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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?”



Letter from the founder and director of Bien de Mujer, Aine Ni

Bien de Mujer has just posted its annual report for the past year 2010 online, please view the report in its entirety here.  This is the introduction from the founder and director, Aine Ni:

Dear Friends,

Looking back on the year 2010, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude to the hard-working, dedicated team of people who work with Bien De Mujer as well as all the generous people who supported us. It is amazing what dreaming, with a large dose of hard work and support, can accomplish.

Three years ago, we started the Granos Solidarios program with 24 women; today, we have 102 women and 40 additional women on a waiting list!  One of the unexpected rewards is witnessing the strong, genuine bond of friendship and solidarity that has developed through the women’s work.  They not only understand, but live “united we stand.”

 Like Granos Solidarios, our Illori Children’s program has also grown over the past three years; this year 160 children attended our Annual Children’s Christmas Party.  Each week, we continue to provide “playshops” which seek to nurture the mind, body and spirit of each child.  We are also co-creating workshops with other children’s welfare organizations such as the Scouts of Costa Rica.

This past year, we decided it was time to create our own safe, unique education, play and community center, to house our programs and projects, in the slums of Costa Rica. Therefore, we raised funds to purchase 3 houses, which we are currently remodeling and transforming into our vision for an eco-conscious, spirit-inspired community center.  Please visit our blog at, to follow our progress.

The theme of 2010 seems to be growth, because we have also outgrown the building hosting our early childhood development educational program, Canto al Sol, in el Alto de Guadalupe.  Currently, we are working with 40 pre-school children, with a waiting list for 16 more children!  So we are starting to look at other locations, spaces that can allow us to serve more children.

 Just recently, we implemented social media networks, so now you can find us on FaceBook and Twitter, as well as our blog.  And yes, since “Bienestar y Desarollo de la Mujer” is a mouthful, we legally shortened our name to Bien de Mujer.

 Yes, this past year had its fair share of challenges, but despite temporary obstacles, we seem to keep growing in the amount of people we serve, the amount of people volunteering, and in support.  We are grateful everyday for this abundance!  We hope you share in our joy, while you read through the following pages, and know that we could not have accomplished all these things without your invaluable support.

Aine Ni

Founder and Director of Bien de Mujer

Saturday at La Sabana with the Scouts of Costa Rica

This past Saturday, Bien de Mujer took 3 bus-loads of children and their mothers from the slums of La Carpio to La Sabana Parque, one of the most beautiful parks in all of San Jose, for a day of outdoor play.  We had a total of 120 children and 30 mothers who started off the day with a pancake picnic in the park.

The Scouts of Costa Rica arrived about 10:30 am to work with the children aged 11 and up, preparing them for their big summer camping trip (coming up in July.)  So while the older group was learning how to make knots and basic camping skills, the younger kids played group games, learned some new songs, played on the playgrounds of La Sabana, and even had a treasure hunt!  Ending a perfect day with a healthy lunch picnic and ice cream with mangoes for dessert!

For more photos of this Saturday in the Parque, please visit our FaceBook page!

Ilori Education Program puts the “play” back in playshop!

Over the past month, at every Ilori Educational Program “playshop” with the children of La Carpio, we have been using Wise Heart Books’ Smart Values Series.  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.  Therefore, we have created group and individual activities centered around the values presented in the books.

In addition to inspiring and educating readers, as well as promoting literacy among the children, every sale of a Wise Heart Book generates funding for our Ilori Children’s Educational Program in La Carpio. 

We have been using Wise Heart Books’ Smart Values Series, which 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 even made character masks, which they used to act out scenes from the story.

They just started reading Captain Grimy, who happens to be the dirtiest, most miserable, one-legged sea captain in the world, who likes nothing better than to pollute the seas.  There is a lot to learn from Captain Grimy’s story, lessons about the importance of personal hygiene as well as respect for our environment.

