bdV
Puerto Rico statistics via The World Bank: http://bit.ly/bk4PEW