Monday, March 8, 2010

Campamento Survivor, Colorado, 2010

So Campamento Survivor, Colorado, 2010 was a huge success. I would have written about it sooner except that I got hit with an intestinal virus about two weeks ago and have been laid up since then. Apparently this virus is going around Costa Rica and it’s bad. It gave me a fever of over 103 and headaches and stomach aches and chills and good old fashioned diarrhea. Those are all the details. I went to the doc and he gave me some meds, and I took them and now I’m all better.
Preparation for this camp involved four overnight trips to the island to hack away at the jungle with machetes, cleaning out an area large enough to put up tents, a kitchen area, an area for charlas and an area to play games. We also had to cut boards from downed trees to build outhouses and basic showers, as well as tables for the kitchen and benches to sit on for charlas. Needless to say, Cristian, my community counterpart, and I along with a couple other dedicated souls spent a fair amount of time on the island getting it ready beforehand. Thanks to a Kids-to-Kids grant and generous donations from people back home, we were able to purchase the tents (extremely cheap at Pequeño Mundo in San Jose if you need one) and other materials needed for this camp, and provide transportation for all. We ended up taking 26 adolescents from my site on this four-day adventure, about a three hour bus ride and twenty minute boat ride from my community in the very northeast part of the country.
Upon arrival, the campers were divided into three tribes, each tribe competing against the others in games and activities throughout the camp. We brought in a couple from San Jose to lead the games and competitive activities, which ranged from dramas and skills challenges, to hunting leaders in the jungle and disaster simulations where the kids had to work as a team navigating various scenarios with members of the tribe handicapped due to a previous airplane crash. One of these scenarios even involved crawling commando-style through mud dragging the disabled members of the tribe behind. I've got pictures!
The kids loved the camp, and back in my site every time I see one of them conversation always comes back to the camp. They all learned something knew, most improved their ability to work as a group and each found their competitive spirit, in addition to taking a lot away from the charlas, which PCV Jerred Clouse helped out a lot with by giving two on personal filters and superación personal.
Cristian and I have followed up Campamento Survivor with weekly meetings, called Chicos del Barrio, with camp participants. We have a group of about 15-20 camp participants, depending on the day, who come to the meetings, along with about 10-15 kids from the community who did not attend the camp but wish to participate in these meetings, in which we play games, talk about general themes, and try to continue the competive spirit among each tribe. With this group we hope to be able to do projects in the community, such as sporting events or community cleanup activities led by kids from Chicos del Barrio.
A success story from the camp is a change I’ve noticed in an adolescent called Dustin, a 16 year-old who came into the camp with very little guidance in his life. He spent much of his time in the street or hanging out at the local internet café with friends. He had a very bad vocabulary in public and did not seem to care what others thought of him and his actions. I was in fact, a little preoccupied at how he would do during the camp. As it turned out, my worries were without base. Dustin quickly transformed into one of the best leaders at the camp. Others respected his ideas and followed his lead, especially the members of his tribe. Family life has been hard for Dustin; he was dealt a tough hand and therefore had been taking his frustrations into his life outside the home. However, with a new network of friends and having had such a successful experience during the camp, Dustin now has a more positive attitude about him. He is more friendly and well-behaved in public and is a regular at the Chicos del Barrio meetings. The changes visible in Dustin are a constant reminder of the success that has been Campamento Survivor, Colorado, a success Cristian and I hope to repeat in another camp, this time for older youth, with an age range of about 16-24. But we’ll see what the future holds.
In the meantime, I’m busy working on planning the construction of a community park, for which we’ve received money from the government to surround it with a fence and build benches. Now we’re working on getting donations from an organization called CRUSA, in order to put in a play structure for kids. That’s going to require a lot of meetings, sending in a large and complicated grant proposal, and patience. So along with my other projects I’ll be plenty busy for a while. Hope everything is well with everyone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Campamento Survivor, Colorado, 2010

It's been a while since I last posted anything, but I wanted to quickly post a copy of a letter I sent out describing a camp I'm putting on in conjunction with Iglesia Centroamericana in Caribe for at-risk youth, along with a few pictures of the island where it's going to take place:

An amazing opportunity has recently come up for me—along with a pastor of the local church Iglesia Centroamericana, Cristian Gómez—to organize a survival style camp for at-risk youth in the community. We plan to conduct this four-day camp at the beginning of February, 2010 on an undeveloped and uninhabited island near Barra Colorado, a few hours northeast of Caribe de Cariari. Camp participants will be sleeping in tents and spending the four days in very basic conditions. The goal is to provide an opportunity for thirty at-risk youth between ages twelve and sixteen to appreciate the natural beauty of their own country, while at the same time learn about life skills, building friendship and discovering more about themselves.