Other books in the Smart Values Series include:

The Magic Bucket

The Wise Woman of the Mountain

Please make sure to check out our FaceBook page for videos and photos of these playshops with the children!

You too, can use Wise Heart Books to teach values to your children and know that each sale is a tangible way to support our Ilori Children’s Educational Programs in La Carpio!

By the way, Happy Semana Santa to all!

A day at the Parque, April 9

This past Saturday, April 9th, the Ilori Children’s Education program, the Scouts of Costa Rica, and 4 volunteers took 120 kids, from our program, and 30 of their mothers out for a day at the parque.  At 9 AM, bus-loads of cheering kids and elated Mom’s arrived to Parque del Este, in San Jose.   Note:  This is a big deal because there are no such parks and large community playgrounds in the slums of Costa Rica.

The kids were divided into two groups based on age:  the 6-10 year olds and the older youth, 11 and up.  After a morning of group games and activities which foster discipline, community and team work, and are just good for the whole body, mind and soul, the kids went swimming.  Everyone had a picnic lunch, topped off with sweet rice pudding (a crowd pleaser!)

The Scouts of Costa Rica spent the afternoon preparing the older youth for their big weekend camping retreat, happening this August.  Camping is completely a foreign concept to these kids, who spend their lives in the brick and concrete jungles of La Carpio.  Most of their parents have never even been camping themselves.  Camping and trips out to nature are a luxury.  Therefore, the next workshop, the older youth will be learning how to pitch their own tents, as well as other camping skills.

Again, a warm-fuzzy thank you to the Scouts of Costa Rica for your partnership and all the volunteers, Ethel, Julie, Annie, and Nina, that helped make this an unforgettable Saturday for the children, their mothers, and us as well!  Gracias por todo!

WWDF/Bien de Mujer and the Scouts host their first joint children’s workshop, FEB 12

The Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer has joined forces with the Scouts of Costa Rica to produce a series of children’s character-building workshops as part of this year’s Ilori Education Program.   This past Saturday, February 12th, 136 kids and 38 mothers were bused (the buses, by the way, were a generous donation from Mr. Alvaro—Gracias!) from the neighborhoods of La Carpio and San Juan de Dios, all the way to Parque de la Paz.

The theme of this collaborative workshop was “Group Indentity”: “We are different.  We are special. We are part of a group.”  Psychological studies report that group identity, one’s ability to identify with a group of people, is critical to one’s self-image, self-esteem and individuality, and later, leads to more self-awareness, cooperation and compassion for others.   Therefore, the Scouts and WWDF/Bien de Mujer designed a day long workshop, outside in the park, on introducing and experiencing the value of group identity and cooperation.

Starting off with healthy snacks, songs and a story for everyone, the children were divided into groups, based on age, for a series of group activities, games, and exercises all in the context of the value of cooperation and working together in a group, as well as appreciating differences and celebrating similarities.   We will let the photos show you how much the children enjoyed these activities:

These activities lasted well past lunchtime, and then after lunch, the children spent the rest of the afternoon flying kites!  This is just one of the 6 planned joint workshops by WWDF/Bien de Mujer and the Scouts.  In July, all of the children in the Ilori Education program will be visiting the Scouts Base-Camp for a weekend of events and activities.

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:


“If you build it, they will come…”

Thanks to bighearted donations from the Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation, AMURTEL USA and a few local Costa Rican companies, including 40 bags of cement from Cemex, WWDF/Bien de Mujer is currently renovating two concrete buildings in the heart of La Carpio, the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica.  These buildings will become the women and children’s community playground and education center; home to our Ilori Children’s Education programs and our local women’s group, Granos Solidarios.

Anantoliy Yujimets, originally from the Ukraine, with a background in reforestation engineering and over 20 years construction experience, is heading our renovations work with the help of two local workers.  Anantoliy has worked with WWD-F for over 8 years; he previously built the Sattva Vita Holistic Health and Education Center in Managua, Nicaragua.

