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Finally, the bus is leaving! On the 12th of  August, 38 Ilori children from the community of La Carpio waited anxiously for the bus with their backpacks and a heart full of excitement and anticipation. At about 3:00 p.m. the bus finally left for the Parque del Este, where a 17 members of the Scouts of Costa Rica, led by Evelyn, were waiting to start the adventure which everybody had been dreaming about: a three-day camp!

Getting organized. The group was divided into 5 teams, 2 girl teams  and 3 boy  teams. Each team had its own leader and a name that identified themTigresses, Pumas,  Lions,  Jaguars and Tigers. Each group was given the responsibility to put up their tents and cook their meals.  They assumed these beautifully.

Early in the morning … The activity in the camp started really early, they got up at about 4:00 am! After breakfast, which they prepared, cooperative games were played. Organizing themselves to cook their breakfast, lunch and dinner was a challenge, but the children did very well and no doubt learned a lot from this experience in terms of cooperation, consideration and teamwork.

By the campfire. On Saturday night the campfire served as a beautiful backgroung for each group to devise and present two plays. In this way the children got the opportunity to use their creative potential as well as theirexpression and communication skills.The result was excellent!

Time to say goodbye. Sunday began with breakfast,then play! Cooperative games abounded and so did the morale of the children who by then were fully acclimated and relaxed. The games ended with the Lions being chosen as the best team in the camp.  Nevertheless, all the teams were winners, and thuswere given a gift. It was time to leave.

Can we do it again? Three in the afternoon … the camp was over and the children lined up to take the bus back. With the heart still full of excitement, they all said the same “It is the best weekend I have everhad!” and  “When can we do it again?”

¡Se va el bus! El 12 de agosto en la comunidad de La Carpio, 38 niños y niñas participantes de los talleres Ilori esperaban ansiosos el autobús con sus mochilas al hombro y el corazón lleno de emoción y expectativa.   A eso de las 3:00 p.m.  finalmente partieron hacia el Parque del Este, donde una tropa de 17 miembros de los Scout de Costa rica, liderados por Evelyn,  los esperaba para iniciar la aventura con la que tanto habían soñado: ¡un campamento de tres días!

Organizándonos. El grupo se dividió en 5 equipos, 2 de niñas y 4 de niños.  Cada grupo tenía su propio líder y un nombre que les identificaba: Las Tigresas, Los Pumas, Los Leones, Los Jaguares y Los Tigres.  A cada grupo se le dio la responsabilidad  de armar su tienda de acampar y también de cocinar cada una de sus comidas, responsabilidades que asumieron maravillosamente.

Muy de mañana… La actividad en el campamento empezó realmente temprano, se levantaron ¡a eso de las 4:00 a.m.! Después del desayuno,  que ellos mismos prepararon, jugaron juegos cooperativos organizados con el fin de dejarles una buena enseñanza para la vida.  Organizarse para cocinar su propio desayuno, almuerzo y  cena fue todo un reto, sin embargo los niños y niñas lo hicieron muy bien y sin lugar a dudas aprendieron mucho de esta experiencia en términos de colaboración, consideración y trabajo en equipo.

A la luz de la fogata. Por la noche el sábado una hermosa fogata sirvió como escenario para que cada grupo ideara y presentara  dos representaciones teatrales. De esta forma los niños y niñas tuvieron que recurrir a todo su potencial creativo y habilidades para la expresión y comunicación ¡El resultado fue excelente!

Hora de despedirse.  El domingo empezó con un buen desayuno y luego ¡a jugar!  Los juegos cooperativos  abundaron así como el buen ánimo de los niños y niñas que para entonces estaban totalmente ambientados y relajados.  Los juegos finalizaron con la designación del grupo de Los Leones como el mejor equipo del campamento, sin embargo, todos salieron premiados con un regalo. Ya había llegado la hora de partir.

¿Podemos hacerlo otra vez? Las tres de la tarde… el campamento había terminado y los niños y niñas se alineaban para tomar el bus de regreso.  Con el corazón todavía lleno de emoción repetían unos y otros “¡es el mejor fin de semana que he pasado!, ¿podemos volver?”