The camp will be programmed to keep these youth extremely busy during the day with a wide range of activities. The thirty youth will be divided into three groups, or tribes, and each tribe will go through all of the activities as a group. While there will be activities incorporating all of the participants, the idea is to develop confidence and trust among each tribe, thereby making it easier to discuss sensitive topics in smaller groups. The discussions will touch on such themes as leadership skills, making good decisions, drug prevention, and health and gender issues, since the camp will be co-ed. There will be competitive games and recreational activities pitting the three tribes against each other. Hopefully, competitive activities will bring out leaders in each tribe, along with building self-esteem in each participant. At the end of the camp, awards will be handed out to various campers who have demonstrated exceptional participation.

Regarding materials and personnel, the camp will have three cooks, ten adult leaders, and, if enough funds are raised, a doctor; if not, then someone who is at least well-trained in CPR and first aid. A rustic eating area will be constructed, along with very basic bathing areas and latrines. Water will be extracted from local sources and boiled for purification. Since all of the adults will be volunteers—with the exception of a doctor, if available—fundraising needs to cover materials for constructing the eating area/kitchen/bathing areas/latrines, tents, sleeping pads, food and transportation.

This camp was put on three years ago and was very successful (albeit with a much smaller group), but due to a lack of funds Iglesia Centroamericana has been unable to continue it in the last two years. The church will contribute as much monetary support as their fundraising will allow, as well as manual labor and adult volunteers; however, due to a scarcity of funds within the community, outside financial support is a necessity. I have applied for other grants, but there is significant competition for these funds and I have not heard back yet.

The cost of the four-day camp is estimated to be $1,000. Iglesia Centroamericana hopes to raise $300 toward this cost. I am soliciting donations to cover the balance—a total of $700. If you can help provide these at-risk youth with a challenging and fun camp experience, please see the email for how to donate. It would be great to receive any donations before Christmas, but, of course, will accept them up until the camp in early February.

Iglesia Centroamericana, the youth in my community and I greatly appreciate any financial assistance you might be able to offer. Every little bit is a huge help and goes a long way here. This is an outstanding opportunity for underprivileged youth in my community and hopefully will be a life-changing experience for many. If you would like to support our efforts, please contact either Connie Fevold, at, or myself at Thanks for any support you might be able to offer!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So for the regional Peace Corps meeting I got to go to Tortuguero village for two nights and visit the national park. Every four months volunteers from each region in the country meet to discuss how things are going in their sites, obstacles encountered, planned activities, suggestions, questions, whatever. My regional VAC representative (from Limón province) decided to host the meeting in Tortuguero, and since there are two Peace Corps volunteers living in the village (an older couple named Ben and Millie), we also managed to secure large discounts for all the tourist activities making them affordable on our Peace Corps budgets. So we—I believe there were 13 of us in total—went on a guided morning canoe tour through the national park where we saw a wide variety of wildlife, from birds to monkeys to caimans. At night we went on another guided tour, this time to see green turtles laying their eggs on the beach. Since it was really stormy and as the guide told us not great weather for depositing your progeny in the sand, we only saw two turtles and no egg-laying. However, the turtles were very impressive, some five hundred pounds. Pictures were not allowed since flash cameras scare turtles off the beach and back into the water (somehow a bunch of people standing around staring does not scare off turtles, which are apparently hell-bent on laying their eggs because they come back as many as five times to the same spot on the beach during the same breeding season). The trip to and from Tortuguero is quite entertaining, since it requires an hour boat ride each way. My site, with the obvious exception of Ben and Millie’s, is the closest of any volunteer, so the total travel time for me was considerably less than the other volunteers. On the way back from the village our boat ran into a heavy current running the opposite way, due to a large amount of rainfall the previous night. It took all of the 400 horsepower the boat had to make it back to the landing. After packing into the bus that was waiting for us (there was absolutely no room for one more person on that bus) we managed to make it about a hundred yards down the road to a point where the river had overflowed and flooded the road. So, in order for the bus to pass, everyone had to get off the bus, luggage included, ford the river and then get back on the bus after it barely managed to squeak by on what was left of the road. I took a picture of that. Peace Corps Costa Rica.
Regarding my site, I now have a pretty set schedule. I take care of the gym at the Iglesia Centroamericana and help the kids train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Wednesday evening I’m in charge of volleyball, which involves getting the net setup, the court marked off, balls pumped up, etc, and monitoring the some 30 kids who come to play. On Tuesday and Thursday I help out organizing bad practice for the parades celebrating independence on September 15. Every other Saturday night we put on a film in the church. Saturday afternoons for two hours I help out with Guias y Scouts in Cariari. And next week Kim and I will begin to teach an intermediate English class twice a week for 3 hours to some fifteen students who passed her beginning class. All that and I have to finish the community diagnostic by the first of September. So I’m keeping busy. I’ve been following the M’s down here as much as possible and they aren’t sucking so bad this year which is nice to see. With the recent hot weather in Seattle I’m sure evening baseball games are quite enjoyable. Hope all is well with everyone.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10

