GOLFITO, Puntarenas – Three yearsafter the brutal murder of U.S. college studentShannon Martin in this jungle porttown on the Golfo Dulce, in the SouthernZone, 48 students graduated from theEnglish center founded in her name.Her mother, Jeanette Stauffer, spentthe years after her daughter’s death dividingher time between helping prosecutorspursue the killers and drumming up fundsfor the English center, which she foundedin an attempt to open the doors of opportunityfor residents of the impoverishedport town (TT, Feb. 20)Nineteen students of the Coast GuardAcademy, where the center is located, oneCoast Guard instructor and 28 members ofthe community graduated last week fromlevel one of the school’s AmericanLanguage Course.ROWS of navy-uniformed CoastGuard officers broken up by plain-clothedcommunity members attended a grandceremony of assorted activities. It was anevent of gracious speeches, a demonstrationby the Academy’s Tae Kwon Do students,a folk dance performance and acomic skit written and performed inEnglish by students of the center, followedby a dinner attended by Stauffer,who traveled from the United States forthe event.“My daughter’s spirit has guided me togive back to the community she loved,”Stauffer said in her address. “The sixmonths she spent here were some of themost special in her life. I look out and seepeople so beautiful – you’re the kind ofpeople you want to see succeed.”English teacher Sara Hoskins may beable to lead the students to that success.Like Martin, she attended the Universityof Kansas; she is a longtime resident ofGolfito and holds a Master’s degree ineducation administration.BRANCHING from the curriculum ofthe American Language Course, sheencourages practical application of Englishboth in and out of the classroom. Threetimes every week, she said, her studentsmust speak with a native speaker, watchTV or listen to music in English, then writeabout the experience.“BEING able to teach at this centerhas been very special for me,” she said.“Since I knew Shannon, it makes mehappy to be a part of such a positive wayto share the memory of her.”One of those among the graduatingclass, Arnoldo Arias, 19, appreciates thetime his teacher dedicates to them.“When I began I didn’t understandmuch, but now I can distinguish somephrases and I speak more,” he said.Marisol Ferreto, 25, also among the firstgroup to graduate, said “Sara gives us confidenceand helps us express ourselves.”THE English courses are free and donot require applicants to have a high schooldiploma – unlike free government-sponsored English courses. So thewaiting list is long.Some, like Ferreto, who is a secretaryfor a finance company, cannot afford topay for courses at private schools.“Learning another language is superimportant,” she said. “It creates a circlewhere everyone is going to learn – I teachit to my brothers, they teach it to ourcousins, and so on.”The idea for the center sprung fromconversations between Stauffer and thedirector of the Academy, MarioBarrientos. He said he believes Golfito isthe up-and-coming jewel of tourism inthe country and employers will seekEnglish-speaking residents to staff theirhotels and travel agencies.“WE joined forces for a single goal:the teaching of English to the communityand the Coast Guard,” he said. TheAcademy provides a space for the Englishcenter while the Shannon Lucile MartinFoundation pays for materials and thesalary of its teacher.One of the graduation’s distinguishedguests was Costa Rican Coast GuardDirector Claudio Pacheco, who praisedStauffer’s efforts from behind the podiumand from behind his dinner plate later thatevening.“It’s impressive how out of a verytragic moment something good hasarisen,” he said. “Instead of being sour orbitter, (Stauffer) created somethingworthwhile and good for the country.Who would have thought somebody fromTopeka, Kansas, would have such animpact on Golfito?”THE Shannon Lucile MartinFoundation is a non-profit organizationestablished in memory of the 23-year-oldstudent who was stabbed to death at nightwhile in Golfito completing research for astudy-abroad project in 2001.Two of the three Costa Rican suspectswho stood trial for the killing were foundguilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.Kattia Cruz and Luis Alberto Castro werealso fined a symbolic $1 each in civil damages(TT, Nov. 21, 28, 2003).A third suspect, Rafael Zumbado, wasabsolved of charges because of lack of evidenceagainst him.FOR more info, visit the foundation’sWeb site at www.shannonlmartin.org, firstname.lastname@example.org.