MCC Fellowship Costa Rica: Finding a Balance

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In 1994, John Elkington, founder of the British consultancy SustainAbility, argued that companies should formulate three different bottom lines; what he called “The Triple Bottom Line.” The first one is Profit, and is based on the traditional measure of corporate profit. The second is the People Account, which it shows how socially responsible an organization has been all through its operations. The last one, the Planet, measures how environmentally responsible a company or an organization has been[1]. This concept have been use not only for the measurement of a company’s responsibilities, but also in many schools across the world to show students the importance of having (and sharing) social/environmental consciousness.

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During the Costa Rica Experience class at MCC, our professor, Mike Cermak, methodically educated us about these three essential principles. For every class he taught, he made sure to incorporate each of them for our fully understanding and assimilation. For a period of two weeks, I, along with nine students and two advisers, were blessed with the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica to experience the triple bottom line, first hand. Although, it was particularly challenging for me to find a balance between profit and social account because we mostly worked with the environmental protection and edification. However, once I started feeling more familiarized with the culture, I was able to connect the dots to my career as well as my future plans.

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On May 30th, our Costa Rica’s journey started. We checked-in at the comfy Boutique Hotel Casa Las Orquideas in the hot city San Jose. After our early-dinner (one room-temperature salmon filet with mashed potatoes, salad, and a cup of juice), we decided to explore the town. From the moment we took two cabs, I realized that Costa Rica’s fares are more expensive than the United States. One way on a 7-passengers’ minivan cost ₡2,000 Colones[2] per person; which it was $4 dollars per the seven of us who took the taxi. No wonder why Costa Rica’s economy overall score has increased by 0.3 point from last year[3], if one of their main sources of money have been coming from tourists. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, Costa Rica’s economic development has focused on orienting the economy to the global marketplace. “Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment in Latin America, and the government’s limited economic presence has facilitated a business environment based on tourism, agriculture, and technology” (Heritage.org). However, when it came to comparing prices, the first social-place we visited demonstrated the opposite.

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El Pueblo (The Town) is an open-spaced mall surrounded by restaurants and multiple –cheap– bars from which one can easily have access; most of them, without a door fee. We arrived there around 8pm, trusting ourselves that it would have been a fair time to start our night. Every employee looked at each other’s with questions all over their expressions. It was more than obvious that we were one of their first customers, if not their only one at that time. Despite of our lack of information about the place, we wondered around the plaza and found a few very interesting places. For instance, we stopped at a tea-and-sweets shop whose owner was from France. He was telling us how he fell in love with Costa Rica, just as much as he did with his Moroccan wife (who was in the US). The French entrepreneur was very friendly and open to any question, as if he was a native of the country; he even gave us free samples of his Moroccan sweets and tea.  He was as polite as the other locals at El Pueblo. Next, we ate at a near little pizza place, where we met another friendly shop owner. The prices were affordable: ₡1500 for a very large slice of pizza with a soda; although, we opted to buy two large ones instead. We also went to two different bars and bought some “Chiliguaro” shots for ₡500 each –that was only a dollar each!

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Our night was going great. However, when the clock marked 11 pm, the environment was starting to feel unsafe due to the stampede of locals and some other tourists whom were arriving.  According to Heritage.org, “Corruption is lower than elsewhere in the region, and Costa Rica has avoided the infiltration of its state institutions by organized crime, but drug-related activity has increased in the past two years as Mexican cartels move into Central America.” Sometimes, these information can create some type of misconception and assumptions about a country/place. For that reason and for the way many of the new people were looking at my peers, I kept my eyes open until we decided to leave, just about 10 minutes after.

Fun Fact – My experience at El Pueblo reminds me of The Night Journey; a poem written by Rupert Brooke:

Hands and lit faces eddy to a line;

The dazed last minutes click; the clamour dies.

Beyond the great-swung arc o’ the roof, divine,

Night, smoky-scarv’d, with thousand coloured eyes

Glares the imperious mystery of the way.