So every two weeks turned into almost a month I think. Oops. My bad. I’ll be better with my next entry. At least I’ll try anyway. Everything is well with me down here and I’ve been keeping busy. I’m writing a participatory community diagnostic which I believe I mentioned in my first entry, and from there I’m supposed to come up with a work plan for the first year. So I’ve been interviewing people and going over community analyses from previous years done by the local school and health clinic. However, I’ve sort of skipped the work action plan part and jumped into some projects already, which some past volunteers have advised against, but I feel my comfort level in the community and with Spanish is high enough so that it shouldn’t be a problem. Last Thursday I signed up to be a leader of the Costa Rican equivalent of boy and girls scouts in Cariari, called Guias y Scouts, although they don’t separate by gender for any of the activities or meetings. I’m a leader in the 7-10 age group, called a manada (pack) and composed of about 30 screaming, highly-energetic kids. There are two other leaders, a 27 year-old woman from my community Caribe and an older woman from Cariari, who is the main leader due to her past experience with the Guias y Scouts. On Saturday we had our first meeting, which involved playing lots of games and making the kids run around for 2 ½ hours until they were exhausted (as was I). So on my first day as a Guias y Scouts leader I learned about 5 new games in Spanish to play with kids which should help me a lot in the future since I am a Children, Youth and Families volunteer.
Also, I’m going to begin teaching an English class starting in September, so in the next month and a half I’ll be signing people in my community up for the class, preparing lesson plans, getting materials, etc. The getting materials part is what takes the longest, I believe. I might end up teaching two classes as well, one advanced for the students who already graduated from the previous volunteer’s class (whose name is Kim by the way, so I can refer to her by name instead of previous volunteer), and a beginner for those who want to start learning. I have to decide how much I want to actually teach, since each class is supposed to meet either twice a week for 1 ½ hours or once for 3 hours. So that’s another project to keep me busy.
The pastor of the Iglesia Centroamericana here in Caribe, Cristian, and I have been talking a lot about possible projects for the community, and so far we have gotten a Saturday film night started, called Cine Caribe. Using a video projector that took a lot of work to acquire—including a half-day trip that turned out to wasted time since the man who was supposed to give us the video projector got sick the night before, was taken to the hospital, and failed to have anyone tell us he couldn’t meet with us that day until we were already halfway there—along with my computer, we project movies on to a screen in the Iglesia Centroamericana. The screen is actually a huge piece of cloth about the size of a small movie theater screen and also took a lot of work to set up, but it does the job. Last Saturday was the inauguration and more than fifty people came to watch Up, a Pixar production (down here we can get movies on DVD two weeks after they are released in theaters in the states, so it actually is somewhat like going to see a newly released film). This Saturday we are going to play the new Transformers film if we can get a hold of it. So at least the first film night was a success. I want to get funds from the program Courts For Kids to build a basketball court/small soccer plaza here in Caribe, since there is only one small basketball court in Cariari and it is in terrible condition. There is an interest here in playing basketball, but nowhere to play it. Other volunteers have used this program with great success, so hopefully I can as well. One of Kim’s projects that I’m definitely going to continue is the recycling center at the local school, which is really the only form of recycling in Caribe. Hopefully I can expand it to include the rest of the community as well instead of just the school.
In other news, I ate cow’s intestines in soup a few days ago, called mondongo. Don’t plan on doing that again. I managed to get it all down, but the texture was too chewy and it smelled like something else. My grandma, Alicia, made it for me to try; luckily she recognized the look on my face that I never want to see mondongo in front of me again. I also had soup with chicken feet in it about a couple weeks ago. I didn’t eat the chicken feet, but they were quite a surprise. Alicia left the soup for me on the stove because I was going to be getting home late, and when I went to serve myself I saw four chicken feet floating on top. The soup was actually good though. I guess the legs and feet go in to add to the flavor. Michael Jackson’s death has been hug news down here. There have been special reports on the proceedings of his death, funeral, music (especially Thriller), life, wealth, etc., every day since he passed away. Tonight there is a special TV event, an Adios to the king of pop, which is supposedly going to be watched by most of the country (at least those who watch TV at 8 pm). I plan on seeing it. I guess he made a huge impact with his music in Costa Rica, as well as in the US and much of the world for that matter.
That’s about all I have for now. I opened a PO Box in Cariari, so if anyone wants to send me a post card, letter, whatever, the address is:
Andy Durland
Apartado Postal 28-7209
Cariari, Pococi, Limon
Costa Rica 70205
If you send anything larger than a letter, you gotta right that it’s either books or clothes or customs will try to confiscate it. Still adjusting to the heat and humidity. Luckily the water is drinkable out of the tap, so I’m staying hydrated at least. Hope all is well with everyone. Best,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From Caribe de Cariari