New English classes for the kids in La Carpio

Even though our women and children’s center, in La Carpio, is still under renovation, we are gathering there because we can no longer fit all the children in the local church!  This past Tuesday, two students from the University of Costa Rica, Laura Méndez Delgado and Mark Solano Hernandez, came out to teach over 35 children English, as part of the university’s community work program. 

Fluency in English is a highly marketable asset to most jobs in Costa Rica, and usually, children from poor families cannot afford English classes, so instantly they are at a disadvantage to youth from more economically-stable homes, especially, if their parents do not speak any English.  Therefore, by teaching the children, in our Ilori Education Program, English we are providing them with a highly valuable skill that may just give them the lead in the workforce.

In addition to English lessons, the children also sang songs, did some artwork, practiced some yoga, and they have been reading “The Little Prince” together.   Thank you again to our volunteer teachers, as well as all the people who continue to support our work at Bien de Mujer!

Casa del Sol teaches Granos Solidarios how to cook using solar energy

Last Saturday, Bien de Mujer staff and 17 women from Granos Solidarios traveled all the way to Casa del Sol in Guanacaste (a 4-hour drive) to learn how to cook with solar panels.  The women sang the whole drive there!

Casa del Sol is an eco-tourism project of Sol Verde—a cooperative formed with the support of Sol de Vida and the Central American Solar Energy Project—which represents 15 local community groups, presents the annual “Fiesta del Sol” event, and operates a small solar restaurant with “delicious home cooking.” Sol Verde is headquartered in the Casa del Sol, which houses a permanent demonstration facility for solar applications with emphasis on solar cookers.

Operating in the Santa Cruz and Nicoya counties of the Guanacaste region, Fundación Sol de Vida takes a holistic approach to expanding the use of renewable energy.  The proj­ect not only promotes the use of solar power for cooking, but also seeks to build women’s capacity for other development activities through the process of constructing and using solar cookers.  Therefore, our group of women was warmly welcomed by the Casa del Sol head of staff, Fatima, and several other local volunteers.

In addition to learning about solar cooking, our group participated in guided tour of their resource center.  They learned about different mod­els of solar cookers, about solar water pumps, were shown solar heaters and solar dryers, as well as photovoltaic panels for lighting—all the different ways solar energy can be used to make their lives easier and cheaper!  They were guided through organic gardens; given priceless healthy growing, eating and cooking tips, and eventually, prepared their own meal, using a solar panel!

Casa de Sol even donated one solar panel cooking structure to Granos Solidarios, to be used at our women and children’s center in La Caprio.  It was a beautiful day, on many levels, and we are grateful to the everyone at Sol de Vida and Casa del Sol who made this an informative, fun and unforgettable experience!

For more information about this project please visit here!  And for more photos of our day at Casa del Sol, visit our FaceBook page!

A Brief history of the Ilori Children’s Education Program

Way back in October 2008, WWD-F in Costa Rica created the Ilori Program specifically for at-risk children, most affected by HIV/AIDS, crime and poverty, by engineering workshops that awaken the children’s creativity through dance, art and music; offer exercises to improve their flexibility, motor coordination and equilibrium; as well as use creative visualizations to develop their concentration, attention and memory.

A critical component of these workshops was to convey different values such as respect; taking care of self, one another, all life forms, and things; sharing; co-operation; the value of friendship; etc, as well as to promote an awareness of ecology in its broadest sense, by encouraging respect and care for all living beings. We also provided the children with healthy meals, emphasizing the importance of good nutrition.

In 2009, WWD-F organized a total of 12 workshops consciously designed to raise awareness and develop friendly attitudes to nature and the environment.  These workshops were known as, “The earth is my home so I take care of it.”  To achieve our objective, we offered the children a series of participatory experiences which allowed them to reflect on the importance of caring for the environment by taking them to various national parks, ecological nurseries, aquariums, as well as visits to local rivers and mountains.   Through stories, puppets, theatre, talks, and games, they learned about ecology, recycling, basic care of animals and plants, and how and why to keep the environment clean.