Thirsty for dark, you feel the long-limbed train

Throb, stretch, thrill motion, slide, pull out and sway,

Strain for the far, pause, draw to strength again.…

As a man, caught by some great hour, will rise,

Slow-limbed, to meet the light or find his love;

And, breathing long, with staring sightless eyes,

Hands out, head back, agape and silent, move

Sure as a flood, smooth as a vast wind blowing;

And, gathering power and purpose as he goes,

Unstumbling, unreluctant, strong, unknowing,

Borne by a will not his, that lifts, that grows,

Sweep out to darkness, triumphing in his goal,

Out of the fire, out of the little room.…

—There is an end appointed, O my soul!

Crimson and green the signals burn; the gloom

Is hung with steam’s far-blowing livid streamers.

Lost into God, as lights in light, we fly,

Grown one with will, end-drunken huddled dreamers.

The white lights roar. The sounds of the world die.

And lips and laughter are forgotten things.

Speed sharpens; grows. Into the night, and on,

The strength and splendour of our purpose swings.

The lamps fade; and the stars. We are alone.

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As the days went by, we visited La Paz Waterfalls Gardens; a magical and ecological paradise where we had our first encounter with nature. As we were exploring the amazing place, one of our tour-guides was telling us the owner have been rescuing exotic animals[4] from people who hunt or buy them for pleasure. Although La Paz only have 5 waterfalls, it was totally worthy to see them all. This place was a perfect example of their proudly 5% of earth’s biodiversity, which is a density that is unmatched anywhere else in the world[5].

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Another day that we had the opportunity to work with the environment occurred at the national park La Libertad. That was our first community service; which it made me feel like one of the locals instead of another tourist at CR. We worked with the reforestation of one section of the national park; place where it used to be a cement fabric few years ago. We planted trees, removed bad ones, collected dirt…even one of my friends was bitten by a bug! Two of the workers there were making fun at him, by saying that it was a scorpion; but they were so friendly and funny. Both of them came from Nicaragua. “Most of us are from there,” one of them told me. Which it surprised me once I talked with one of the female workers; she told me that Nicaraguan women are the one in those type of positions. That was contradicting one of our learnings; one of the three bottom lines: social responsibility. I knew the kind Nicaraguan lady could be bias, who wouldn’t be? Yet, I wanted to know more about this “discovery” of mine.

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According to the Tico Times[6], “In 2013, 287,766 Nicaraguans lived in Costa Rica, according to the Immigration Administration… Several sources…estimated that there could be many more Nicaraguans living and working in Costa Rica without residency or work permits, bringing the actual population to between 350,000 and 400,000.” In our class we learned about how Costa Rican women are very independent and hard workers. However, according to Envio.org[7], “Thousands of middle-class Costa Rican women entered the new job markets, largely thanks to the presence of thousands of Nicaraguan women who took over the work they had previously done in their homes.” The article claims that in Costa Rica, just as other countries with immigrants, “migrant workers take the worst-paying, riskiest and least-skilled jobs, even though many of them have more skills than are required by the labor market in which they participate.” The Nicaraguan lady was no mistaken.

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As our journey was coming to its end, I was a little sad that we didn’t have any community service based on the community itself. For instance, I wanted to work with some schools, and equally important, with women of strength. My career is moving towards that direction. It is my passion. Working with women from all over the world, showing them that they would be whatever they want to be as long as they continue to work hard and keep believing in themselves, is one of my goals… and I wanted to have a balance like that in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, I know that in the future, thanks to our experiences and our reflections, we will success for the better learning experience of our future students.

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References:

[1] The Economist Newspaper Limited 2015. http://www.economist.com/node/14301663

[2] Named after Christopher Columbus

[3] 2015 Index of Economic Freedom. Heritage. http://www.heritage.org/index/country/costarica

[4] Over 100 species according to their website.

[5] Anywhere Costa Rica. http://www.anywherecostarica.com/flora-fauna

[6] Nicaraguan migrants don’t follow other Central Americans to US, choosing Costa Rica instead. ZACH DYER AUGUST 27, 2014. http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/08/27/nicaraguan-migrants-dont-follow-other-central-americans-to-us-choosing-costa-rica-instead

[7] Nicaragua’s Indispensable Migrants and Costa Rica’s Unconscionable New Law. Envio.org. http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/3253

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