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!

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!

Letter from one of our recent volunteers, Julie (France)

 Those who can, do.  Those who can do more, volunteer.  ~Author Unknown

Eighty percent of our work at Bien de Mujer (maybe more!) is done by volunteers, and therefore, our gratitude to the people who share their talents, skills, and priceless gifts of time is bottomless.  We asked a recent volunteer, Julie, a professional Sign Language Interpreter from France, to share her experience, volunteering with us.

No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.  Thank you, Julie. 

From Julie:

Originally from Aix-en-Provence, France, I work as a sign language interpreter, translating from French to French sign language and vice versa, allowing deaf and hearing people to meet, talk, exchange, even if they don’t speak the same language; working as such also promotes deaf people’s independence, free-will, potentials, their will to be listened to and looked at as any other human being with dreams, hopes, responsibilities, able to achieve as much and as well as anybody else.  It’s one of many experiences with a different culture.

I’ve been traveling for over a year now, discovering, enjoying places and meeting people with different cultures, languages, habits, points of view, experiences, ways of life.  Sharing a bit of their everyday life is the richest way to learn and grow.  Having learned and got so much from people all around the world, I just wanted to give back.  One wonderful and rewarding way to give back is volunteering.

Friends in Costa Rica introduced me to Bien de Mujer in San Jose, where some of their friends volunteer or work.  It gave me the opportunity I was looking for and, even for a short period of time between two trips, I’ve enjoyed spending time with the kids, their mothers and everyone from Bien de Mujer.  Taking pictures for memories and testimony of the day’s fun, playing around, helping out, being there, talking, sharing experiences, dreams, chatting about everyday life and what kids want for the future is just another great way to spend one’s day, to forget the usual daily strain, to allow everyone to grow from mutual understanding, to help develop one’s open-mindedness and friendliness by spending quality time together.  Is there anything better to do?

I’m glad I could give some time to everyone at the foundation and if I’ve been able to give back even a tiny little bit of everything I’ve been given, I’m happy I could do it with Bien de Mujer.

Thanks for having me over!  I’ll be there whenever I can and wish you all the best for the future.

Julie,

Sign Language Interpreter, France

April 29, 2011

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!

Tamale Tuesday in La Carpio

Every week, Bien de Mujer hosts holistic, educational playshops as part of our Ilori Children’s Education program—which seeks to nurture the mind, heart, body, and spirit of each child living in La Carpio, the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica.  This past Tuesday, March 29, we had a full house of enthusiastic kids, as well as a group of hard-working women, from our Granos Solidarios women’s group, cooking up tamales to sell throughout the neighborhood.

Each Ilori playshop usually begins with songs and some yoga or dance, and this week, we continued to use Wise Heart Books as a tool to teach values to the kids.  They read “Captain Grimy”, “Manny the Mouse” and “Annie the Ant” together, followed by games and exercises to reinforce the lessons in the books.  If you visit the Bien de Mujer/ Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation FaceBook page , you will see some videos taken by a volunteer.

While the children were busy doing art work and playing games, the women of Granos Solidarios were busy making home-made tamales, to sell, and thus raise funds for the Granos Solidarios group business fund.  The Granos Solidarios are working to develop their current tamale-making micro-business into a larger, sustainable business; while at the same time, they are learning business skills 101, basic finance management, and how to work efficiently as a team.

The women of Granos Solidarios are so enthusiastic about this growing tamale business that the women had to be separated into two working groups, so each group alternates, each month.  To further support our children’s educational programs or the work of Granos Solidarios, please send us a donation at

Thank you again for your generosity of spirit!

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

http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/2782
http://insidecostarica.com/dailynews/2008/october/04/nac04.htm
http://www.monitor.upeace.org/innerpg.cfm?id_article=547

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 ercymtr@yahoo.com . To contribute to the Granos Solidarios: http://www.wwd-f.org/help.html

 

“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 aine@wwd-f.org . To donate to the creation of this women and children’s community playground and education center in la Carpio: http://www.wwd-f.org/help.html

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!

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.)

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