Welcome to Costa Rica! Where tropical humid rainforests meet sandy beaches, turquoise river valleys and steaming volcanoes. Offering a plethora of landscapes and biodiversity, there is no wonder why this magical country has gained such high levels of popularity over the years. The impressive high figure of tourists not only brings with it a much appreciated economic inflow but also several adversities which can cause damage to the country. Increased pollution, damage to ecosystems, soil erosion and exerting greater pressure on vulnerable areas are just some of the examples that excess tourism can cause.
As travelers, we need to be educated and made aware of tourism opportunities with minimal environmental impacts/more sustainable options. Furthermore, through gaining an understanding of the destination such as the current environmental and social climate of the country, we can become more conscious travelers who are able to exert monetary or non-monetary assets to assist these projects and efforts which help the future growth of these countries so that not only now in the present we can enjoy and respect Costa Rica’s unique mecca of biodiversity, but also so that the country continues to prosper and further develop to allow future generations to live, work and visit here.
Our team at Ravel was very grateful at the chance to interview Ana Corrales, a Project Coordinator at Fundación Horizontes, a non-profit organization based in Costa Rica. Fundación Horizontes promotes social, environmental and social developments in Costa Rica which simultaneously aims to conserve nature whilst also improving the quality of life of the populations. Some of their initiatives, projects and efforts will be explored throughout this blog, to raise awareness about the different sustainable advances that are currently taking place which support the future growth of Costa Rica. Through reading this article we hope you can gain some insight into some inspiring and powerful efforts and projects that have taken place on Costa Rican soils that are helping the country to develop and grow.
Since its inception in 2009, Fundación Horizontes has achieved several projects which have beneficially impacted communities, societies and aspects of the country as a whole. The organization was founded by Horizontes Nature Tours, who due to their extensive local knowledge and networks in the country have provided quality, tailor-made tours and trips since 1984. Horizontes Nature Tours from its start was referred to by Ana as “visionaries of sustainable tourism” and since the operator already had very strong grounds rooted within the fields of ecotourism and with a big passion to protect the environment and identity of Costa Ricans it is understandable that the seeds of formation for Fundación Horizontes were already viable from the get-go. A larger project in 2015 certainly catalyzed the operations of Fundación Horizontes, whereby a cooperation with Walmart was formed in order to tackle the logistics of recycling over an 18 month duration. This operation entailed all the logistical processes of accounting for, proper disposal and recycling of waste throughout 6 Walmart stores whilst also raising awareness to the communities around the stores and the employees within to educate them about recycling and why this is a necessity. The efforts of this project with the cooperation of Walmart acted as stepping stones onto another project, formed with the main purposes of targeting vulnerable women in communities. The empowerment of women occupies a large area of focus for Fundación Horizontes and we can appreciate some of their previous successful examples of projects and efforts below.
As a result of their project “Women with a Future”, over 1200 women successfully had the chance to get training and develop personal skills that would help them face daily challenges in their personal lives. The specific curriculum taught was developed with attention to detail by psychologists, sociologists, lawyers and business administrative workers, to create a prospect that will help these women develop their softer skills that are crucial for day to day life. According to Ana most of these women “have never had the chance or opportunity to develop these skills due to the poverty they faced and due to lack of education, familial support or even just low self esteem issues”. Throughout the duration of 6 workshops these women would gain skills, value and improvements that they can implement into their working lives. Moreover 300 of these women were also identified and given further training to help them gain knowledge and skills to run a small business. Basic skills in administration, accounting and sustainability can go a long way and following these efforts many women can successfully continue their lives through the means of their own earnings from their businesses.
Ana described “Women with a Future” as the main branch in a tree, whereby these successful workshops and training sessions for women are at the core of their efforts yet further opportunities and projects branch off to solve and help women in other situations. Another “branch” we can examine is the success of the project “Modo Rosa”. Here the foundation collected donations from women all over communities for natural hair which could be made into oncological wigs. With the campaign generating over 2000 hair donations and 400 wigs and the continuation of the project annually for 3 years we can appreciate the successful impact it has had on vulnerable women that are in need of these wigs and due to projects like these they can have access to them. Furthermore through this and the aforementioned project above, communities of women are being brought together, to talk, make connections and learn from one another through sharing of their experiences and stories throughout these workshops. Such interconnectedness and networking possibilities are more important than ever at this time. Through the cooperation that forms between these communities the women can feel empowered and have connections with one another that they can rely on during times of need, it is therefore a success in both sense that these projects not only help solve issues within the communities but they also provide a future network that can be utilized by further generations to come.
