University of Calgary

Calgary Serves

April 26, 2011

Calgary Serves program returns to Costa Rica

By Erin Kaipainen

Students travelled to Chira Island, Costa Rica as part of the Calgary Serves program in 2010. Photo credit: Kristen ElliottStudents travelled to Chira Island, Costa Rica as part of the Calgary Serves program in 2010. Photo credit: Kristen ElliottFor many communities in the developing world, tourism is often seen as a way forward, but it can also have unwanted negative consequences. Through the Calgary Serves program, a group of 10 University of Calgary students will have a chance to deeply explore issues related to community development in the isolated Costa Rican communities of Montero and Palito.

During their stay, which takes place the first two weeks of May, students will be immersed in the community. They will live with host families and volunteer with the Montero and Palito Elementary School and a local women’s cooperative. The group will focus on learning about the current challenges facing the small communities on Chira Island, home to 3,000 people where families typically rely on farming or subsistence fishing to make a living.

In meeting with local leaders, the students will consider the potential risks and benefits that tourism could bring to Chira. A group of women currently operates a small eco-tourism venture. They primarily host Costa Rican and European tourists in ecological cabins, rent bicycles and provide guided tours of the protected mangroves that surround Chira. While tourism on a larger scale could bring additional jobs to the community, there is fear that opening Chira to major hotels would negatively impact the environment and the local way of life.

These students will continue some of the infrastructure projects that their peers started last year. Students worked on several enhancements to the elementary school last May, and this year the group will increase the size of a cement pad in the schoolyard so that it can be used for sports such as basketball and volleyball. In addition to donations of second-hand laptops and school supplies, the group will also bring some durable soccer balls from the One World Futbol project, donated by a former Calgary Serves participant, Brittany Vine.

Follow our students adventures in Chira by reading a blog of their experience, before, during and shortly after the trip at

You can support the Calgary Serves program by donating school supplies (pencils, pens, scissors, pencil crayons) or sports equipment (volleyballs, basketballs, Frisbees). These items can be dropped off at the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning until Friday, April 29, in MacEwan Hall, room 318. Small cash donations are also accepted and will contribute towards the purchase of educational materials for the Montero and Palito School.

For more information about this or other Calgary Serves programs, please contact Erin Kaipainen at

Bookmark and Share