Indigenous Leaders Hope to Build Culture Center

June 2, 2006

For many of Costa Rica’s indigenous people living in remote areas, getting to the nearest town requires an all-day trek, and reaching San José for access to universities, hospitals and government offices is difficult to impossible.

With visions of bridging this distance between remote indigenous communities and the rest of Costa Rica, the Foundation for the Social and Cultural Development of Costa Rican Indigenous Ethnicities (FUNDEICO) hopes to build an indigenous cultural and development center on the Quitirrisí reserve in Puriscal, a mountain town about 30 kilometers southwest of San José.

FUNDEICO has been working with indigenous populations since 1989, mainly by donating medicine, clothes, toys and other items, said the organization’s president Carlos Chaverri.

The idea for the center came from a desire to create something more formal and permanent, he said. “We want to recuperate some indigenous control in Costa Rica and contribute to social development.”

Many young indigenous people do not study beyond primary school, Chaverri said, and this lack of education means less development for these communities, many of which have less access to health care and education than the rest of Costa Rica (TT, Oct 14, 2005).

The 256-square-meter center would serve many purposes, Chaverri said. A lodge would provide a place where indigenous people who need to travel to San José from remote areas could stay overnight before making their way home. It would also provide space for 80 students to live while they attend university in San José.

“We want this (center) to be a factory of indigenous professionals where they can seek help and support,” said Chaverri, of Guaymí ancestry.

Vocational training workshops in artistry, sewing and other trades would also be available to help people gain income-generating skills.

The center wouldn’t be only for those who belong to Costa Rica’s eight indigenous groups, the Cabécar, Bribrí, Brunca, Guaymí, Chorotega, Huetar, Maleku and Térraba, who live in 296 communities within the country’s 24 indigenous territories.

Another goal is to make their cultures more accessible to Ticos and foreign tourists, explained Pablo Hernández, who lives on the Quitirrisí reserve and has worked to raise funds for the project. A souvenir shop, museum and library with information about Costa Rica’s indigenous cultures and history would be open to the publics.

“People from all over the world come to visit Costa Rica’s beaches, and they should be able to get to know its native cultures too,” Hernández said, adding that exporting indigenous art outside Costa Rica is another possibility.

With a little economic support, projects like this could be very successful, he said. “There are many indigenous youth who want to study or work, but they can’t. Indians aren’t dumb, they just haven’t had the resources to get ahead.”

Hernández, 35, commutes from Quitirrisí to the computer store where he works in Desamparados, south of San José.

FUNDEICO, a nonprofit organization, has so far raised $70,000 of the $250,000 needed for the project, according to Chaverri.

The Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) donated ¢12 million ($23,715) toward construction, and the First Nations of North America, a privately funded umbrella organization of U.S. and Canadian indigenous groups, bought the 3,800-square-meter land for the center (TT, April 28). A member of that organization, Timothy Panek, has agreed to pay for the installation of electricity and water services.

The organization hopes to begin construction in October, but $180,000 still must be raised.

FUNDEICO has also solicited donations from the Japanese Embassy and other organizations, and is awaiting their responses, Chaverri said.

 

How to Help

 

In addition to soliciting funds from public and private institutions, the Foundation for the Social and Cultural Development of Costa Rican Indigenous Ethnicities (FUNDEICO) is asking for help from individual donors.

For information or to contribute, call FUNDEICO at 241-7187 or 364-5658 or visit www.fundeico.com.

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