What does local outreach look like at Peninsula Papagayo? Here are two recent examples: Four Seasons guests in town to support youth literacy through book donations to local schools; and a long-time resident member with a history of giving back — dedicated to putting healthy food on the table while creating a brighter future for local families.
By Francesca Poddie | August 31, 2021 | Guanacaste
Creciendo Juntos

Building Bridges Through Books

Local schools in Guardia, Comunidad and Paso Tempisque recently received a very special visit from Four Seasons guests Benjamin Sweeney and his mom Deborah. They were there to donate books collected by the non-profit Ben founded while in his junior year of high school, Books Build Bridges. We had the pleasure to speak to them and learn more about their project.

What made you passionate about books, and why did you decide your charity would be focused on book donations for underprivileged children?

Ben: “When I was younger, my grandmother would pick me up from school, and she always had an abundance of books in the back of the car. I started volunteering at the Guadalupe Community Center in Los Angeles, tutoring kids from elementary and middle school in math and reading. I was struck by the impact reading had; how much it lit up their imaginations. After a while, I started collecting and donating my own books. Eventually, the idea developed into a non-profit.”

Deborah: “We found that needs often overlap. Requests for food donations are sometimes accompanied by requests for books. People are charitable, and if they can support two or more needs at the same time, they are more than happy to help.”

What have been the most rewarding experiences so far through your work on Books Build Bridges?

Ben: “I felt like it all came together today. Reading with the kids at the Guadalupe Center was also really special, seeing the students’ passions is really what sparked this.”

Deborah: “We took a leap in coming here, building these connections, learning about the community and its children. Understanding the significance of the work Creciendo Juntos does here, it was a visceral wow for us, something we’ll take home and share.”

Ben: “I’m looking forward to going into my senior year of high school, and then off to college, to study business and economics. I’m confident I will find like-minded people, and whatever business endeavor I get into will be socially mindful.”

Deborah: “The schools expressed the specific needs they have regarding technology, and the ABCMouse program the kids are using to learn English. So, challenge accepted! Bridges will continue to be built, finding connections between givers in the US and worthy causes in Costa Rica.”

“Even though we may all come from different spheres, you can find those connections, involve yourself, take a leap.” – Benjamin Sweeney

More than just food on the table

It was last November that Tim Braheem, a long-time homeowner at the peninsula, first learned about a new Creciendo Juntos-led sustainable farming initiative to help at-risk families grow their own vegetables at home. The big idea, explained by Executive Director Elsa Bonilla, was intriguing: not only could this new food supply provide essential nutrition, but it was also a business opportunity for local families. They could sell the excess production to improve their individual and collective wellbeing.

Led by Ronald Pizarro from Elsa’s team, the innovative home garden initiative was developed in partnership with Costa Rica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. With vital startup funding from the Scheinberg Relief Fund, 75 at-risk families in neighboring Paso Tempisque, Palmira, Comunidad, Guardia, and El Triunfo were invited to participate in the project’s initial trial. Families in the program received aid for planting and irrigation materials, along with training in sustainable farming best practices. The drip irrigation technique, combined with fertigation, uses 45% less pesticides, allowing local families to grow high quality onion, tomato, chili, cucumber, cabbage, zucchini for the first time. Until now, these vegetables have only been available in the Central Valley.

After seven months of hard work, 53 families ultimately stayed with the program, sowing over 5,000 linear meters of beds. The home gardens are currently in their third stage of execution, in which the families have begun to harvest for their own consumption and market the surplus. Select produce will go to our hotels for the farm-to-table menus.

As word of the program’s success spread, more and more local families began reaching out to Creciendo Juntos. 63 new families signed up, wanting to be part of it. The only problem: Elsa now needed to find more money to make it happen.

“When I reached out to find out how we could help, the priority was loud and clear: ‘Food,’ Elsa told me, ‘kids and families need to eat!’ We were thankful for the opportunity to support such a worthwhile project.” – Tim Braheem

Thanks to generous financial donations from Tim and his friends, these new families will soon have healthy food on the table and an exciting business opportunity in the hopper.

The home garden initiative attracted national attention in July following a visit by the Costa Rican President and First Lady. Recognized as an important agricultural project of national interest, other NGOs are now following suit, introducing the program in other communities with support from Creciendo Juntos.

While some families in the program are bound to return to the tourism sector, Elsa believes over half will continue working their home gardens as the primary source of income. “Many feel they have found their life work,” Elsa said recently.

Creciendo Juntos’ ongoing efforts to help improve the wellbeing of residents in neighboring communities are made possible by financial donations from the master developer of Peninsula Papagayo, the Peninsula Papagayo Resort Community Master Association, resident members and guests, and a team of extremely hardworking and dedicated volunteers. Click here to find out more and get involved.