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The Carbonera School and Community

The Carbonera School is located on the Osa Peninsula on the southwestern tip of Costa Rica near the famed Corcovado National Park. The Osa Peninsula has always been considered the most rural and least developed region in Costa Rica; there is no electrical, water or sewage system and a single primitive road winds through the area. The rugged, mountainous terrain has in the past isolated people from one another, resulting in little sense of community.

In January 1991, however, John and Karen Lewis (the owners of Lapa Rios), brought together a group of neighbors to discuss the idea of opening up a school. At the time, most neighbors had never met each other nor had known that they shared a common ideal of educating their children. Most families were illiterate and were unaccustomed to the idea of their children attending school. This meeting was the start to the building of Carbonera School and the developing of the surrounding community.

When Lapa Rios was built, most families in the Carbonera area lived on small farms in simple huts with dirt floors. Very few had running water and even fewer had electricity. Mostly tenant farmers or squatters, the majority survived off of the food they raised, including beans and corn. Using slash and burn techniques, these farmers depleted much of the rainforest for their own personal survival. To earn spending money for essentials, the men worked as laborers, stooped under the hot tropical sun with machetes in hand, clearing grass and brush for large-tract land owners preparing fields for rice or pulp trees. Very few local people in the Carbonera area respected and understood the rich biodiversity of the region and the opportunity that conservation offers.

Education about the Osa’s unique qualities has come from the perspective of outsiders who continually open the minds of the local people. Environmental education has begun on a simple scale. Children will benefit from both formal and environmental education as will the community as a whole. The school’s very existence stands as a testament to the challenge of change and the courage it takes to do something about the present. Change, at all levels in all cultures, takes courage.

Some of the local people worked very hard on the actual building of the infrastructure and beginning support systems. Others have been bystanders, waiting for the school to happen. This community is no different than any other in the world—some will work diligently to realize a dream, others will be on the outside watching. Those who have organized the board of education, have worked on the collecting of funds and construction materials and involved themselves in construction are the people who want to see the Carbonera School a reality.

Carbonera School opened on March 1, 1993 and still operates today. The children are hard working and tough: many boys have machete scars from years of work in the fields. The girls clean, cook and do laundry by hand from an early age. Although their new school shoes are dirty with mud from the long walks, they still attend school. Some even walk through the forest for over an hour to get to school. Education is a gift both for these children and the community.

The future of the Osa Peninsula, the largest tract of lowland tropical rainforest remaining in Central America, depends largely on the actions of people living within its borders. Unfortunately, while conservation is the goal of the Costa Rican government, deforestation still remains a serious problem because government officials are often unable to enforce their policies. Many local subsistence farmers still believe that their only optioin for income is to clear more land for cash crops while others see clearing land for cattle farming as idea. With access to education, however, the local people can learn alternatives to their previous lifestyle (much of which was destructive to this rare and beautiful forest) and come to understand that a forest left standing is more valuable than one cut down.  

If you would like to share in the ongoing building of the Carbonera School, make your tax deductible contributions (marked "Carbonera School") to:

Asociacion de Educacion de Escuela Carbonera
USA "Mail Drop" Box 025216-SJO 706
Miami, FL 33102-5216
Telephone 011 (506) 2735-5130
Fax 011 (506) 2735-5179
Email: sustainable@laparios.com

Carbonera School Journal