There are many international volunteer organizations that offer volunteer abroad programs spanning the globe. One country that is guaranteed to be apart of these organizations selections is Costa Rica. Why is Volunteering in Costa Rica so popular? The reasons are many, but the most popular include its relative safety and the country's distinct geography and landscape. No one can doubt that Costa Rica is a beautiful country with just about all you can ask for with its volcanoes, pristine beaches, mountains, lakes and wildlife. Additionally, Costa Rica is one of the most developed countries in Latin America. It is, for example, the country where Intel produces it microprocessors, a country that leads the international tables in Coffee and Banana exports and the country that has the most stable government in a troubled region. So for such a comparatively developed nation, why does it attract so many volunteers?
We believe the reason is three-fold:
- The country is seen as a safe haven for travelers and volunteers who are new to Latin America. It is perceived as a place where one can familiarize them with Latino culture in relative safety and take Spanish language lessons, a needed skill for further travel on the continent.
- Costa Rica has numerous attractions such as: Montverde's cloud rain forest; Lake Arenal and its live volcano; Tortuguero and its turtles; A number of national parks and reserves; Abundant wildlife from north to south; And to top it all, it is a water lovers dream with numerous beaches and great surfing breaks.
- The country still struggles with funding for its acclaimed educational system, especially in rural areas. Thus, there are numerous schools and communities willing and eager to have the assistance of international volunteers who can contribute to their development.
Costa Rica certainly needs volunteers when you consider the shape of its educational system with respect to the western world. Volunteers may have their own unique reasons for taking a project in Costa Rica, but this disparity in education seems a sufficient incentive to do so. Things we take for granted such as adequate classrooms, water availability, footballs, structured and disciplined classes and even teachers themselves are not available to all schools.
Historically, Costa Rica had one of the best educational systems in the region. However, the structural adjustments program the nation underwent in the 70's is blamed for the budget cuts to public education. Quote from "The Ticos':
In 1978, 6.2 percent of the GDP was spent on schooling; in 1992, only 2.7 percent. In the same years the school systems share of the central government budget dropped from 31 percent to 18 percent. Even thinner. The population grew by more than 29 percent in the 80s, but per capita spending on public education declined by 35 percent "
As a result fewer new schools have been built and existing schools have not received the appropriate funds to be maintained effectively and repaired when required. Teaching materials are in short supply, and many teachers in rural areas have to buy material out of their own pockets. Consequently, parents have had to financially contribute to the schools of their children. Unfortunately, many parents in rural areas do not have the funds to support them and so the gap between rural schools and middle class public schools continues to widen.
Families in rural areas continuously hold fundraising events within their communities to raise extra money for their schools. In addition, many new teachers prefer to apply for positions in the better equipped and well-funded schools and neighborhoods. As a result, rural schools are left with few teachers, if they have teachers at all. In some rural schools it's not uncommon to have one teacher instruct all the grades of the school. Typically, teachers are even required to work in two or more separate schools from neighboring villages and towns.
In Costa Rica, even in the metropolis of San Jose, the countryside and rural areas are only a few kilometers away. As a result, rural schools are doted all over the country. It is in these schools where international volunteers in Costa Rica are primarily needed to extremely work and donate their time.
In conclusion, Costa Rica is a great destination and has a great need for international volunteer teachers. Unfortunately, the country's ruling bodies have neglected to promote this form of tourism and instead have opted to promote its pristine beaches, national parks and wildlife as the main reason for visiting Costa Rica. Neverheless, for international volunteer these are just additional benefits of volunteering in Costa Rica – the icing on the cake that makes Costa Rica an even greater location to volunteer.