Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty in Costa Rica
For the last fifteen years, our Costa Rican Program has been working with community daycares to improve the lives of children and single mothers. In Costa Rica, approximately 31% of the population are single mothers. More than 12% of primary school children drop out of the education system entirely due to not having the support they need at home. Daycares are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty that often exists in single parent households, by providing a safe and education-focused space for children. The daycare structure also helps support their families in their everyday efforts to earn a living wage. Unfortunately, these facilities are often under-resourced and underfunded, straining to provide the basic attention and education to the children that attend everyday.
Daycares are run by women in the community who allow working mothers to drop their children off to their home before they go to work. Since the program began, CCS has provided over 1,700 volunteers to serve in daycares to help break the cycle of poverty in these communities. Costa Rican daycares were part of a strategy implemented by the government to provide opportunities to single mothers. Mothers are able to give their children to someone that they trust, allowing them to work to provide for their children. “CCS maintains goals of supporting children and women. Through the community daycares, volunteers are able to accomplish these goals. Our volunteers implement the government’s curriculum to make sure that the children have a well-rounded education while giving mothers the opportunity to work. One long-term goal is to support the children with educational exercises so they are better prepared for elementary school system--competitive and prepared,” stated Jose Hernández-Ugalde, Costa Rica Country President.
Major Hood, a Math teacher from the United States Military Academy led a group of Army cadets to participate in this incredible service experience, and help break the cycle of poverty in Costa Rican Daycares. We had the opportunity to reflect with Major Hood and see what her experience was like.
What was your experience like volunteering at the daycares?
Volunteering at the daycare was both challenging and rewarding. It really afforded an opportunity to learn more about the culture of the area as I got to know the children. For me personally, I learned a lot about how to effectively communicate with children, especially with a language barrier. I think everybody likes the idea of being a volunteer but it’s not until you are on the ground doing it that you learn how it is not necessarily easy and you need to be creative and have patience to provide a meaningful impact.
What did you think of the daycare curriculum?
CCS has several incentives they are trying to push to include a focus on health and dental hygiene. For the most part, we as volunteers worked with each other to develop a plan for the daycare and would adjust accordingly to what worked and didn’t.
Did you see the need for volunteers at the daycares?
There is definitely a need for volunteers at the daycare. These children come from underprivileged backgrounds where they do not necessarily get all the attention and affection that they need at home. There is usually about 10 children from the ages 1-7 and it is too much work for the Tias to provide all the individual care that they deserve. It is such an important time in their development where they need to develop confidence in themselves and learn the fundamentals to provide a base for their education. Sometimes our volunteer time was the only time the children received any individual interaction.
Do you think the kids appreciated you?
The kids appreciated our work at the daycares and it was especially noticeable once we built a trust with the children. There was an initial adjustment period where we had to develop a bond with the children. Once that bond was made, the children really opened up and we were able to learn a lot about their background and culture. The children come from underprivileged backgrounds and for them to get one on one attention from us was extremely meaningful for them. I remember one day we brought an Atlas to the daycare which sparked a lot of interests in the children about what the world is like outside of Cartago and Costa Rica and it was extremely rewarding to see this curiosity. They wanted to know where we were from, what we do, our families, etc. They were just as interested in us as we were in them.
How do you think the Tias were impacted by you?
The job of the Tias is daunting, to say the least. Volunteering for four hours in the morning was exhausting for us and I can’t imagine how the tias are able to run the daycares all day. Many of them have been running these Daycares for many years with children coming in and out of the programs. In fact some of the mothers that brought their children to the Daycare were originally children in the daycare of our Tia when they were a child. When we first arrived we had to develop a trust with the Tias. They were expecting us to be more than just a Daycare service but also be educators to the children. It was an interesting experience building this trust since we both had a language barrier to overcome. Once we were able to build the trust I think the impact we had with them was very important. They relied on us to not only help take care of the children but also develop them by teaching them basic English, motor skills, math, manners, and physical activities.
How did you bond as a team by volunteering at the daycares?
Every day after our volunteer work we would return to the home station absolutely exhausted. I have a whole new appreciation for pre-school teachers! Since we worked in groups of two we would immediately tell stories of our experiences to each other. Usually we would exchange some good stories of something funny one of the children said or did. Then we would usually start discussing how we were able to teach the children something new or how they remembered something we taught them a day prior. We were able to exchange ideas with each other on what worked and didn’t work at the daycare to help develop our programs. Volunteering at the daycares cannot possibly be done as an individual and we relied heavily on each other which made it truly a memorable bonding experience.
How did you like your experience with CCS as a group leader overall?
It was a great experience! I think I most enjoyed seeing the students I was with initially struggle and then develop over the 3 weeks. They have never been put into a situation like this and I could see them grow through the struggles and challenges they faced. I also enjoyed seeing their appreciation for other cultures and their inspiration for traveling and seeing the world grow.
Cross-Cultural Solutions will continue to grow and expand the daycare program to help address the needs that exist in these communities. “We are constantly learning and growing. We are working to develop women’s empowerment programs with the mothers so they can strengthen their skills and learn new ones so that they can establish financial independence to better support their children,” said Juvel Ugalde Hidalgo, Program Coordinator in Costa Rica. “Volunteers become part of an incredible chain of making a difference. They get a great sense of pride and satisfaction upon completion of the program. They are addressing the needs of this community, and making a meaningful difference.”