In addition to our “The earth is my home so I take care of it” series, we celebrated International Children’s Day at the national amusement park, and ended the year with a special Christmas party, where the children played co-operative games, swam in a swimming pool and were given gifts.  A local company generously donated jumping castles, candy floss and ice cream.  This Christmas Party was such a success with both the children and the parents that it has quickly become an annual tradition (for photos of the 2010’s Christmas Party, visit here!)

The majority of these children are immigrants living, in the slums of Costa Rica, in tiny tin houses, with no green areas, unpaved streets and poor drainage. Most families do not have the financial resources for recreational and leisure activities.  Therefore, our workshops give the children the rare opportunity to positively interact with other children and adults; make contact with and enjoy nature; visit beautiful places which otherwise would not be accessible to them; learn all kinds of things; play; and introduce them to different music and arts.  We believe that through these activities the children have been able to develop social skills, practical living skills as well as self-confidence and self-awareness.  For more photos of past workshops, please visit our FaceBook page!

But we would rather you hear it from the children and mothers themselves:

Fabiola, 14 years old

My name is Fabiola and I live in Asseri, San Jose, Costa Rica with my 2 younger sisters and my mother.  I come to the Ilori workshops with my aunt, grandmother, sisters and cousins.  In the beginning I was not keen in attending the workshops as I am quite shy and found it difficult speak to people. Now it fills me with happiness to see all the children enjoying themselves, their smiles, their screams, even the ones that cry bring me joy.

I stopped being so quiet and now speak to all the people, and even though I am a teenager when I am with the children of Ilori I feel like a child of 7years again.  In the workshops they teach us respect, cooperation, to share, honesty, no fighting, never to give up, to care and love each other and many more things.  We also have a chance to play and enjoy ourselves.

What I really like about the Ilori workshops is the following:

They help us when we have a problem.

They teach us moral values

We get a chance to know beautiful places

They treat us with a lot of affection

I can only say thank you very much for everything they have taught me, my sisters and cousins.

Karla Payan, mother of 3 children: Bradley, Vanessa, and Illaney

Ilori workshops teach the children to share, to dialogue, they motivate the children to become independent and more humble, to respect and to care for each other and that we are all equal.  It is a great opportunity that they give us and I am very happy for what they do for us.  My kids become very excited when I tell them that we are going to a workshop with Ercy from Ilori.  God bless them for all they have done and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.  I am so happy that we got the chance to go to so many places that we did not know.  Once again, from me and my kids thank you so much.  God bless!

Using Wise Heart Books to teach the children in La Carpio values

Wise Heart Books is a socially conscious company designed by educators, parents, and artists to create books and educational materials that nurture the whole child: body, mind and spirit.  Each book contains an important message for children, such as building a strong and healthy body or cultivating positive thoughts and habits, or developing love for oneself and the world around them.

In addition to inspiring and educating readers, every sale of a Wise Heart Book generates funding for our Ilori Children’s Educational Program in La Carpio.  Last week, we held a day-long playshop, using two Wise Heart Books from the Smart Values Series:  Annie the Ant and Manny the Mouse.

The Smart Values Series is a collection of five delightful stories that help children understand the positive and transformative nature of good values.  Each story describes how certain values – such as generosity, cleanliness, and honesty – can change us for the better.

About Annie the Ant:

Annie the Ant is having a hard time watching over her friends, Lazy and Hasty. Lazy never wants to work hard like the other ants in the colony, and Hasty is always getting into trouble because she always leaps before she thinks. When Annie and her friends are endangered by a cat, the two wayward ants have a chance to change themselves and save the day.

The kids read Annie the Ant together, followed by a facilitated group discussion about the values of hard work, patience, and cooperation.  In order to make sure the kids understood the message, they were asked to re-create the story as a drama and did some accompanying art work.

About Manny the Mouse:

After losing his tail to the baker’s cat, Manny the mouse quickly learns the consequences of stealing flour from the bakery. In this delightful and twisted tale of a tail, the mouse learns the importance of respecting what belongs to others.

The kids read Manny the Mouse together, followed by a facilitated group discussion about why stealing is wrong.  They played “pin the tail” on Manny the Mouse and filled out some coloring books of Manny and the other characters.

