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Monday, February 23, 2004 An Educational Roadtrip

One of the best parts of this internship is the opportunity we have had to meet so many families, sometimes only for a few minutes, and sometimes longer. Generous people have welcomed us into their homes to live, to have a cup of coffee, and to share their stories with us.

Last week we spent two days traveling to very rural areas and visiting families who have been part of a project with Hijos del Campo, one of Coocafe’s two foundations. The focus of Hijos del Campo is to support the education of rural coffee producers and it does so by giving scholarships to students and improving the infrastructure of rural schools. The foundation has also been working with the International Labour Organization, as well as Costa Rican groups on a project called Toji, to end child labour and keep kids in school. A few years ago, it was estimated that more than 66,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were working in Costa Rica and agriculture and coffee production specifically, are identified as high risk areas.

The Toji project was launched in 2001, and one of its components includes financial assistance for families who are trying to diversify their income sources. In exchange for the grant, a symbolic contract is signed promising the children will attend school. We met several beneficiaries of the project, who showed us how they have put the money to good use.

For a more detailed and colourful account of our Educational Roadtrip and to learn more about the situation here in Costa Rica please check out the following link:

The Salas family only has one hectare of coffee left, and to diversify their income the mother, Miriam, took a sewing course, and bought a sewing machine and material. A talented seamstress, Miriam showed us some of the clothes she makes and sells out of her home, and then kindly gave us each a hair accessory she had made.

Three years ago the Chaves family lost their house and coffee field in a landslide. With the help of the Toji project, they bought five pigs. There was another family that bought a cow with their grant, so they could produce their own milk to feed the 11 children!! At another house, two young children named Hugo and Karen proudly showed us the animals they raise and the crops they grow.

Earlier that day we had met Karen at her elementary school, La Laguna. We were excited to see La Laguna because the Roasted Cherry Coffee House is adopting it, through Hijos del Campo, and will help it accomplish its goal of building an art room for the 26 students. There are six grades at the small school, split between two classrooms, so needless to say it can be a little distracting when there are different activities going on such as art lessons. With the support of the Roasted Cherry, La Laguna will be able to expand and the students will have a separate space where they can let their creative juices flow uninterrupted. We’ve got some ‘before’ pictures and hopefully the ‘after’ ones will be on their way soon.

When it comes time for Karen and her classmates to enter high school they will likely have to travel a long distance. High schools in rural areas are few and far between and as a result some students have to get up at 3:30 in the morning or soon after, to get to school! Often the bus stop is a few kilometres away, and then a long ride follows. The trip to and from school takes dedication, especially in the rainy season!

The high schools are public but there are costs for the families who must buy the compulsory uniform, shoes and school supplies. That is where the scholarships from Hijos del Campo come in. Since the foundation began in 1997, it has helped more than 1000 students continue their studies with financial assistance. We got to meet several of the students who told us they want to continue their studies to become professionals so they can help their families.

It was a bit of a whirlwind, meeting so many people and hearing so many stories in two short days and I can only give you a few highlights here. Hijos del Campo is working hard to ensure rural children can exercise their right to an education. We were lucky to see first-hand the impact it is having, and will continue to have.

Pura vida, Meg Fitz

Miriam Solis is a talented seamstress who bought a sewing machine and material with the help of Hijos del Campo. She makes and sells clothes out of her home to supplement the family’s income.
Karen and Hugo are both students at La Laguna and we also visited them at their home where they help their parents raise chickens and pigs and grow numerous crops.
The Roasted Cherry is adopting this school, La Laguna, in the Montes de Oro region. There are only two classrooms with three grades in each and two teachers.
With the Roasted Cherry's help, La Laguna plans to turn this room into a separate art room so the students will have space for their creative juices to flow uninterrupted.
Adrian, Gabriel and Luis hard at work.
Sixteen-year-old Maria del Carmen Solano gets up at 4 a.m. to travel to her school. She is one of many high school students who receive scholarships from Hijos del Campo and she used the money to buy school supplies.

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