San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Indigenous Cultural Center Opens in Caribbean

Members of the Cabécar indigenous group used to wade or take a boat across the ZentRiver on their way home from the Caribbean banana town of Zent, near the port city of Limón. Now, not only do they have a sturdy, professionally engineered hanging bridge to speed up their travels, but also a cultural education center that overlooks the river.

The recently inaugurated center, an open air, thatched-roof rancho, is a gathering place for members of neighboring Cabécar communities such as Pozo Azul and Palmera.

Women frequent it to make and sell handicrafts to visitors to the area, who come to take dips in the river, hold picnics and camp in the dry season.

Both additions were constructed as initiatives of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, a nonprofit social assistance organization, students and staff from CountryDay School in the western suburb of Escazú and concerned private parties. Local indigenous people and hired workers helped with construction and the Dutch Embassy in San José financed the projects to the tune of $25,000, while CountryDay School pitched in with funds collected through school activities, according to Gail Nystrom, executive director of the humanitarian foundation.

During the center’s inauguration last month, attended by Country Day students, staff, activity coordinator Nystrom, and area residents, members of the women’s group who create the handicrafts spoke before the crowd that filled the rancho, in Cabécar and Spanish, of the benefits of their assistance.

“Here we are, living excellently, because groups come from outside to visit us,” women’s group coordinator María Cristina Segura said.

Segura told The Tico Times that the bridge, called Puente de las Culturas (Bridge of Cultures), also brought significant improvements to their lives after it opened in May.

“We used to cross through the water; the men would swim but the women had to wait until the current wasn’t as strong,” she said.

The Humanitarian Foundation visits the site approximately every month, and Country Day joins in every other month, according to Nystrom. Others are welcome to go along. The groups’ next visit is scheduled for Nov. 18.

During the last trip, visitors purchased an assortment of handicrafts, including animal figurines made of tree bark, stringed seed necklaces and mobiles. Some of the artwork was purchased in bulk, to be sold in San José for no profit.

Cabécar crafts can be purchased in San José at CountryDay School, Galería Namu indigenous art store in downtown San José, or by calling Nystrom at 390-4192.

Now that the bridge and center are completed, Nystrom, who first started her humanitarian work in the area almost a decade ago, is collecting another $25,000 to build the indigenous reserve’s first clinic as her next project in the area.

Nystrom is working alongside the Social Security System (Caja) and expects the clinic, which would serve approximately 400 families in the area, should be up and running by the end of next year.

For more information on the Humanitarian Foundation or its activities, call Nystrom at the number above or e-mail her at


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