Fit4Earth: From Grey Water to Garden

Fit4Earth continued their impactful service in our community by creating the third biogarden (biojardinera) in San Luis de Monteverde. An extra-muddy pat on the back was greatly deserved for their diligent work through unpredictable weather conditions.

This year’s group included 69 students from Colegio Humboldt, a German international school located in Pavas, San Jose. Excited to facilitate more fellowship with education in Costa Rica, this project filled a special spot. The service work was organized at the community center playground, where the group cleared an area and flattened out all of the land, preparing it to be a grass area for kids to play around the swings.

The second installment of the recent project was to build a biogarden in the front yard of the Puesto de Salud (Health Post). The biogarden (biojardinera) is an environmental tool that has become implemented particularly in Central America with growing popularity in Costa Rica.

So, what exactly is a biogarden?

A biogarden is a way for localized groups, as big as a school or as small as a single household, to treat their grey water. Grey water is any waste water from a household that is not from the toilet. The residual water from the showers, sinks and laundry is funneled to a garden instead of being disposed straight into the side yard or a close stream.

There may be up to a few preliminary tanks that are planted in the ground in front of the garden. The tanks have two PVC pipes running through them that allow grease and soap residue to become trapped, being retained and collecting inside the tank. This is a way to filter the water before it runs through the garden.

Large rocks are placed on the bottom of the biogarden on top of a plastic floor, then the rectangular pit is filled the rest of the way with gravel. The plants need to be placed at least fifteen centimeters underneath the surface to be able to collect the water. The plants that are used for a biogarden are species that are usually found in riverbanks and have long roots, like Coix lacryma-jobi, or Tears of San Pedro as they’re called in Costa Rica. There is no soil in the garden – just different sizes of rocks.

Much of the residual toxins and bacteria are trapped between the rocks before the water travels through the plant system. The water is slowed as it runs through the rocks and is then absorbed by the plants, as they demand more water and nutrients to continue growing. The remaining waste will be absorbed and processed by the plant tissues. Check out this video for an articulate account of how Costa Ricans put it together.

Our biogardens are located at the Escuela Alto San Luis, Finca El Nino (campus farm) and now the Puesto de Salud San Luis, pictured in order here. All three projects were contributed by the Fit4Earth program. The end product, seen top-right at our campus farm, is incredibly inconspicuous. The Tears of San Pedro will grow tall to cover most of the rocks and plastic, blending in with surrounding grass.

The new garden was proudly planted in the front yard of the community health center. Bringing this technology into fruition stimulates questions as to why sustainable practices are important on a family level. Imagine if every family used a biogarden to treat water before entering the watershed, the community’s water source could be left unpolluted.

Teaching this traditional and simple method to children from the city gives them a practical solution. Biogardens use simple and available resources, and only require minimal yard space. Becoming accountable for personal waste water will grow into a part of the ecological culture of Costa Rica, and the growing popularity will open discourse on minimizing anthropogenic harm in the watershed.

Large-scale projects have been introduced to the region, such as this project conducted in Sardinal. As the biojardinera gains steam and recognition, it will offer a practical solution to offset personal footprint caused by drainage water. This uplifting group of kids has already opened community discussion about the rare structure in the front yard of the health post. Keep your eyes out for the expansion of this idea and Fit4Earth workshops to come!

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphics by Nelly López

Fresh Paint!

Augusta University had a full week of activities like zip-lining, coffee tours, home stays, and night hikes. In all the adventure they still made plenty of time to connect with the local community during their immersive experience here at UGACR.

They started on a Monday morning to paint the interior of the Alto San Luis primary school. With 29 students, the task was feasible within a few hours.

The team started out by mixing the paint and put a full layer down, dividing the students, school faculty and volunteers up between the rollers and the brushes. The group was surprised by fresh plates of various fruits being served by the teachers, keeping everyone glowing with healthy energy. It was feeling like “mucho brete,” or tough work, but with a light-hearted ethic that maintained patience, playfulness, and the spirit of giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students at the Escuela Altos de San Luis took advantage of the time their teachers were occupied. Primary and university students enjoyed an extended recess by playing soccer and riding bikes. The opportunity sparked interest in several of the kids to pitch in, freshening up their desks in the front lawn.

