This month’s edition of El Colectivo 506 began on Nov. 24, 2016. Somewhere around dusk as I sat at my desk in Curridabat, looking out at a light drizzle over the treetops, I gave a brief interview to a BBC reporter who was monitoring the progress of Hurricane Otto, the first hurricane in recorded history to make landfall in Costa Rica.
I remember what I said very clearly: while I gave the caveat that it was far too early in the night for any certainty, I also said that “it looks like Costa Rica may have dodged a bullet.”
As I uttered those words, people in Upala and the surrounding communities were finishing dinner, bathing kids, maybe getting ready for bed. Some of them didn’t make it through the night. I would later find out, mostly from my dear friend and El Colectivo 506 co-founder Pip Kelly—during long and scary exchanges on Messenger and, many months later, when she drove me around her community of Bijagua to see the damage—just how horrific that night was for the residents of Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, when homes and family members were literally ripped away by the rushing waters. I also got to see some of the considerable pains of recovery. I glimpsed some of the lessons learned in terms of infrastructure, preparedness, relief measures, philanthropy, and more.
Our Thursday posts at El Colectivo 506 are themed around the popular hashtag #travelthursday; we use them to highlight places and people off the beaten path in Costa Rica. The reality is that most anywhere you travel in this country, you will visit someplace that has been affected by crises and disasters caused by earthquakes, volcanic activity, or—the most common offender—floods. These events make headlines and spark outpourings of concern, monetary donations, and canned goods. However, both the headlines and the concern disappear much too quickly. For years, Pip and I, and our third co-founder, Mónica Quesada, have discussed the way that what we like to call “slow journalism” might hover over communities like Upala and Bijagua, Cinchona and Parrita, and try to figure out what can be done to lessen the pain and loss.
That’s why we are so proud to present “Watershed,” our seventh edition of El Colectivo 506. Throughout the month of July, Mónica and I will be sharing the work of inaugural members of Network 506, a community of people in Costa Rica who are passionate about solutions journalism: journalism that not only shows what went wrong, but also documents efforts to make a positive change. Katherine Benavides of Upala, Alfonso Gatgens of Sarapiquí, Karina Méndez of Monteverde, and Esteban Calderón of Bahía Ballena will be reporting about their own communities’ experiences with natural disasters, and how residents have come together to try to make a difference. Our frequent collaborator Mayela López will be adding a story about how the unique multicultural fabric of southern Caribbean communities has played a role in improving emergency response.
How did this team get assembled? Mónica is a LEDE Fellow with the Solutions Journalism Network, which has, as a part of her fellowships, provided the support for these Network 506 members’ work. We are deeply honored to be working with them. We’re also thrilled that La Voz de Guanacaste, a leader in Costa Rican solutions journalism, has partnered with us, delivering a workshop for our July team and developing its own stories on this topic.
Wherever you are as you read these words, you’ve surely been thinking about extreme weather in recent days. From droughts to storms to the unbelievable heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, the natural events of the 21st century won’t let up. We believe that, if you take the time to check out the work of Katherine, Karina, Alfonso, Esteban, and Mayela this month, you’ll be as inspired and motivated as we have been. Supporting hard-working local journalists was one of our biggest dreams when we started El Colectivo 506. Thanks to the Solutions Journalism Network and all of our donors and readers, we’re accomplishing that dream this month.
Follow us. Don’t miss their stories. The discoveries they’ve made are critical—because these rains won’t stop.
Photo by Leónidas Vargas showing recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Otto in the canton of Upala, Costa Rica.