What is more, Fundación Horizontes was able to further develop their initiatives in working together with communities through other projects that allowed both the social and environmental aspects of certain areas to develop and prosper. The example given by Ana was a project targeting a community in the South Pacific of the country known as the Osa Peninsula. Known for its authentic nature and wildlife experiences the Peninsula is regularly under threat due to poorer citizens who hunt, cut wood and part take in other illegal activities here, damaging the natural biodiversity of the area. For this reason sustaining this natural paradise plays a strong role here and through the combined efforts of Horizontes Nature Tours and Fundación Horizontes, local people of the area were given the chance to learn, gain education and be trained on how to commercialize small business ideas in this area that were of a touristic nature. In this way the social aspect of the community is developed as the citizens have a means of living through providing touristic opportunities to visitors as an income instead of cutting wood or hunting and the environment is sustained as damaging activities cease and instead the environment is protected to upkeep a steady inflow of visitors that are interested in partaking in these small, locally-ran tours. As Ana referred to it in the interview “every dollar spreads across the community in order to help”, and this aims to capture the idea of sustainable tourism whereby more than one issue is countered whilst tourists are still able to enjoy the destination. Furthermore, through giving to the community, who will upkeep the destination, the destination will be sustained and still viable for future generations of visitors.
Ana raised the point that in order to sustain environments, it is not only about the rivers or trees in the area, but instead the people and communities that need to be taught and made aware of why it is important to care and preserve for the area that surrounds them. From this aspect it is understandable that environmental and social aspects intertwine to some degree and it is difficult to counter one without affecting the other. Fundación Horizontes appreciates and understands that solving or aiding one aspect that is in need, can create ripples like a pebble, indirectly solving other problems and vulnerabilities too in the area. In the case mentioned above, Fundación Horizontes were successful in getting across the message to local communities that there are other methods of survival in their location which can be utilized without the need to damage the environment or destroy where they live.
As mentioned before it is difficult to define the line between what is considered a social and an environmental cause since both affect each other. However another project which had larger interest within the social bounds, was a project targeted at caretakers of children aged 0-7 to teach them and train them with the necessary knowledge needed to understand the importance of rightful upbringing of children. This early stimulation of raising a child correctly was described by Ana as “planting a seed which will hopefully allow the individual to become a better person/ a good citizen” since through correct upbringing the future of the child will be determined and they will be able to pave the way for their own successful future. Educational programs as such are always necessary for communities not only to develop further understanding or knowledge but they are also successful for the growth of Fundación Horizontes as through more and more projects they are able to widen their breadth of knowledge and to whom/ which communities they are able to deliver specialized programs and projects to, to help better them.
Through the launch of crowdfunding campaigns, the money collected from these efforts can be successfully reinvested in several programs and efforts for those that need it. A particular example given by Ana was to focus on the reimbursement of small local businesses in Costa Rica whereby three main areas are particularly targeted through the crowdfunding; training, commercialisation/ marketing of their business and reparations of infrastructure. The invested money is also used to train these small businesses in meeting hygiene, safety and customer service standards further allowing the commercialisation of these small businesses. Their authenticity and originality of being small locally owned businesses in Costa Rica certainly gains a lot of attention and appreciation from travelers, which therefore is successfully showcased by Horizontes Nature Tours, further benefiting these businesses as they can grow from travelers expressing their interest and making purchases. For this reason through crowdfunding, the money that is collected is successfully used for the growth of small businesses that can continue to develop and grow over time. Wanna Help is the name of the crowdfunding campaign, an invitation to show solidarity and to support this cause. https://fundacionhorizontes.org/donations/wannahelp/.
Another successful initiative that is currently taking place is known as the “Good Traveler”, whereby travelers are increasingly sought after to compensate for their travel emissions. Tackling the urgent matter of decarbonising the travel industry, the initiative compensates emissions that are wasted, as travelers pay for the amount they have emitted. Calculating how much carbon has been emitted is to be paid for by the traveler, this amount is then used to create clean energy for different projects from the use of biomass instead of oil. All these processes are verified through the UN therefore certifying the reliability of the carbon being used for clean energy purposes and actual projects. In parallel to this the workers of communities who have their jobs relying within the fossil fuel dependent industry will instead be trained and worked with to allow them to continue having a better quality of life through different occupations that do not rely on the consumptions or processing of these fossil fuels. Appreciating that despite helping the environment in this way, will also impact the social environment is necessary since the human race needs to find an equilibrium between protecting the environment yet also making sure that communities still have a future and an income. Fundación Horizontes combating both issues at once is just the beginning to demonstrate the importance of sustainability and the necessity to be sustainable through different aspects for the future.
When we take into consideration the magnitude of all these previous and upcoming projects it is clear to see that the sustainability of Costa Rica is improving and that through these initiatives the country will continue to grow and prosper not only economically but also environmentally and socially. As conscious travelers we ought to be aware of these issues and problems and the projects or efforts in place that combat them to understand and appreciate what is being done yet also to learn what we could do or change in our actions to help bring about change for future sustainability. By donating money to these causes they can continue to grow and develop, achieving their overall goals of either educating, training or helping communities in vulnerable areas. Through greater involvement initiatives such as taking time to volunteer with these initiatives it is equally powerful as not only would you be donating time to help these causes but it also allows an opportunity for you to learn and better appreciate different aspects of Costa Rica such as the culture, traditions, vulnerabilities, difficulties. Overall, as travelers we need to remain open, respectful and aware of our surroundings. By researching, reading and understanding initiatives in place at countries we want to visit we can remain conscious and take the best actions at hand to be sustainable so not only us but future generations of Costa Ricans and travelers can enjoy the beauties of this magnificent country.
To read more about the different programs and efforts that Fundación Horizontes have achieved, browse through their website to find out more! fundacionhorizontes.org