The inside of the classrooms and the desks were finished with orange after the first day. The design followed along the previous pattern of blue, with the bottom one-third several shades darker, leaving the top sections lighter. Teachers noticed that the orange allowed much more natural light to flow through the previously darker classroom.

Community pillar Geovanny Leitón continued his frequent volunteer service by organizing the supply of the paint and to allocate jobs to the students. Geovanny wins the superlative of class clown. He is the one to meticulously organize the event, but also the first to take a detouring moment, pretending to dump paint on a professor and poke at a smile.

Augusta University students had an amazing time crossing language barriers and laughing as some of the students practiced their basic Spanish skills, coming to familiarize themselves with how much more they still have to learn.

When the team returned to the school the following Wednesday to finish their service, they were pleasantly surprised with a performance the students were preparing for Dia de Juan Santamaría. A robust and talented band rang the room with percussion instruments, performing with a skill level that is usually is not achieved by this age group. It was one more way that the alto students demonstrated that they are an outstandingly connected group, always ready to give back.

A Promise of 13 Years Fulfilled

The Watts family returned last week to rediscover the sensation of campus, fulfilling a promise to an enchanted 10-year-old son that they would certainly return.

Marilyn and Doug Watts made their first visit to UGACR in 2004, when our campus was very young. Being from Anchorage, Alaska, they are no strangers to adventure. They fell in love discovering the natural environment off the beaten path and traveling further down a rugged road than many tourists see.

2004 was the first year that our current general manager Fabricio Camacho accepted his position. The Watts were able to see thirteen years of transformation as a result of the perseverance of people like Fabricio and the team of local staff members, several of which have been around since 2004. The main changes the Watts saw in the university were the addition and repositioning of many buildings. Doug, now 24, says the feeling has remained intact.

What makes our campus a must-return destination for all ages? It’s the way that the one-of-a-kind community and ecosystem keeps you on your toes – It’s the possibility of visiting campus for a week and catching sight of a species that naturalists have been waiting months to see. Around every corner is a chance to renew this childhood sentiment of discovery.

The entire community has developed exponentially since the opening in 2001, when the main mode of transportation was horseback. Farmers in the San Luis valley would hitch a ride with the milk truck into town; Now motorcycles line up in the employee parking lot. To learn more about how we came to be, check out our full length documentary here

Sendero Pacífico: Connecting Our Communties

The presentation of new improvements on the Sendero Pacífico called for a packed house at the community center on Saturday, March 4. The celebratory event was held in conjunction with the opening of a new cafe next to the community center.

The network of trails that starts at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve connects all the way down to Punta Morales and the Gulf of Nicoya, now with a completed inlet by the San Luis community center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workers from the Bruce Trail Conservancy in Canada stayed in UGACR housing as a base for their work on the Pacific Slope Trail. This sisterhood relationship between trail networks means that they will visit again in the future.

This trail connects several distinct ecological zones, showcasing the huge amount of biodiversity that can be seen in such a small area within Costa Rica.

“One of the things that makes it special is not just that it is within this wonderful natural environment of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, but also that it provides access to different communities along the way,” says Nathaniel Scrimshaw, Sendero Pacífico Coordinator.

Monteverde, San Luis, Veracruz and San Antonio, Guacimal, and the mangroves of Costa de Pájaros can all be accessed through this winding hike to the coast.

Public access roads and permissions given by private farms were integral to creating a trail network that will not charge entry fees. The participation of Banco Nacional were critical in the opening of the cafe and the signs to connect the trails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of the events that debuted were funded by the Association de Desarollo Integral (ADI). Banco National helped to fund the community leadership in order to facilitate these two grand openings, promoting more rural tourism in San Luis.

Since this trail network has been left in the hands of the community and is not government controlled, the people of the communities are going to be responsible for the quality of the trail looking forward.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a critical model of communities supporting each other to preserve biodiversity in one of the most endangered areas of Costa Rica. Deforestation has created islands of forest that are parted by pasturelands. The areas preserved by the trail network are going to serve not only as a trial for humans, but as a trail for migrating wildlife and other species who need larger areas to roam.

