History of the Peace Corps in Costa Rica
Since 1963, more than 2,200 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Costa Rica in a variety of projects in the areas of health, education, the environment, community development, agriculture, small business development, and youth development. Throughout the program’s existence in Costa Rica, Volunteers have been consistently well received by the Costa Rican people and local counterpart agencies.
The children, youth, and families project was the primary sector of the Peace Corps/Costa Rica program from 1998 through 2002. In 2003, a second project in rural community development began; it focuses on the poorest rural communities in the country. And now in 2005, we are opening a third project in the area of micro-enterprise development to address the needs of a mostly rural population.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Costa Rica
The Peace Corps’ projects in Costa Rica have changed to respond and adapt to the needs and challenges of Costa Rica and its people. Early programming efforts responded to needs in the health and agriculture sectors. In the 1970s and 1980s, the education sector grew in importance, culminating in the Peace Corps’ development of a national curriculum for environmental education. In the mid-1980s, the Peace Corps started small business and housing projects to assist Costa Rica in the creation of employment opportunities and the construction of new housing units. In the 1990s, the Peace Corps’ programming changed to address community education, environmental issues, and the problems of youth at social risk.
The urban youth project started in 1990 to respond to increased migration from rural to urban centers and the subsequent social dislocation and disintegration of youth. In this project, the Peace Corps has worked with the Patronato Naciónal de la Infancia (PANI), a Costa Rican agency that is similar to Child Protective Services in the United States. The relationship between Peace Corps/Costa Rica and PANI has strengthened over the years, and the project has now evolved to address the needs of all at-risk communities, not just urban ones. In addition, the project now works with people of all ages to allow for a more integrated approach to addressing issues that affect young people.
In many respects, Costa Rica has attained impressive levels of social and economic development, manifesting a material progress that, at first glance, compares with the infrastructure and commercial activity of the United States or Europe, especially in the nation’s capital, San José. However, under the surface, growing social ills threaten to diminish the country’s gains in education, democracy, and healthcare. The Peace Corps therefore now focuses on addressing the needs of the populations most vulnerable to poverty, crime, drug abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. It is also working to strengthen the ability of PANI and local communities to serve these populations.
As a result of the success of the children, youth, and families project, the Peace Corps and PANI decided to expand the project in 2002. Currently, more than 30 Volunteers are assigned to this project. The Peace Corps initiated the rural community development (RCD) project in early 2003 to focus on the poorest rural communities. The host country agency for this project is the Directorate National for Community Development (DINADECO). The relationship between Peace Corps and DINADECO has evolved and continues to strengthen. There are approximately 35 Volunteers in the RCD project. The new micro-enterprise development project will add approximately 20 Volunteers to the program.