I meet Jholenny Cordoba in 2010, when we began working together on some projects in Guanacaste. Jholenny is the local coordinator for the town of Martina Bustos, and thus an important member of our community service team. She has worked mostly with high-risk communities, strengthening community leadership and empowering the population. What I most admire about her is her commitment to extremely vulnerable communities, and her efforts to empower women, youth, and senior citizens of those communities. She is my mentor and by far is the most passionate and strong woman I ever meet.
Jholenny is responsible for introducing me to Martina Bustos. I heard mostly sad stories of this small town, mostly poverty-related issues. I wasn’t sure what to expect during my first visit. My first impression was, “are we still in Costa Rica?”. Martina Bustos is only about 15 minutes from downtown Liberia, the largest town in the Guanacaste province (located in the North Pacific of Costa Rica), and one of the most prosperous in the area.
I was sure in for a surprise! Martina Bustos was actually bigger than I thought, with a population of 500 families accordingly with the census of 2015; 50% of the population is under 18 years old. Most of the people (including youth and children) make their living at the municipal trash dump, selling what they collect and using much of our garbage to build their homes. They have no access to electricity, potable water, education or health services. You are probably wondering why? Martina Bustos is a property that was donated by a private landowner, 25 years ago, to a group of immigrants from Nicaragua. However, the donation was never official, so they do not have the property titles. This leaves them without the possibility of being recognized as a “community” by our government.
During my first visit, I had the opportunity to meet some local leaders; people with a lot of needs, but also a lot of optimism. They welcomed me and made me feel part of the community. Despite my initial impressions, within a few minutes I began to realize what a beautiful community it is, all because of the people. On that day, they earned my appreciation and I proposed to do whatever I could to improve their lifestyle. Jholenny became an important part of my experience, as she had been working with the community for several years and had gained the trust of the locals.
When I started to work with Chill Expeditions 4 years ago, Martina Bustos was on my mind. As a Community Service Director, I saw the opportunity to accomplish the objectives of the service program, while also meeting the community’s and my own. Martina Bustos is a very well organized community; they have created their own development association, run their own census and defined their own objectives and goals as a community. They had everything layed out, but just needed the help!
The development association started with the construction of a nutrition center. After analyzing the census data, they realized that their social group at greatest risk were children under 6 years of age who were malnourished or at risk. With some funding and the support from local and international NGO’s focusing on food and nutritional security, they built a rustic and small community center, offering one meal a day to at least 60 children of the community. The center has been used as for educational purposes and as a gathering point for locals as well.
With the support of Jholenny Cordoba we started to work with the community 2 years ago, helping them accomplish their goals. Our efforts have focused on improving the facilities of the community center, improving the infrastructure for the use of waste water, running waste management campaigns and environmental education programs. So far, we have had the support of students from Congregation Kol Ami (NY), Congregation Temple Beth Shalom (MA), Episcopal Academy (PA) and Cretin Derham Hall High School (MN).
We started little by little, making some improvements to the community center with the first group. This experience allowed us to better understand the environment, the locals, how they work and what they value. Most importantly, however, it allowed the community to get know us, as well as demonstrate that our commitment was genuine. In the past few years, we have developed projects with greater relevance to the community (which I will tell you about later, so do not miss my next blog post). The community recognized our commitment by placing a sign stating Chill Expeditions as a “strategic partner” of the development association.
I personally feel a part of the Martina Bustos community. They accepted me and the company as equals and as partners. They know they can count on us, without hesitation. Today I feel very grateful for meeting Jholenny and for her introducing me to this wonderful community.
— Cristina Solis, Chill Expeditions Director of Community Service