In San Jose, Costa Rica, like so many places in the world, wealthy, powerful people do not spend time in high-risk, high-poverty neighborhoods. So on a Saturday morning in 2008, when Rosie and Mila, students at Costa Rica’s finest private school, volunteered with Boy With a Ball on a community walk-through of the El Triangulo squatter’s settlement, it was unheard of. What happened next, though, was a miracle.
Boy With a Ball first met Rosie and Mila as the school’s Executive Director, Jack Bimrose, invited us in to help form “the hearts” of the students of Lincoln International School. Attracting many of the country’s top leader’s children, Lincoln’s staff hoped that Boy With a Ball could play a key part in helping Lincoln students develop the character necessary to be good national leaders in a country where corruption was a persistent presence. Boy With a Ball began several programs including running Lincoln’s student camp program and beginning an afternoon community service club.
Almost immediately, Rosie and Mila, each dramatic leaders with compassionate hearts and a desire for action, began to show interest in joining Boy With a Ball’s work in the El Triangulo de la Solidaridad squatter’s settlement or “precario.” In 2005, a census of El Triangulo had shown that 3,000 people were living on just three acres of land. The community was haunted by gang activity and the average level of education was just at the 3rd grade. Most people in San Jose were frightened to go anywhere near a precario for fear of being assaulted and robbed.
Yet within a few weeks the girls had signed up to participate in the Boy With a Ball team’s weekly precario walk-through where one to two dozen BWAB staff and volunteers would go door-to-door through the community to spend time with each family in hopes of inviting them into mentoring relationships and small groups meeting throughout the week.
As the two girls walked down the dirty pathways winding between corrugated tin shanties or shacks and open sewage, they witnessed one individual after another coming out of their homes to hug and kiss our team members with huge smiles bursting across their faces. Slowly, tears began to fill Rosie's eyes and, in her sandy voice, she told us, “This is a much more loving neighborhood than mine. Everyone here is so caring and in my neighborhood everyone hides behind their fences and gates.” Rosie then said, “The kids here have so much potential. We have to do something to help them stay in school.”
A few minutes later, the young women came fact to face with Samara. Samara was ten years old and filled with personality and, within a few minutes, the three girls were in an animated conversation.
As the girls walked away from Samara and back to Boy With a Ball’s offices, an idea began in their heads that would go on to change the future of the precario. Rosie and Mila went back to Lincoln and sold their fellow students on the idea of beginning a Saturday morning tutoring center each week in which international school students could turn and provide free tutoring for children in the precario to help them stay in school. Boy With a Ball helped find a place to hold the center and eventually teamed with Auburn University’s Graduate Design program, the Western Union Foundation and Jackson Healthcare to build a two story community center where the tutoring could take place.
Beyond the community center, Boy With a Ball launched an annual school supplies drive to help every young person in the precario get the $100 of school supplies they needed in order to stay in school. The Western Union Foundation then stepped in to provide scholarships for students who were in the last years of high school or entering college.
More then six years later, the impact of Rosie, Mila, and Samara's conversation continues to grow. In 2009, a community census showed that more than 40% of the precario’s population had grown to the point of being able to move out of the squatter’s settlement and into better situations. Additionally, gangs had been eliminated and the average level of education had risen three grades to a sixth grade level.
Today, Western Union now provides scholarships for over thirty students and the community has been transformed.
Rosie, Mila, and Samara have taught all of us that entire communities can be changed by simply coming together and offering what we have in our hands to help one another.