Greetings to everyone! I moved to my permanent site on Saturday May 30th the day after we had our swearing-in ceremony at the US embassy in San José. I had to give a short speech for Swearing-in (Juramentación) in Spanish to all the members of the host families during training and the embassy people. It was supposed to only be about three or four minutes and be full of thank yous and the like but I got into talking about cutting tongues out of calf heads and discovering snakes in beds at night and it kinda ended up twice as long. Anyway, we were given a couple of free days after Juramentación to spend enjoying San José before we moved to our permanent sites, but the nearest town to my site was having a rodeo so I decided to move early and go enjoy that. Supposedly you can pay to ride bulls in the ring and they have games where the person to stay in the ring the longest with an angry bull running around wins, but I didn’t make it past the merengue and salsa dancing so I didn’t get a chance to test my luck with the bulls (and break I don’t know how many Peace Corps rules).

My site is called Caribe de Cariari, about a twenty minute bus ride/15 minute bike ride/hour walk/20 minute run, depending on which way you go, west of the town Cariari, pop. about 10,000. It is in the northeast part of the country in the province of Limón on the way to Tortuguero National Park, which is frequented by tourists who want to go see turtles. I can’t give you my exact address because that is against PC rules. Caribe is classified as a rural pueblo and it certainly feels that way, as it is surrounded by banana plantations called fincas. Semis hauling bananas rumble through town at all times of the day. Dole and Del Monte own most of the fincas and the bananas are shipped from the port city of Limón mainly to Europe but I think a fair amount end up in the US as well.

I live with two grandparents, Don Edwin and Doña Alicia, whose daughter and her husband plus two granddaughters live next door. I eat my breakfast and lunch with them, but they don’t eat dinner, which if you know my eating tendencies is problematic. I worked out an agreement to heat up extra food from lunch for dinner if I eat at home, or eat dinner somewhere else. I’m replacing a volunteer and have gotten to know her host family very well, so I’ve eaten over at her host family’s house a few times to supplement my meals at home (she is on vacation to the States for three weeks so I’m the only gringo in the barrio until she gets back on the 19th).

My first three months in site are supposed to be dedicated to writing a community diagnostic and developing an action plan for the next year based on interviews and meetings with community members. So far I’ve been spending my time getting to know people in the community, teachers and the director of the school, workers at the local health clinic and such, along with improving my Spanish and forgetting my English. For every new Spanish word I learn it seems that I forget an English one. Adjusting to the climate is going to take some time. The weather doesn’t joke around down here. Man is it hot and humid. The only break from the heat and humidity is when it rains. And when it rains it comes down as a torrential downpour. Rarely does it drizzle. The streets, which are dirt with a few rocks thrown in here and there, quickly become rivers. But in turn everything dries really quickly, so the next day you aren’t walking in mud or playing soccer on a soaked field.

That’s another thing I’ve been doing to keep busy: playing a lot of soccer, which is more or less the only sport played in Caribe. And for you fans of US soccer, you don’t know how much trash talking I’ve had to put up with after the US team got their socks, cleats and shorts knocked off by Costa Rica on June 3rd in San José in a World Cup qualifier. The pastor of a local church is trying to start up a gym and has a few weights, benches and other workout equipment so I’ve been helping him organize them and train youth from the community, and also lift weights with him three times a week. We are restricted to doing basic lifts, but they work enough to get me sore the next day. I also run in the plaza, so I’ve been getting plenty of exercise.

That’s pretty much been my first week and a half in site. I plan on (and hope to) add an entry to this blog every other week. So far I’ve had decent internet access, but things can change quickly here regarding that so who knows how it will be in the future. Hope everything has been well with everybody. If you want to communicate with me directly, I still use my college email address: I also have a Costa Rican cell phone and I get incoming calls for free. However, the coverage is suspect here and service cuts in and out. Also, foreigners aren’t technically allowed to buy cell phone lines, so I had to purchase an old one in a Costa Rican’s name. This means, however, that the previous owner’s voice mail box is still set up and I don’t have his security password. So until I can take the phone in and get them to erase his mailbox, which I hope to do within the next two weeks, I can’t check voice messages. However, I’d love to talk to anyone that feels moved to call me: 8355-0339. Take care,