A lot is happening in Guanacaste as a result of our recent earthquake. We’ve had over a thousand aftershocks and although they are mild in comparison to the 7.6 whopper, it’s uneasy knowing the ground continues to shift under our feet. But even as the earth rumbles, people have already begun repairing their homes and businesses.
Although there were few injuries, there has been considerable damage to many buildings. Yesterday I went to the Santa Cruz municipality to pay my taxes only to find they were closed due to earthquake damage. It appears that everyone is struggling with finding a new sense of normalcy.
I recently spoke with my friend Randy Toltz who informed me that the Brasilito elementary school is closed due to structural damage. The temporary school is now located under an open, concrete pavilion. It will take months before an engineer will be able to inspect the damage and decide if the school can be repaired or, if needed, torn down. Unfortunately, there is much damage across the country and it’s been a struggle to get an engineer to come sooner. There is no telling when these children will be able to go back to a conventional classroom.
Today I decided to visit the temporary school and see for myself what these children are facing. The building is a large structure with fencing around the top of the walls. This leaves the inside of the building, and the children, open to the rain and mosquitos. Upon walking inside, I notice desks curved around a white board not far from a pile of sheet metal, rebar, and roofing supplies.
I introduce myself to the teacher who is kind enough to explain the many obstacles she is up against. She sent the children outside a couple hours ago due to the paint fumes that fill the humid air like a thick fog. She points to the files on her desk and the towering pile of debris on the floor. She is working in difficult conditions, but a smile never leaves her face as she explains her challenges. This teacher does not complain, but perhaps it’s because she has no one to complain to. I’ve noticed this quality in many Costa Rican people, an optimistic attitude in the face of crushing adversity.
Although she smiles, I can see the stress and deep circles under her eyes. Keeping children attentive in the classroom is hard enough, but under these circumstances it must be exceptionally demanding. She wants to help these children but who is helping her? How can a teacher keep a student excited about arithmetic when rain is leaking through the roof?
I look out the back door and see the children playing. A dark cloud creeps across the sky and moments later the rain follows. The teacher calls them back inside where the girls swiftly grab jump ropes and try to squeeze in a few more moments out of this unexpected recess. The boys gather together, jumping over trash and rough housing with each other in a far corner.
Living in Costa Rica has opened my eyes to many things. Today I witness a teacher who is doing her best at keeping her students motivated after one of the strongest earthquakes on record in Costa Rica. She does it with the grace that is so often found in the finest of teachers.
I say goodbye and watch her call her students back to their desks. She yells above the din of construction workers welding the tin roof above and men pushing squeaky wheelbarrows full of broken concrete past the children. Eventually, the students settle down and pull out their text books.
In the middle of all the mess, the teacher dabs traces of sweat from her forehead, smiles at her class, and writes a math problem on the whiteboard. She too is struggling to find a new sense of normalcy.
Randy is the Costa Rica representative for Global Connection International, a registered 501 charity that is collecting donations for The Brasilito School—Earthquake Repair/Relief Effort. They are first making repairs to the pavilion so the children have a safe place to learn and will then tackle the construction on the damaged school.
Please check out his Facebook page for more information on how to help. https://www.facebook.com/TheBrasilitoSchool