The front of the bus.. my preferred spot where the thrill of jam-packed traffic and close calls is nonstop!! It is at this point that in perspective there really isn’t all that much to be mad about when it comes to traffic on I-25 in Colorado and I will take that with me when I get home. For now, my head is on swivel and I can’t get enough of the sights and sounds of this busy, bustling capital city. In the safety of the city bus bursting with passengers operated by very skilled drivers, I find myself able to laugh nervously at close calls, honking horns (which are the norm), and motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. San Jose, Costa Rica is always in “go” mode and it appears most citizens are unfazed. I suppose this makes sense when one looks in as an outsider. What does that mean? From what perspective? As a citizen of the United States? A Black woman with a Mexican accent (it never occurred to me)? A social worker? A tourist? Interestingly, if you ask a resident of the city they would tell you they are fazed. But only once they look up from their phones. I guess many things are the same from one place to another, technology is a welcome distraction and unintended barrier to sharing perspectives one to another.
To start, we took a tour of the city of San Jose. The guide pointed out the home of the president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis. He lives in a place we may consider garden style apartments, not an elaborate home at all nor a heavy military presence since there isn’t a Costa Rican armed forces but there are armed guards. All throughout San Jose and its various suburbs the homes are painted in bright and vivid colors, with a backdrop of lush greenery and exotic flowers of every color you imagined and others you did not. The front doors are behind gates and/or locked garages. There are beautiful murals, artwork and sculpture nearly everywhere you look; on walls, garages, signs, and buildings. I gave myself whiplash! Amongst some of these works is graffiti scrawled such as; poesia, sexo, amor y libertad (poetry, sex, love, and liberty). In some of the poorest neighborhoods that we toured were homeless men and women laying on the sidewalk underneath the art and ordinate gates. At this point it occurs to me that Costa Rica is a reflection of life in the United States, and I imagine many countries around the world.
The Costa Rican Language Academy (CRLA) went above and beyond in arranging visits to numerous agencies involving the populations that social workers serve: the impoverished families and children, refugees, immigrants, trafficked men, women, and children for sex and labor. We visited a golden citizens (elderly) home and met with an elementary school’s support team. I think a fabulous idea for many of these forgotten patients is to link them with children such as those at the school we visited- Escolar Granadilla.
We also attended a presentation of the National Children’s Board or Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (similar to our Department of Human Services) where we had an opportunity to discus and relate common social work themes like service and social justice, frameworks such as adoption, and more. However, rather than compare and contrast the processes, systems, rules in Costa Rica to our way of doing things in the United States – I found myself looking hard at what my place in these systems and roles would look like? Not just in Costa Rica, but home in Colorado and in the States as a whole. Our professional motives are all the same- defending the vulnerable and oppressed, protecting the orphan and widow, working within the system even as we go without resources, manpower, or an extra 10 hours in the day. Social work in Costa Rica is largely mirrored in the States when the roles and goals are the same, and compassionate hearts believe they can change the world that is right in front of us. La Carpio is a large multi-cultural and mostly immigrant settlement of the poorest citizens in San Jose, and an example of those who not deserve to be categorized for their economic status. As my first confrontation of the image of shantytown-like poverty, I left inspired by the citizens and activists of that neighborhood who would not sit in a stereotype. I left seeing myself in that fight for resources, knocking on doors and encouraging the community to love itself. I saw myself in that reflection of community and I liked what I saw- a social worker who believes that change inspires hope which inspires change. I was reminded and encouraged that we can change our world.