Daniela Tun (’19, Mexico) wraps her arms around doña Rita Cascante, hugging her tightly. Both of them smile for a bittersweet photo. In a few weeks, Daniela will graduate from EARTH University and return to Mexico. In preparation, Cascante speaks of the future, their fast-approaching farewell, and a possible trip through the Yucatan Peninsula to visit this special student who has come to call her mamá. The farm of Cascante and her husband is a host site for EARTH’s Community Development Program. In collaboration with students (including Daniela), professors, and program managers, the two have made great improvements to their livestock operation and even installed a biodigester.
Every Wednesday, as part of the first- and second-year work experience course, groups of EARTH students depart from the Guácimo Campus to assist local producers in several communities throughout Limón Province, Costa Rica. Meanwhile, fourth-year students lead the program’s workgroups – each focused on social, economic, and environmental pursuits. Over the years, this model has benefitted thousands of Costa Ricans through workshops and projects that improve agricultural practices, natural resource management, value-added production, entrepreneurship, and leadership capabilities. The program allows students to encounter real problems while forming professional and personal connections with people in the region.
Gaining sweet experience
Every time students arrive, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, pineapple cake, arroz con leche, and roasted chicken wafts throughout the house of doña Auriestela Fallas and her daughters. At their farm Los Tucanes (The Toucans), they welcome the students with open arms, appreciating all the help they receive with the greenhouses, the livestock, and a just-begun community-based rural tourism project. At the kitchen table, Blessing Anyibama (’19, Nigeria) and Lesly Durango (’22, Colombia) work on their laptops, quickly reviewing documents and talking numbers. They are aiding in the project’s financial planning.
Hannia Ramírez, general manager of Coopeguacimeñas and a host for the Community Development Program, sometimes imagines herself in the shoes of EARTH students. She ponders about the resilience one would need to arrive at a faraway place without knowing anyone yet successfully adapt to a challenging academic program. With that in mind, Ramírez believes that the students have found a home in Coopeguacimeñas as well as mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters in her and the co-op’s 18 other women. While collaborating on the creation of a new recycling center, the students contribute their knowledge and form trusting, respectful relationships.
“Thanks to Mastercard Foundation Scholar Juma Bukomba (’19, Uganda), we have tackled social pursuits, such as marketing, municipal relations, motivation, and psychological support,” Ramírez says. “With Mastercard Foundation Scholar Forget Shareka (’19, Zimbabwe), we have worked on our finances, calculated percentages of materials, and measured expenditures and investments. From Marie Claire Nyiribambe (’19, Rwanda), we have learned about waste management and the importance of taking care of the environment. Each student has contributed greatly. We can see their dedication and love for our project.”
At Villa Las Orquídeas, doña Juanita Loaiza and don Oswaldo Calvo produce spices, fruits, and goat’s milk products. Calvo says his favorite part of each Wednesday is when everyone pauses their tasks to sit around the table, share a meal, and talk about life. Through the students’ stories, he and Loaiza have traveled to distant places. At the table, they talk about sustainable agriculture but also dreams, opinions, and cultures. Bolstered by EARTH’s education model, the Community Development Program has been uniting people of different generations, origins, and ethnicities to solve problems – and fostering indelible human connections in the process.