My name is Erica Hogan, and I am the co-founder of the Finca Bellavista tree-house community in the south Pacific coastal region of Costa Rica.
Over the years, FBV has developed a reputation as being a great place for people to have a unique and laid-back travel experience. People that want to get off the beaten tourist track and enjoy getting close to nature have found their sanctuary amongst the canopy giants in this slice of Costa Rican rainforest paradise.
Often times, the people that find their way here are quite different than your Average Joe tourist. They are obviously adventurous and usually resolute, but most of all, really want to be involved in what FBV is and what it will become. Regardless of where our visitors come from – the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, or the U.S. – they are the types of people that want to contribute energy or knowledge from their backgrounds and make a change in the world.
When I found out about the Pack for a Purpose program (wedged somewhere in a travel magazine a few months ago), a little bell went off in my head. In 2012, we created a non-profit branch of our community, The Bellavista Initiative, to begin the process of manifesting regional conservation goals. Education and working with locals has become the focus of most of our starter programs. Though we are starting off with small outreach projects (like English classes and school supply programs), we are stretched thin financially and struggle with finding ways to support our goals.
PfaP seemed like a perfect match to support some of our initiatives, since we have a relatively small hosting capacity at the Finca and the regional schools are small. Our current heads in beds capacity is less than 40 people. I realized that if only 5% of visitors were to bring school supplies of some sort, it would greatly impact the small school in the neighboring village of La Florida de Piedras Blancas, which currently has less than 30 students. During harvest season, the student body can easily double with no additional support for operations.
We joined PfaP at the end of April this year, and we’ve had over 200 pounds of supplies donated by our visitors so far. Obviously, this response very much exceeded our expectations! We are now in the process of assessing how we’ll be able to distribute fairly to schools in other neighboring villages, while meeting the needs here close by.
Because we are getting a fair amount of craft supplies and jewelry-making items (like beads and hemp string), we are creating a little offshoot program, which will be fun to experiment with. Our volunteers are going to go down to the school every so often and host ‘crafternoons’. After guiding the kids through making their own necklace, bracelet or key ring, we’ll ask them to make an extra one (and add a local shell or seed) that we can gift to the donors that bring school supplies through PfaP. Assuming we’ll eventually get a build-up of these trinkets, we can start selling them in the Finca Bellavista office to visitors, which will raise funds for the school to make technology upgrades or other investments that obviously can’t be brought in a suitcase. I think this element, in and of itself, will teach the kids so much about responsibility and managing a small business and its finances. In an area that is limited in economic and educational opportunities, this might be a really important element in sculpting what their futures could be.