The focal points of recreation, education, investigation, and community are converging goals of the Sendero Pacífico. These improvements will help travelers and locals to connect more with our outstanding natural environment. To see how you can volunteer with the trail or get more connected, visit the San Luis Community page!

Blog post contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

Feliz Cumpleaños, Denver!

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Denver poses for a portrait after having her face painted at el Día de San Luis.

Today Denver Gordon, one of our resident naturalists, turns 24 years old! Here at UGA Costa Rica, our staff operates like a family (and not only because many of our local employees really are related). We love to celebrate birthdays together with cake, singing and sometimes a broken egg on the head!

For her birthday, we asked Denver a few questions. We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we do!

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Denver holds her intricately-made farole, or paper lantern, before the Independence Day celebrations began. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

Hometown: Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Favorite color: Orange

Favorite animal: Sea turtle

Favorite part of living in Costa Rica: Seeing the sunsets

Best memory of working at UGA Costa Rica: Spotting an olingo (a furry, bushy-tailed arboreal animal) with fellow naturalists Molly and Ernest while climbing a tree at night.

Best aspect of being a naturalist: I like to be outside and teach people and the ecosystem [here in the cloud forest] has a lot going on. I like continuously learning about it while showing other people.

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Blog post and photos by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

Costa Rican Independence Day

On Thursday communities all over Central America celebrated 195 years of independence from Spain. After Spain’s defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, news of the region’s freedom spread by a running of the torch, beginning on September 9th in Guatemala and continuing by foot through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and eventually Cartago, Costa Rica, the capital of the country in 1821.

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Costa Rican “independence was not gained as a result of warfare,” Julio Jurado Fernández from the Tico Times explains. “There was no war of independence. Costa Ricans became owners of their own destiny by simply ratifying Guatemala’s declaration” of freedom.

As a result, Independence Day in Costa Rica focuses less on military victory, especially since Costa Rica holds no standing army, and more on the value of education and a celebration of Costa Rican culture with comida tipica, traditional dress, music and dancing.

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Young girls in traditional dresses march through the streets of Santa Elena.

Here in Monteverde, we celebrate el Día de la Independencia the traditional Tico way, with a lantern march the night before the holiday and a town parade on the 15th of September. Take a look at the photos below to celebrate Costa Rica’s independence with us.

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Blog post and all images by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

Community Connection: Musical Theatre in Monteverde

This weekend, Far Corners Community Musical Theatre celebrated its tenth year of bringing the dramatic arts to Monteverde with its production of Les Miserables. According to La Nación, this year’s youth production of the classic Broadway musical, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, was the first performance of the popular play in all of Central America.

Each night the theatre at the Monteverde Friends School hosted a standing-room-only crowd, with fans spilling out into the school’s courtyard to see the performance. Here are some of our favorite moments from the show:

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Thank you to the performers, musicians, staff and volunteers at Far Corners for sharing their talents with the community here in Monteverde. You can support the organization’s mission of providing artistic outlets to communities like Monteverde by contributing to their generosity campaign.

Images and text made by UGACR photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

Costa Rican Traditions: Las Carreras de Cinta

If you had been driving up la trocha this Sunday afternoon, passing through San Luis on your way to Santa Elena, you might have been tripped up by a line of rope strung between a tree and a fence, cutting the road in a limbo.

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You would have also needed to make your way through a rural type of traffic, as a dozen riders mounted their horses for las carreras de cinta, or the ribbon races, where competitors attempted to insert estacas, or small carved sticks, into rings attached to rope.

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Friends from the community gathered at la Escuela de los Altos de San Luis, which educates students from first to sixth grades, to raise funds for the school. The school term starts back today and las carreras provided a way for the school to raise money for its everyday needs.

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On Sunday, families also played bingo, indoor soccer, and purchased home-made food to contribute funds to the school. In las carreras de cinta, people placed bets on which riders would successfully pierce the argollas, claiming prizes such as rope for horses and bottles of wine.

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Sunday’s fundraiser and las carreras de cinta provided an example of what the people of San Luis value most: community events, the agrarian lifestyle and the importance of family.

Post and all images made by intern Rachel Eubanks.

