09/03/10*This is the fifth blog in a series documenting a recent trip to visit Kids to Kids projects in Costa Rica by Patrick, Kids to Kids Program Coordinator.

About San Marcos de Cutris

San Marcos de Cutris is a small, rural town in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica with a population of about 400 people. Located 30 kilometers down a long, winding dirt road, San Marcos is unmistakably an agricultural community.

Just about everyone who lives in San Marcos or any of the other small towns along the long, dirt road works on a farm. There are several GIANT pineapple plantations in the area, and many of the pineapples grown on these plantations end up in American grocery stores. There are also a good number of small farms that produce crops for local markets and for export.

Statistically, the Northern Zone is one of the most marginalized and impoverished regions of Costa Rica. There are very few opportunities for children to participate in programs or activities outside of the very short school days. Days are long and hot. Kids are usually either at home doing chores after school or hanging out in the streets.

The Project

In the December 2009 grant cycle, Kids to Kids supported an innovative project designed by a Peace Corps Volunteer based in San Marcos de Cutris and a Community Leader from another small town in the Northern Zone. The idea for the project was to bring 100 kids from various communities in the impoverished Northern Zone together for an Arte por la Paz regional conference. With support from Kids to Kids, they hosted the conference in the historic town of La Fortuna, site of the world famous and still active Arenal Volcano (pictured).

Arte por la Paz (Art for Peace) began in March 2003 by a group of artists in Costa Rica. It uses poetry, painting, drawing, singing, theatre and other types of art to promote peace and nonviolence to youth. The goal of Arte por la Paz is to foster creativity and better communication skills in youth in order for them to better address the violence that they experience at home, school and in the community. This is done through various art projects on themes such as domestic violence, anger management, and self-esteem. The regional conference was an opportunity to bring a diverse group of kids together to share what they have learned through participation in Arte por la Paz groups in their own communities!

Quote from the organizing Peace Corps Volunteer, “The project was the first time for most of the children to get out of their community and see a new place.  We chose the location of La Fortuna because it would be a special treat for the kids to be up close to one of Costa Rica's most famous volcanoes. It was a once in a lifetime experience for these 100 kids.”

From the Kids to Kids Program Coordinator

This project is one word: inspiring. There are a couple of things that I love about this Kids to Kids project. First, how cool is it to be able to bring together a group of kids from various underserved and impoverished communities for a kid conference in the shadow of the most famous and still active volcano in the country? None of the kids at the regional conference had ever been to the volcano; the vast majority of them had never even left their small communities!

Second, I LOVE this type of Kids to Kids project that brings together kids from different communities. It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to share, learn, and identify with other kids who may be facing similar challenges or working to solve similar problems.

Finally, being in San Marcos de Cutris, which was one of the communities able to send kids to the conference because of the support of Kids to Kids, I was able to see the impact that the project on kids’ lives firsthand. In particular, there were two OUTSTANDING young girls who participated in the Arte por la Paz Regional Conference and came back inspired to be leaders in San Marcos. They founded a one of a kind recycling program in the community and became passionate and well-spoken advocates for their program. I learned from the girls that they now go house to house in the community collecting recyclables and educating people on why it’s important to recycle and protect the environment. In a community where there has been little environmental consciousness in the past, the youth now collect 15 different types of recyclable materials!!

To see more pictures of Kids to Kids impact in Caribe, become a fan of Kids to Kids on Facebook and visit our photo albums. To support more Kids to Kids projects like these, please make a donation to the Kids to Kids All-Kids Fund here.