Other books in the Smart Values Series include:

Captain Grimy

The Magic Bucket

The Wise Woman of the Mountain

Buying Wise Heart Books is not just a long-lasting gift to your children or grand children, but a tangible way to support our Ilori Children’s Educational Programs in La Carpio:

Thank you again for all your support!

Meet our neighbors in La Carpio, Costa Rica

Every time I mention I work in “La Carpio” to a Costa Rican, they grimace and ask, “But isn’t that dangerous?”  This reaction is most likely because the only times “La Carpio” is mentioned in the local media it involves drugs, crime or violence.  Most visitors to Costa Rica have never even heard of La Carpio because the local media (and the tourism industry) is proficient at covering up any blemishes on the face of Paradise.  But yes, despite Pura Vida, there is poverty, disease, crime, and neglect in Costa Rica; however, most of it seems to be isolated to one particular San Jose neighborhood:  La Carpio.

Founded by squatters in the mid-1990s, La Carpio’s estimated 40,000 residents, around half of whom are immigrants and refugees from Nicaragua and other Central American countries, live in an area of 296 square kilometers, encircled by two heavily polluted rivers and the city landfill (which receives over 700 tons of waste daily.)  As a matter of fact, more garbage-per-capita comes from the wealthy, predominantly ex-patriot community of Escazu into the La Carpio landfill, than from La Carpio residents themselves.*

Forgoing the obvious environmental hazards of living in La Carpio, like most “slums” throughout the world, public infrastructure such as schools, clinics, roads, security, and sanitation systems are under-resourced or plainly neglected; unemployment is high; drug and alcohol abuse is common; low levels of education; large families with single parent homes; and there is a high prevalence of HIV and other chronic diseases.

Without getting into the complicated reasons why such a place continues to exist in a country whose pride and reputation lie in being an eco-progressive, peaceful “social democracy”, I will refer you to more qualified (and eye-opening) resources such as

It is within this context that we, at the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer, are actively building our women and children’s community playground and education center, which seeks to be a safe, eco-conscious, community education and resource center for both local women and children living in La Carpio.

Women helping women in La Carpio, Granos Solidarios

Created and supported by the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer (WWDF/Bien de Mujer), Granos Soldarios seeks to empower women living in the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica, to utilize their economic, social, intellectual, and spiritual potential to achieve personal growth and the integrated development of their communities.  Granos Soldarios began as one small group of women, mostly living in La Carpio, gathering to pull their economic and personal resources together to make sure all their families had food to eat and to address emergency needs.

Over the past few years, this single group of dedicated women has bloomed into two groups of women:  currently, 63 women living in La Carpio and 35 women from San Juan de Dios, an equally poor neighborhood in San Jose.  The majority of these women are unemployed, single parent, refugees from Nicaragua; with low levels of education and large families.  Several of the women are living with HIV and other chronic diseases.

Operating like a co-operative, for 8,500 colones ($17 USD) a month, each Granos Solidarios member gets 10kg of rice, 1 liter of oil, 3 kg of beans, 2 kg of sugar, and 250 gr of coffee for their family, per month.  In the event that a Granos Solidarios member is unable to meet the group monthly food investment of 8,500 colones, the other women chip in to help.

In addition to pulling their economic resources together for food, the women have created a peer support group; actively fundraise for emergency family expenses; and have started their own businesses:  making and selling tamales, and selling second-hand clothes.  The women’s groups also regularly participate in life skills, parenting skills and health education workshops organized by WWDF/Bien de Mujer, and they voluntarily assist with WWDF/Bien de Mujer’s Ilori Children’s Education programs.  (For example, Granos Solidarios prepared and distributed lunch to the 200+ guests at the Annual Children’s Christmas Party, last December—click here for photos of this amazing party!)

Each Granos Solidarios group has elected a peer leader and each group meets once a week:  the La Carpio group meets every Friday at a member’s house, and the San Juan de Dios group meets every Thursday at Parque de la Paz.  Ercy Mendez, a trained counselor and educator who works for WWDF/Bien de Mujer, oversees both groups.   As soon as the women and children’s community playground and education center is ready, Granos Solidarios will be meeting and working out of the center in La Carpio.