El Día de San Luis

Yesterday marked the anniversary of San Luis, the small town that sits in the valley of the lower region of Monteverde, which was founded around the year 1915. On Sunday students, visitors and staff from UGA Costa Rica ventured down the mountain to San Luis to join locals in the town celebration, which included children’s games, a livestock auction, a race from Santa Elena to San Luis, and a host of platos tipicos de Costa Rica. Below we’ve included photographs from the weekend, both of the preparations for the historic anniversary and the activities of the day, known as el Día de San Luis.

All images by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

 

Shooting for Moments: My First Few Weeks at UGACR

Hola! My name is Rachel Eubanks and I’m the current photojournalism intern here at UGA Costa Rica. For the next six months, I’ll be the one creating and curating the posts you’ll find our social media accounts. If you have anything you’d like to share, just tag @ugacostarica


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This week, my camera malfunctioned.
Normally, this situation would only bring me a moderate amount of anxiety (even though these little pieces of metal and glass we call cameras make up my livelihood). Typically my routine would go something like 1. text former photo professor 2. heed his advice and 3. take my baby to a local camera repair shop that could help me in a snap. But moving to Monteverde makes experiences like camera problems a bit more interesting. In my first two weeks of living at UGA Costa Rica, here are a few things that have changed in my daily routine:

Everyday tasks require more work, but the payoff feels more satisfying. Many small moments feel drastically different once you live in Costa Rica, especially here in the mountains of San Luis. Buying wool socks or candles for our humid casitas involves catching a ride twenty minutes into Santa Elena or taking the hour and a half walk up la trocha, the steep, gravel path that proves to be a challenge even for four wheel drives. But what some may see as inconveniences really become habits that simplify our lifestyles. Everything we really need we can find right here. And because I have fewer distractions than in my life back in the States, I have a better ability to focus — not only on my work as photo intern, but also on the joys of the company of those living here with me.

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Hot gossip sounds nothing like what you’d expect. Most of the time when you hear people whisper with excitement, it’s about a sloth. Or a snake. Or an emerald toucanet. The priorities of researchers, naturalists and visitors to UGA Costa Rica feel vastly different than those of my circles back home, but I’m grateful to be able to focus more of my energy on learning and less on petty arguments and Instagram likes.

At a rural campus, sometimes you feel stuck. I can’t just hop in the car and drive to see my friends in Atlanta or set off on a spontaneous weekend trip. But I can take a thirty-minute walk down to the river over a suspension bridge, climbing up the falls to cool off. I can also grab some friends and pop into the heladería, or the local ice cream shop, while taking in an unmatched mountain view. If you stay long enough somewhere, it’s easy to feel stuck, but it’s up to each of us to adopt what I call an “attitude of gratitude” instead.

“Going out” takes on a pretty different meaning. Nope, no rooftop concert or karaoke for me tonight. We’re grabbing our headlamps and knee-high boots to search for frogs instead. The kinds of students who opt to study abroad in the mountains of Central America rather than the French Riviera often come here with an inclination to explore. The folks who visit UGACR, students and travelers alike, care more about the authenticity of their travel experiences than the luxuries of home. With this sense of adventure, travelers can more easily experience local culture, such as milking a cow on the campus farm in the morning, then sipping the milk during dinnertime with a mug of hot chocolate, or learning to dance merengue with a tico guide.

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Just because you leave a place doesn’t mean you leave your problems. Most of the time, pura vida moves at a slower pace than life in the States, which comes as such a refreshing change. But the more time I have, the greater opportunities my mind has to wander, especially by dwelling on the past or worrying for my future. “What am I going to do after this? Why didn’t that friend say goodbye before I left? Don’t they care about me?” Part of me hoped that many of my internal struggles would fall away once I arrived in Central America. But instead of abandoning my problems, I simply have more time and mental space to work through them.

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here. I know nothing of the natural world. I’ve only been camping a handful of times and the primary form of exercise I used to get was standing up at my service industry job (compared to the 30,000 steps I took today alone). At the end of each day here, I feel sore but happy. I feel overwhelmed with new information (about sustainability, environmental fragmentation, how to decipher different bird calls and classify types of macroinvertebrates) but I’m also excited to absorb even more. My advice for traveling and starting new experiences, no matter where they may be? Shoot for moments. When you focus on the individual moments of your trip rather than getting every detail just right, you can experience pure life.

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