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Sunday, September 26, 2021

‘We must take advantage of Costa Rica’s young talent’

Lilliam Nieto Vega
Lilliam Nieto Vega es estudiante de la carrera de Enseñanza del Inglés en la Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, cursó la secundaria en el Liceo Finca Alajuela. Apasionado por los voluntariados y servicios comunales, vive en Bahía Chal, Osa, Puntarenas. Ha participado en diferentes grupos juveniles comunales como el Proyecto ARBORETUM Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez,  y en grupos juveniles comunitarios. / Lilliam Nieto Vega is studying to become an English Teacher at the National University of Costa Rica, she attended high school at the Finca Alajuela. Passionate about volunteering and community services, she lives in Bahía Chal, Osa, Puntarenas. She has participated in different community youth groups such as the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez ARBORETUM Project, and in community youth groups.

The Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum, on the Osa Peninsula, is a place to dream. I have been dreaming here since my childhood, and I plan to continue.

It has many trees of all sizes and families, and plants that are endemic to the area, with ethnobotanical uses. It also has a large number of birds, which visitors can spot with a little luck and a good ear.

But the Arboretum is not only fauna and flora. It’s also the place that unites three towns in pursuit of a common dream—a dream that for a long time seemed distant. It represents the union between communities that seek the active participation of their inhabitants in the conservation and sustainable development of the area. It is a Museum of Living Trees, for scientific and recreational purposes. It is also a family: a family that loves to get together to learn new things every day and meet new people, but above all, to help that family grow.

The idea of ​​creating the Arboretum came to my community, Bahía Chal, in 2012, thanks to Juan José Jiménez Espinoza, an official of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). He was looking for a community interested in supporting the creation of an arboretum, and eventually taking over its administration. Juan José’s biggest surprise was that there was not only one interested community but three, and that the most interested residents were children and young people.

Neighbors from Bahía Chal, Alto San Juan and San Juan de Sierpe participate in the first class of a six-month training to learn how to monitor the flora and fauna of the Luis Jorge Poveda Alvarez Arboretum. Mayela López/El Colectivo 506

Why were we so interested? In my case, I remember that ever since I started school, it was very normal to receive visits from the Neotrópica Foundation every week. Their staff came to talk to us about environmental problems and what we could do to avoid them. They also spoke to us about biodiversity and our impact as children on the environment. It was very common for us to talk about these issues with our teacher and organize environmental activities at school. I think this stuck with me as a child and made me deeply interested in caring for the environment.

My first participation in the Arboretum was on the first anniversary of the project. I was in sixth grade; along with the other schools in the participating communities, we created a band with instruments made from recycled materials. There were about 15 children playing buckets of paint without any apparent rhythm, but with great motivation! The warmth of the project, my desire to learn, and the support of many people along the way were reasons for an 11-year-old girl to get interested in a project that seemed like a distant possibility.

When I started getting involved, I believed that it was not so strange for such a young girl to be interested in these topics. However, as I got older, it became normal to hear things like, “You are very young. You don’t know anything yet. You shouldn’t want to participate in something like this.” At times I came to think it was true; I was still a girl who played with dolls. What would I know about conservation? Little by little, and thanks to the people who encouraged me to continue, I realized that although I was very young I could do something, and that I had to find a way to show others that being young does not limit my abilities.

Today, I’m 19 years old. Thanks to all the words of encouragement I’ve received, I am part of the Board of Directors and a co-founder of the Asociación Somos Arboretum, created in 2020 to support the project, and in charge of some of the groups that make up this project.

Jeaustin Duran, 19; Lilliam Nieto, 18; Erlin Chaves, 35, and María Cristina Jiménez, 51, (left to right) are members of the association made up of residents of the communities of Bahía Chal, Alto San Juan and San Juan de Sierpe. Mayela López/El Colectivo 506

I hope that the Arboretum can grow, not only as a project but also as a family. To finally be able to create a place where people can relax and forget all the problems they have to face on a day-to-day basis. A place where children and young people can come to clear their minds after a week full of schoolwork. A place where young people can turn if they need to do a project for their college or university. The best thing about the place is that you can share it with your family and decide what you want to do, be it a walk along the Camíbar path to observe birds and plants, or a tour of the path towards the La Machaca stream, an option for the more adventurous. Any time of day is ideal to visit the Arboretum; every minute may surprise you. You just have to be attentive to the signals it gives you.

I dream of an Arboretum Children’s Group and the consolidation of the Arboretum Biological Monitoring Group, an initiative that brings together neighbors to learn about our local species and help protect them. But above all, I dream of a place where everyone has the opportunity to learn and increase their knowledge—for example, through a Botanical Research Laboratory.

I believe that in a world that progresses so fast, where technology takes over more of our lives every day, it is essential for children and young people to participate in projects like these—not only in order to reduce their technological activities and connect with nature, but also so that they understand  the planetary problems they face due to our exaggerated consumerism. Where they can decide if they want to be part of the change, and how to do it.

Both are important, and neither should be prioritized above the other. With a suitable project, with adequate training, but especially with a group that wants to do it, you can have both in one.

As human beings, we learned to fight for what we want and need without looking at the consequences of our actions, because we believe that it is the easy way. We do not think about the repercussions that this path will have. Clearly, if we start to prefer people over the environment, total disaster will result. Since many of us are used to consuming the resources we think we need, this will seriously affect the way of life of the next generations, leaving them with less and less resources to use.

So what can we do?

We must think about the collective welfare. We must stop thinking selfishly. We must find a way to help all living beings, including animals and plants.

And we must take advantage of the young talent that we have in Costa Rica. It is not enough to just say, “There are young people who want to participate.” We need you to support us, to believe in us, and above all, not to limit our ability.

To the young people who read these words, I can only say that if you like something, you should participate. Don’t let yourself be defeated by people who say, “You’re too young.” There will always be people who will not believe in our capabilities as human beings, but it is our decision whether to listen to them, or show them that we can.

Learn more about the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum here. Thank you to the extraordinary Lilliam Nieto for this column, part of our ongoing Young Writers space, which showcases the perspectives of children, adolescents and young adults on what is happening in their communities. Are you a young writer, or an educator or community leader who works with youth, who would like to be informed about topics of interest for future issues? Join our Educación 506 group by contacting Katherine, [email protected], or messaging us at 8506-1506.

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