For all Peace Corps Volunteers (well technically “trainees”), Site Assignment Day is a big deal.
Site Assignment Day is a special day two months into PST (Pre-Service Training) where program teams assign volunteers their:
- Peace Corps site for the next 2 years
- The main project they’ll be working on
- The local partner / counterpart they’ll be working with (generally the person who requested the Peace Corps Volunteer)
In case you’re not familiar with the 27-month Peace Corps commitment, it’s:
- 3 months of Pre-Service Training (usually in the country’s capital)
- 24 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in assigned site
On April 22, 2016, I received my assignment:
- Site: Fila Naranjo, Coto Brus, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
- Partner: Ana Cedy Montero, President of the women’s group: Asociación de Mujeres Productoras de Fila Naranjo
- Project: Development of a Rural Tourism Site
Who is my counterpart, Ana Cedy Montero?
Ana Cedy Montero is a passionate, driven woman that has big dreams of turning a medium-sized farm into a rural tourism site. She works as a cocinera (cook) at a local high school during the week and on the weekend, supports her husband selling livestock (pigs, cows, chickens) all while trying to manage the local women’s group. More than anything, she wants to see the women in her community work together to create sustainable projects that provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.
What is my project, the Rural Tourism Site?
7 years ago, the women’s group purchased an undeveloped piece of land with the dream of turning it into a rural tourism site. Over the past few years, they have installed a small water slide, a kitchen, a somewhat dangerous mud slide, a bathroom, a greenhouse, and a small pineapple farm. Additionally they have planted various vegetables, fruits, and herbs on the land.
Hiking Paths & Pineapple Plants
Los Senderos y Plantas de Piña
The (dangerous) Mud Slide and Water Slide
El Tobogán de Barro y El Tobogán de Agua
Nestled slightly below the rest of the Fila Naranjo community, this farm has potential to be a relaxing vacation destination. No sounds can be heard except a river in the distance and the incredible array of birds that inhabit this area of the country. Since being here, this farm has become my go-to spot when I need time to read, write, and escape the chaos of my host family’s house.
But although this site has immense potential to be a rural tourism site in Costa Rica, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Let’s take a look…
- Offers guests the opportunity to see an authentic side of Costa Rica
- A secluded, calm place to “escape” the fast-paced way of life
- Guests have the opportunity to hike, relax, work, and learn about agriculture
- The people in the community are kind and welcoming
- A perfect place for bird watching
- Summer season offers limited to no rain (December – April)
Weaknesses / Areas for Improvement:
- Distance from San Jose (7-8 hours by bus)
- Difficult to get to (paved and unpaved roads)
- No one in the community speaks English
- Lack of online presence / marketing / technical skills
- Does not offer overnight lodging
- Rains daily during winter season (May – November)
As you can see, there are a lot of strengths, but also a lot of big challenges. But with a greater understanding of where the strengths and weaknesses lie, the women’s group can begin implementing projects and plans that mitigate the shortcomings and amplify their assets.
So where do I, the Peace Corps Volunteer come in?
- Help the group set small, attainable goals
- Guide the group with organization in short and long term planning
- Find a “grab” for their tourism site – why should people visit the farm?
- Teach marketing skills and increase rural tourism knowledge
- Assist with developing an online presence
- Increase Smartphone skills for marketing
- The goal is to help the women develop their Smartphone skills because there are no computers or WiFi in Fila Naranjo or surrounding communities. Using their own tools of technology will maintain sustainability for this project.
This is a project with many areas of need but also a project with many areas of potential. When I first got to Fila Naranjo, my head was swamped with big project ideas of international rural and eco-tourism. But as I mature in my Peace Corps experience, like a firm, ripe guayaba that turns soft and wrinkled, I realize that these two years are all about the baby steps.
So with a year and 3 months of my service left, I hope to help this group of women realize the importance of having an online presence for their project and help them develop the technical skills to run and maintain online marketing materials on their own.
One of the biggest challenges I think many PCVs face, and I have definitely faced, is trying get the people we work with to see the potential that we see and want it for themselves. Change can be big and scary but oh-so-essential for growth and progress.
With a little push and a shove, a little love and tenderness, I’m confident that in 15 months we as a group can bring this rural tourism site online and more importantly, have a group of women who are trained in marketing and social media.
Tengo fe! (I have faith!)