Before the pandemic, I was focused on providing food and academic support to people in Barrio Reina de Los Ángeles, in Hatillo 1. [“Los Hatillos,” identified by number, are a system of housing projects in southern San José.] I have a food-and-study center for kids at risk, and a project for their moms where I try to help them create a business plan. They can help figure out their mission and vision for the product and service, and create strategic objectives that allow them to promote their brand whether or not they can read, write, have access to technology.
Now, everything is more virtual. I provide academic support and I’m focusing a bit more on mothers and how they can maximize their product or service. I’ve managed to give academic help virtually to at-risk kids through University Community Service, where students from different majors engage in service. They are helping these kids online to do their schoolwork.
[My recommendation for others doing this work] is, first, to define your objectives and target audience — in my case, women and children. Then, create a team of people who can join your cause and offer their ideas and knowledge.
There are so many requirements I’ve tried to meet to do everything right, and it’s frustrating to know that there isn’t support for children’s dining halls, or comedores, in Costa Rica. I’d like to tell the authorities that while all their dining halls closed their doors during the pandemic, we kept working. How can you shut down nutrition centers when they are needed the most? I’d like to give more food to the children’s mothers, to their little brothers and sisters, but [authorities] would come and shut me down if I served too many people. So what’s more important, COVID or hunger? There is hunger in Costa Rica, and the world needs to know.
My biggest frustration is not having resources to open the center for more days, and not having enough food to give the children’s mothers and younger siblings. I would just love to have a kitchen like the ones they have in the public schools. I brought in my own stove from home [to prepare food for the kids]. I have to improve my infrastructure, because if I don’t, the Municipality will shut me down: I have to give virtual tutoring on a second floor, and they ask me to put in an elevator. They ask me for classrooms. They ask for lots of things, but there’s no budget for it.
The centers that have their permits, that the Mixed Institute for Social Aid pays, are closed on weekends. The schools are closed, and they’ve cut their budgets for art, music, sports. So what can a child do who’s born in this community? What’s their landscape, their neighborhood? Drug dealers. Garbage.
These children in Hatillo are beautiful, intelligent — well, they’re incredible. Imagine if they had the opportunity for a good education. I think Costa Rica has to work harder on this, because the educational gap is astonishing. The reflection of what we are living through [right now] is a consequence of the lack of importance we have assigned to education.