A Current Truth
As America braced herself for the inauguration this past week, we started the first of the new school year at Girl’s For Success. Five of our oldest girls graduated in December starting along a new path to middle school, creating space for five new young ladies to join our incredible team. When I look at children, especially young girls here in Costa Rica what always strikes me is the duality they contain of innocence vs experience. Innocence of course, because they are 8 year -old girls who love to play, sing, and create. Experience, because life here is less sheltered, often harsh, and sometimes short. Imagine letting your 8-year-old leave for a half hour ride into the jungle on the worst road you can imagine, every day to attend classes with a virtual stranger (me!) Then, imagine that most of the children in our program help care for even younger siblings and spend significant time without supervision. In a time of paranoia and control, these are freedoms and burdens most North American parents would never bestow upon their children. This isn’t a blog decrying the parents of Costa Rica, simply pointing out the differences between life in the first and third (yes, Costa Rica is not all club med-style resorts) world. Our girls have to go through a bit more just to make it to class everyday than most North American children do in a week.
So when I think about what is true for me, or what I would allow for my own daughter, I could never quite imagine her having to go through what many of these children do on a daily basis. Sadly, I am not sure if raising girl in North America will become more difficult than raising a girl in the jungle given the current rhetoric and lack of respect for women from our current administration. What I do know is the TRUTH much like politics, is never that simple.
Truths about Life in Costa Rica
Lets talk about life here. All of our students come from rural, jungle settings on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. While the country is known for its beaches and bio-diversity, there is a genuine lack of resources as far as; education and public health are concerned. We live in the providence of Limon, and although Limón province ranks third in overall poverty statistics, Talamanca (the county we live in) ranks as one of the poorest counties in the country, with a significant portion of its mainly indigenous population of nearly 26,000 residents having spotty access to potable water, electricity, and roads.
Access to education in our providence is also an issue, and is the one, which Peace Through Yoga chose to tackle. Compared to the national average of a 44% graduation from high school, those in our area average about 22%*. So our mission to educated and empowers girls, is a hope to help advance the education initiative of the region.
Costa Rica is still a conservative country. While the largest religion in the country is Catholicism, in Talamanca the population is majority Evangelical. This particular branch of Evangelical Christianity subscribes fervently to staunch branch of patriarchal dogma. (Think women and girls cannot wear pants, sing, or cut their hair…) As a modern American woman when I read the above sentence I am instantly appalled at the idea of such control over personal freedoms. Its hard to believe that in 2017 in a place where most tourists don’t even bother to learn the native Spanish because the area is so accommodating to globe-trotting- tourists, that there are still churches just like the one in Footloose!
My TRUTH is the best Truth (and other lies we tell ourselves)
This is where the issues of truth and reality come into play. While my inclination, and perhaps your inclination might be to want to come in and right this particular wrong let’s take a step back. When one arrives in a community, one is not simply looking at the customs and traditions of those she is living amongst but the history, and linage of the area. While this religion might be considered oppressive and archaic to some, this is the reality of the lives of students at Girls for Success. Instead of trying to change their reality into mine, or gasp— my reality into theirs; there must be compromise and perhaps a meeting somewhere near the middle. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world.” Education, and lasting change, can both take a long time. So we are starting small and strong with undeniable truths, a lot of love, and oceans of compassion.
Yesterday Stephanie Pow, a community health specialist, visited and talked to the girls about well-being, growing up, and positive body image. While nothing radical was discussed, this was an honest conversation about who we are as women and girls, loving our bodies, and treating one another with respect. Health, particularly female health, can be considered taboo both at home and abroad. For that reason I am proud to be a part of starting an open, honest, and age-appropriate dialogue with our girls. Knowledge is power, as we know, and no better way to become empowered than through knowledge of the SELF. The girls were engaged and hungry to hear more about who they are and how they will change in the next few years. In a world where children will learn about sexuality and violence in one way or another, I find it best to be direct, be scientific, to be warm, and to be accepting.
While I don’t believe one should ever compromise her morals and subscribe to the misogynist, the oppressor, or the bully; I do feel that there are moments when we need to look beyond ourselves into the reality of a situation. Perhaps then, the work that can be done is to change the things we cannot accept and accept what we can as we work to bring the change we need. I believe the precept from the zen tradition that, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” It is a combination of our peaceful resistance and compassion that will ultimately bring about lasting change both here in the jungle and in a world that so badly needs a light in our current moment of darkness.