URI students explore Costa Rica, live with coffee growers
to learn about international development
KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 20, 2002 -- On their way to a remote coffee farming village in the mountains of Costa Rica, ten students from the University of Rhode Island and their faculty advisor David Abedon struggled for hours to extricate their bus from where it was stuck in deep mud. Four times.
After finally arriving at the village of Ojo de Agua, each student was ushered off to a different family to live as coffee farmers for four days.
Held between semesters in January, the trip was part of an eight-day, hands-on lesson in international development designed to teach students about families whose livelihoods are dependent on coffee. The trip left a lasting impression on the students.
"My experiences with the campesino families have dramatically changed my life," said Bruce Dancause, a junior from Warwick who has gone on the trip three times. "The true importance of this trip is to learn about life itself. It showed me what is important in life and made me question everything I do and have ever done."
Abedon has taken interested students to Costa Rica every January since 1997, some earning college credit while others participating simply for the experience. They begin by traveling around the country to learn about its geography, history and culture while focusing on developing an understanding of the coffee industry, from the growers to the cooperatives to the markets.
"Its experiential learning that bridges cultural and geographic and economic gaps to understand other people," explained Abedon, an adjunct professor of community planning at URI who resides in Warwick. "It puts a face on what theyve been studying in the classroom. You can read about income levels and gross national product and infant mortality, but when youre in the community and with the people, it leaps off the page and gains human dimension. Its dramatic."
Most of the students werent sure what to expect when they left, and many were nervous about living with a family, especially the students who dont speak Spanish.
"My house had the town phone, which meant that everyone from the town was at my house sometime during the week," said Jessica Zelt, a freshman from Reisterstown, Md. "The 10-year-old brother, Bryan, knew a good amount of English, which was very helpful considering I knew no Spanish. My family and I communicated mostly through Bryans school books and hand gestures."
During the four days spent with the local families, the URI students did whatever the families did, from picking coffee and fishing to tending farm animals. The students also gave the residents a one-day English lesson and helped install a cement floor in the village community center.
"I learned how truly lucky we Americans are to have so many luxuries that we sometimes take for granted," said Matthew Papino, a junior from Cranston. "My eyes were really opened, and now I have a different perspective when I think about the people and cultures of Central and South America."
Other students participating this year were Melissa Barroso of North Providence, Leah Brittingham of New Milford, Ct., Aydin Candas of Narragansett, Katherine Cannon of Melrose, Mass., Katy Fox of Stamford, Ct., Brian Johnson of Cranston, and Mary Ellen Lynch of Holyoke, Mass. A total of 85 students have participated since the program began.
The trip is an outgrowth of Coffee Kids, a community-based non-profit organization Abedon and colleagues founded to help coffee farmers earn more money from their crop. Coffee Kids supports a wide variety of initiatives in coffee farming communities in Central America, from clean water and micro-lending to immunizations and building schools. Abedon says Coffee Kids is a model for teaching about international development.
For Information: David Abedon 401-874-4655, Todd McLeish 401-874-7892