San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Philanthropy

Reflective band project aims to save pedestrians’ lives in Costa Rica

When a couple from Boston moved to Guanacaste a couple of years ago, they went for a drive at night and were shocked by the danger of pedestrians walking on the road in the dark — in places with no sidewalks, no streetlights and no shoulders.

“We were here not even a week, and Eli said, ‘This is crazy, there are no streetlights and there are no sidewalks and we’re going to hit someone,’” Debbie Raisner Thompson recalled her husband saying. “‘Why aren’t people wearing something so we can see them?’”

An idea was born to start a charitable drive to blanket their community north of Tamarindo with reflective wrist and ankle bands to enable motorists to see pedestrians at night. After much experimentation, networking and fundraising, they have now made about 3,000 reflective bands and distributed perhaps 800. Their goal is to make 10,000 of them before they leave the country in July, and they’ve launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign in an effort to raise the money they need.

One of the wristbands, photographed without a flash.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

The same wristband lights up when photographed with a flash.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

Costa Rica’s Traffic Police reported last December that of 356 traffic deaths between January and November, 63 were of pedestrians. And authorities have reported in the past that pedestrian fatalities are the third most common cause of traffic deaths, three times as common as drunk-driving fatalities.

“It gets dark here by 6:30 p.m. every night of the year and it’s very hard to see what’s ahead,” Debbie and Eli wrote on their Indiegogo page. “The roads are narrow, have no sidewalks, and rarely have any streetlights. Nevertheless, the road is the only place to walk. Jungle on both sides or fear of snakes in the brush keeps everyone on the road.”

Debbie formerly practiced law and now publishes a small business magazine, while Eli does a type of bodywork called structural integration and teaches workshops for physical therapists. They and their three children live in Potrero and are focused, as a starting point, on providing the safety bands to some 3,000 residents in surrounding towns, including Flamingo, Brasilito, Huacas, Villareal and Matapalo.

To launch their project, Debbie and Eli approached Laetitia Deweer of CEPIA (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents), a nonprofit that provides assistance to poor children in Guanacaste. Deweer referred them to four women with sewing skills, and with Velcro and reflective tape from the U.S., they went to work.

The women are paid by the piece and can make 16 to 20 bands an hour, providing them with earnings to feed their families.

The seamstresses who make the reflective safety bands: Ana, Olga, Ayuda and Thais.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

“They’re so happy,” Debbie said. “Watch the video on our website where one woman got all choked up. She explained that she felt so good sitting there sewing these bands. It’s her favorite project because she knows she could be saving the life of someone in our community.”

In the video, a seamstress named Thais says in Spanish, “It’s exciting to me, because with each one of them, we could possibly save a life. … I am very, very moved and very grateful to you because I have work and I can help others to have fewer accidents.”

The bands are given away to community members for free. This was the original idea, but Debbie said they were told that people wouldn’t value them if they were free. For a while they wanted to create microbusinesses where people could sell them for ₡1,000 and give ₡500 back to the women’s cooperative that was making them.

Some of the reflective bands on display.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

The same display photographed in the dark with a flash.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

“People did not buy them,” Debbie said. “We gave them to supers [convenience stores], we made signs, we told the supers they could keep half. We go back to check and everybody wants them but doesn’t want to spend a mil.”

Realizing they weren’t going to change people’s minds, they just started giving them away — leaving batches of 50 at a time in stores, hanging them up at bus stops and returning a half hour later to find them gone.

Debbie hopes some of the major hotels and businesses in the area will agree to buy the bands for all their employees who walk on the streets when they travel to and from work. And she plans to approach area churches and ask priests if they will promote the safety devices during their services and hand them out to parishioners.

 “It would be ideal if a business or individual could back us going forward,” Debbie said. If they are able to produce 10,000 bands, the cost will be about $1 to $1.20 each. Costs include raw materials, shipping costs, labor, printing, marketing and distribution.

Debbie said time is of the essence because the Indiegogo campaign expires in less than two weeks. She asks people to remember that every dollar contributed will allow the project to create one band, and each band could save a life.

A man named Keith, who lost his left leg when hit by a car and now wears a prosthetic leg, has been highly supportive of the project.

(Courtesy of Project Reflective Bands)

“I’m hoping to get this fully funded in the next two weeks,” she said. “And I don’t like asking people for money.”

“The hope is that by making a money-making opportunity for women in this area, it could self-perpetuate,” Eli said. “It would be really nice if this project grew a life of its own,” meaning spread to other areas.

Eli and Debbie came to Costa Rica looking for a new perspective on life and wanting their three kids to learn Spanish, Eli said. They planned to stay a year but decided to stretch it to two.

“We realized we weren’t done, and the reflective bands were part of it,” Debbie said. “I want to see this through to the end.”

To learn more about the project or to make a contribution, click on https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/costa-rica-women-s-collaborative-saving-lives#/.

 

Contact Karl Kahler at kkahler@ticotimes.net

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Hilda Huntress

I would like to start this program in Nicaragua. I live in Arizona and daughter & family moved there last year. I too noticed this dangerous situation that could easily be effective with these bands. Do you need my email or is there a Facebook page?
Thanks for caring!!
In Friendship,
Hilda Huntress

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Karl Kahler

Hilda, you can write Debbie Raisner Thompson at draisner@yahoo.com. She writes: “This is great. Can you reply to her and give her my email? It sure would be great to start this in Nica. The sister city of my town is there in Jinotega. We visited last Dec and I reached out to the organizers of the Sister City about bringing it to Nica as well. Thanks for sending this along.” – Karl

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Randy Adcock

Wearing light colored clothes would help also.

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Ken Morris

It would also save lives if everyone wore bullet proof vests every time they went out, since that would cut down on the number of gun homicide victims (higher than the number of pedestrian victims), but nobody seriously proposes this. Why don’t they?

I’m pretty sure that among the reasons is that people would be furious about expecting potential victims to have to take protective precautions against murderers, since in their opinion the emphasis ought to be on stopping the murderers rather than expecting the potential victims to protect themselves.

Same thing with these reflective bands. Only a motor vehicle infatuated people could imagine that the solution to pedestrians being run over is having the pedestrians better protect themselves.

So about 3.5 million pedestrians are going to wear reflective bands in order for about 1 million to drive on an infrastructure built or them but not the majority?

What’s next, asking us all to wear bullet proof vests to cut down on the murder rate?

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