This month, the women of Granos Soldarios are busy putting together an action plan for 2011.  This plan will include workshops, starting some more group income-generation projects, and assisting in the renovations and development of the women and children’s community playground and education center in La Carpio.  We will keep you posted!

For photos of the Granos Solidarios Christmas party, last December, please click here.

*If you have some talents or skills you would like to share with the Granos Soldarios, please do not hesitate to contact Ercy Mendez, at . To contribute to the Granos Solidarios:


What 2011 looks like for the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer, Costa Rica

Happy New Year!

We, at the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer, are all back, from the holidays, in our offices in Guadalupe, San Jose (some of us more tan than others!)  Last week, we got together to evaluate our recent end-of-the-year events, mainly the annual Children’s Christmas Party and the Granos Solidarios Christmas Party, as well as to discuss and outline our objectives for the upcoming year.

Our annual report will be coming out in the near future, but in 2011, our main objective is to complete the eco-conscious construction and development of our women and children’s community education center, in La Carpio.  In addition to completing this monumental task, we are actively seeking to partner with local and international organizations in the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation and monitoring of the holistic experiential learning, values-teaching, and practical life-skills workshops and classes we provide to the women and children living in La Carpio.

Ideally, our women and children’s community education center will serve as a model community playground and alternative education center that addresses the well-being, internal and external development, and quality education and empowerment of women and children living in La Carpio, San Jose (Costa Rica.)

A day in La Carpio

I would love to do a survey of tourists and Costa Ricans (who live outside of San Jose), and ask them if they have ever heard of “La Carpio”?  I suspect most of them, both visitors and Ticos alike, will answer “no.”  “La Carpio” is basically the “slums” of San Jose and like most slums, unless you live there or have family there, no one ever visits, much less wants to accidentally end up there while trying to find the San Pedro Mall.

The Women’s Well-Being and Development Foundation (WWD-F) , known in Costa Rica as “Bien de Mujer“,  is one of the few local women-designed and operated; non-profit, community-based organizations specifically addressing the well-being, internal and external development, and quality education and empowerment of women and children living in La Carpio.  (Just my cup of coffee!)

Previously, I was just a fan and supporter of the quality work of WWD-F; now, I am a volunteer member of this extraordinary, international team of powerful, inspired, and resourceful women.  WWD-F might be new to you, but I have done some pro bono consulting with them in the past, as well as actively promoted last year’s big children’s Christmas party.

For the time being, I am taking on various roles with WWD-F which range from promoting this year’s Annual Children’s Christmas Party (which will be held on DEC 21); working on their new website ( as well as assisting in the design of an integrated social media communications and marketing plan; and marketing their new series of children’s books, called Wise Heart Books, which focus on teaching values to children in a fun, memorable way.

Current projects of the Women’s Well-Being and Development Foundation (WWD-F):

  • Experiential, uplifting children’s education program called Ilori Educational Program, which includes “playshops”, fieldtrips, and events/activities outside of La Carpio.
  • Educational Center Canto Al Sol: a preschool located in Lomas de Tepeyac, San Jose– with programs such as yoga, swimming, music and the arts, in addition to early childhood development education.
  • Wise Heart children’s books—which will partially fund all current WWD-F projects
  • Women’s Support Group called Granos Solidarios, which is currently working on putting together a small group business, in addition to training and support in conflict resolution; parenting skills; nutrition; self-esteem development; community organization; and holistic health care.
  • The Sattva Vita Complementary  Health Care Center, located in Guadalupe, San Jose, which is staffed by certified Aryuvedic practitioners and other professional alternative and holistic health providers.

WWD-F just purchased two buildings in La Carpio (and intend to purchase a third building) and are actively in the process of transforming this series of buildings, in the middle of the slums, into an eco-friendly, safe, welcoming, and most importantly, fun women and children’s community education center with everything from an organic garden and playground to classrooms, library and computer lab and more! 

For information about WWD-F:

By Kelly N Patterson