Our first renovation goal was to break open these cold concrete “boxes” (standard housing in La Carpio), to allow for some fresh air and sunlight.  The second goal was to internally connect the two buildings.  Rooms are being created for a library and entertainment center; arts, crafts and music studio; an indoor play room (for rainy days!); venues for workshops and classes; as well as a community kitchen (funded by the Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation), for instructional purposes, the actual preparation of nutritional meals for the children, and for the Granos Solidarios food preparation business.  Electricity and water systems have already been implemented.

Here are some recent photos, taken just last week, of the work done over the past couple of weeks:

We will continue to keep you updated on the center renovations work.  In the meanwhile, we are meeting at local churches and, sometimes, homes throughout La Carpio, until it is possible to meet in the actual center.  Of course, we can use more help and professional input on both the creation of the playground and the interior design–especially from artists, eco-designers, urban perma-culture specialists, etc. to assist us in making this center a safe, eco-conscious, artistic, and welcoming example to the local community.

*If you have some talents or skills you would like to share, please do not hesitate to contact Aine Ni, WWD-F/Bien de Mujer Director, at . To donate to the creation of this women and children’s community playground and education center in la Carpio:

More gratitude for the Children’s Christmas party, from the mothers and children themselves!

This past Tuesday, January 18, felt like a family reunion between the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation/Bien de Mujer staff and the women and children we work with in La Carpio.  Because our women and children’s community education center is still under renovation, 35 kids, a few mothers, and we, all gathered at a local church in La Carpio for some value-teaching group games and exercises, as well as fruit and biscuits.

Authentic gratitude for our Children’s Christmas Party was tangible, and we just wanted to share some of these sentiments:

From the Mothers:

The Xmas party was very beautiful, very well organized. The kids enjoyed it very much!  They gave us food and the gifts were fantastic.  Thank you very much for everything.

Maria Isabel Suarez Gonzalez, Mother

My name is Jazmina Pupiro and I went to the party with my 5 children.  It was a wonderful party:  there was a pool, games, food, ice cream and cake, and beautiful gifts!

Jazmina Pupiro, Mother

Everything was fantastic!  The gifts, the pool!  I liked the games very much.  My daughter loved the pool and her gift.

Maria Rizo, Mother

I loved everything about the party.  The children loved their gifts and had a lot of fun. They enjoyed the food– it was a great surprise for them.  These workshops are very good for the children, they learn a lot in them and they help them a lot. The people that organize them are very good people and they really are great with the children.

Jaquelin Caliz Soza, Mother

I am very grateful to these wonderful people for everything they do for the children.  The party was wonderful.  Thank you so much.

Martha Paniagua, Mother

From some of the kids:

My name is Amanda and the party was beautiful and wonderful.  I will never forget it.  Thank you so much.

Amanda, 13 years old

I loved the party!  Thank you to everybody that organized this party for us, children.

Leyter Dixon Caliz, 12 years old

It was fabulous!  I was very happy that Ercy and Sonia were there, they are very good people.

Emmanuel, 13 years old

I loved the party, especially the pool! Keilyn Patricia, 11 years old

I loved everything about the party, especially the gifts, cannot wait to go again! Dana Paola Cruz, 12 years old

I enjoyed the party very much and I really loved the pool. Genesis Zuniga, 9 years old

For me, I loved everything about the party, especially the gifts. Paola Ortiz, 13 years old

Then we asked the little ‘uns:  “What part of the Christmas Party was your favorite?”

The pool, I wanted to swim three times! Valery, 5 years old

Everything! Henrito, 3 years old

Santa and the gifts!       Alison Nicole, 5 years old

The gifts, the ice cream and the jumping castles!        Jacol, 6 years old

The jumping castles and Santa! Angie, 5 years old

Again, this unforgettable experience for the kids, parents, and us, would not have been possible without all the hard-working volunteers and all the generous donations from people like you!  Gracias por todo!

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