San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Remote Library Named after Beloved Guide

LOS PLANES, Sierpe de Osa – The classroom walls glowed with a fresh coat of bluegreen paint and new latticework trim. Three hours before the guests were due, volunteers were still nailing palm fronds to the front of the schoolhouse, festooning the doorway with balloons and cutting vases from bamboo to hold bright heliconia blooms.

The event earlier this month at this tworoom school on the remote OsaPeninsula, in the Southern Zone, was at once celebration and somber memorial. A new school library was dedicated to the memory of Priscilla Zamora, a young Costa Rican naturalist and guide who had read to students and organized donations of books to La Escuela Curime de Los Planes de Sierpe de Osa last year.Zamora, 25, disappeared Feb. 10 while diving near Malpelo Island, a national park some 500 miles off the coast of Colombia, where she was helping to inventory marine life (TT, Feb. 17). Her body was never recovered.

Nancy Aitken, founder and director of Proyecto Campanario, a private biological reserve on the OsaPeninsula, conceived the idea of naming the new school library after Zamora. The deceased scientist, a biology graduate from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), had been a guide at Campanario in 2004 and 2005. When she wasn’t leading visiting college students on hikes through the tropical rain forest, Zamora had sought donations of books and instructional materials for schools in the area.

Some red tape had to be worked through before the naming of the library could occur. Aitken consulted with the school’s director, Eugenio Mora, who in turn sought permission from the school’s board of directors.

Permission also was required from the Ministry of Public Education. The library itself required plenty of work. During the month preceding the dedication, students and volunteers from the community painted the walls, washed and waxed the floors and disposed of refuse.

Mora explained it is difficult to teach his 26 primary students and 12 kindergarteners without computers, photocopy machines and other equipment those at urban schools might take for granted. At Los Planes, there are not even enough desks for every student.

The library, he said, is essential to helping his students understand the larger world. On Aug. 5, the larger world came to them.

Zamora’s parents and sister traveled from Heredia, north of San José, for the ceremony.

It was their first trip to the OsaPeninsula. Two college professors from the United States, whose students had been guided by Zamora at Campanario, made the long journey to attend the dedication. A visiting group of students from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, participants in a two-week ecological tour of Costa Rica, brought gifts of books for the library.

The village of Los Planes, located five kilometers up a deeply rutted road from Bahia Drake on the Pacific Ocean, is carved from the rain forest, and wild nature is never far away.

 As members of the community began to file into the school for the noon ceremony, a raucous commotion erupted overhead. Six scarlet macaws flew over the school and perched in the high limbs of a nearby guaba tree. Then, as if on cue, thunder shattered the silence and the skies opened. The pounding rain drowned out the school director’s welcoming comments to the assembled audience of 80 adults and children.

Professor Kelly Bringhurst, of Dixie State College in Utah, recalled Zamora’s love of learning, nature and life.

“She would put a leaf cutter ant on her arms,” he said. “She would climb into hollow trees to look at the bats. She was fearless.” Ana Cecelia Hernández, a retired UCR professor affiliated with the Lewis and ClarkCollege program, read a letter and poem composed by her husband, poet Claudio Monge, after the Oregon students’ 2005 trip to Campanario.

“To this day I still think about her and her family and the great loss,”Monge wrote. As the ceremony progressed, boxes of books and other educational materials piled up along the wall. Until last year, the school had no supplies. Now the walls display posters of the human body, of the solar system, of parts of fruits, of phases of the moon, and more.

In the new library, three bookcases are full.

“A library costs a lot,” the school’s director said. “It needs a lot of supplies. They are expensive. There is material here that costs a lot of money.”

“I want you to enjoy the books,” Lewis and ClarkCollege professor Charles “Kip” Ault told the school’s students. “It’s really important to preserve the nature that Priscilla loved and taught about.”

Zamora’s mother, moved to tears by the event, asked the children and their parents to respect and use this gift they had been given. “She loved this place,” Flor Trejos said.

“She studied so much and prepared so much to teach you about nature. For her birthday,  she asked for pens, for books to bring here for you. She was courageous. She was a person who researched, who worked and who died doing what she loved best. She loved you so much. Look at what she brought you.”

“The seeds Priscilla planted are now growing,” said her father, José Zamora. “The most beautiful thing is to be able to give. Children are the future of Costa Rica.”

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