Strengthening Community in Sarapiqui

Filed Under: EARTH News
Date: November 30th, 2021

When she was eight years old, Olga Martha Brenes learned how to season rice and beans to make one of the most common dishes in Costa Rica – Gallo pinto. Her mother was ill, and her father taught her to cook to help at home, even though she was a child. Cooking has always been part of her life. When she took a training provided by EARTH’s Community Development Program (PDC), in conjunction with the Joint Institute for Social Assistance (IMAS), she realized that her taste for cooking could also be a business idea.

Olga with her children, working as a family.

Our university has worked with IMAS to strengthen the social fabric and develop communities with significant economic constraints in the province of Limón, Costa Rica. Together, we have created projects to train people in sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship, all to improve people’s quality of life in this region.

For this year’s training, Olga and 19 others from Sarapiquí learned about generating business ideas and people skills, in hopes of applying this knowledge to a viable enterprise to generate income for their family and have access to new opportunities.

PDC managers Kimberly Coto and Paula Morales designed and implemented a virtual program with 11 sessions. They challenged participants to test their business ideas to improve them, have higher profits, and make better decisions to grow even more.

Preparing one of her dishes.

“The experience was new to me. I had never done a course where I was taught, systematically, how to start my own business, manage it, improve sales, and prioritize. It was a very good opportunity,” Olga says. “Both Kimberly and Paula were completely dedicated to clarifying doubts and speaking firmly. They did not let us down. Rather, they were very concerned about our learning and that we understood every lesson well.”

In one of the sessions, participants were asked to make a prototype of their product or service. They were to think of three actions they would like to do, which could become a possible venture. Olga, who used to sew for a living, decided to put her trade aside to resume her passion for cooking. To do her homework, she made traditional Costa Rican dishes, such as empanadas, patí, and tamales, and gave tastings to neighbors and her children’s teachers. The response was good, and she decided to create Delicias Bri, a business that has grown more than she expected in a short time.

Tamales, one of the dishes Olga prepares.

“I got pregnant at 13, which forced me to leave my house and mostly work in kitchens. I did not have the opportunity to study; but now I do, which is why I take advantage of all the opportunities that arise. I believe we must teach our children to climb higher even if there is adversity. In the future, I see myself working in my community of La Vírgen de Sarapiquí. And since I am a person who likes to grow, I imagine my business is a restaurant that offers buffet and catering services,” adds Olga.

We applaud the work of the PDC and IMAS that have given tools to brave people like Olga to dream big and make their goals a reality.