Economicology Students Share Costa Rica’s pura vida

In April 2011, eight students and two educators from the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ City High/Middle School spent over a week in Costa Rica on a trip that, in the students’ own written words, had a profound impact on their lives.

The eight young men and women from the Center for Economicology, sponsored by The Wege Foundation, chose Costa Rica because it is recognized as the most environmentally progressive country in the world. The theme of the Grand Rapids travelers was “pura vida,” the Costa Rican motto for “pure life.”

The trip leaders, Spanish teacher Patricia Osborn and Assistant Principal Ryan Huppert, defined the trip’s main goals as immersing the students in the Spanish language, exposing them to the Costa Rican culture, teaching them about tropical ecology, and showing them sustainable practices.

The photographs in the attached link to their blog show the breadth of their learning experiences, from sustainable farming to producing geo-thermal energy to spotting howler monkeys to eating dinner with gracious Costa Rican families. The students even found time to meet with Peace Corps volunteers and paint a village school a cheery blue.

To me pura vida means community, family, and happiness, wrote Lindsay Klomparens in her journal. Take nothing for granted. Make the best choices not only for yourself, but also for those around you.

About this Central American country with over 25% of its land in permanent conservation, Nick Maodushpitzer wrote: The Costa Rican people’s…dedication to improving the planet for future generations is shown in the work that is done here, not just what is written on paper. (Costa Ricans) should be a model for how the rest of the world operates.

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In almost poetic terms, Carl Uzarski described his first taste of raw sugar from chewing on a sugar cane to get the juice out. Not an intense sweetness, Carl wrote, but, instead, it was watery with a gentle sweetness.

Grant Kammer saw the “pura vida” in the contrasting levels of consumerism between the Costa Rican people and Americans. I love our culture as a U.S. citizen, Grant wrote, and I am proud to be a part of it, but the need for materials, the need for things is just appallingly unnecessary.

Summarizing for what the Costan Rican experience had taught them, Nick wrote, We, as students eager to learn, are the seeds of change…(we) understand the seeds will not blossom in one day…and slowly we will see that our small ideas can create big dividends for our world.

Leaving Costa Rica and pura vida, Hannah Tripp wrote, We will miss waking up to the sounds of the rainforest, the silly dogs that followed us everywhere, the kind town, Pablo and his machete (used to whack a palm tree and teach students to make a salad using the palm core), the amazing birds, and all the fun we had.


Please check out the economicology students’ blogs and the photos they took on their Costa Rican adventure.


oscarariasThe forward-thinking president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez has launched an international conservation effort that could help save 4% of the world’s biodiversity. Called the Peace With Nature Initiative, President Arias’s plan continues the visionary environmentalism Costa Rica began two decades ago.

Working with Dr. Dan Janzen, University of Pennsylvania biologist, in the 1990s the Costa Rican government began buying up private land to be permanently preserved. Today Costa Rica has put one-fourth of all the country’s land into national parks and green space. Dr. Janzen spearheaded the creation of the Area de Conservaction Guanacaste in northwestern Costa Rica rich with rain forests and wildlife. Those 163-000 hectares of preserved land support 4% of the Earth’s biodiversity.

The cost to ensure the survival of this vital biodiversity in the ACG is $500 million, meaning $1,000 can save one species of life. Peace With Nature will both acquire more sensitive lands in Costa Rica, and it will create an organization to permanently restore and manage the preserved land. Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation have become early supporters contributing $2 million.

President Arias said this when he launched the Peace With Nature Initiative:
To survive in the 21st Century, we need different ethics than in the past, need
to recognize our interdependency, understand that we are all responsible for
each other.

An earlier American conservationist and crusader for national parks said the same thing a century ago. John Muir wrote, “When you tug on one thing in nature, you find it is connected to everything else.”

U of P Biologist Discusses Costa Rica and Species Bar Coding

costaricaIn late July, 2008, The Wege Foundation invited friends from several West Michigan foundations to meet University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Dan Janzen and his wife Dr. Winnie Hallwachs Janzen and learn about their conservation work in the Costa Rican rain forest. Since Peter Wege first met the Janzens in 1991, The Wege Foundation has supported their work buying private land to be permanently preserved. The two Dr. Janzens have worked closely with the Costa Rican government to help the Central American country become the global leader in conserved park land relative to its size.

From the first small purchases of land in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste in 1991 through 2005, The Wege Foundation has been the single best supporter among 8,500 other donors. Collectively, these donors have expanded the ACG parcel by parcel so by 2005, the ACG had grown to 376,380 acres—equal to 2% of the entire country! The ACG is now regarded as the leading example of tropical forest restoration in the world.

The importance of preserving this particular land mass, and the topic of Dr. Janzen’s talk to the foundation members, is that the ACG contains 4% of the world’s biodiversity. It is also home to 235,000 species—as many species as exist in all of North America! The professor of biology at the U of P is now part of an international initiative to analyze the DNA of every living species. Mapping out the DNA enables the scientists to then bar code that species to be catalogued for future research.

Dr. Janzen foresees the time when all ten million species of life can be googled through bar coding. He is using his expertise to bar code insects, with butterflies his particular specialty. The University of Guelph in Canada is doing the same for birds. For instance, if Dr. Janzen sends a Costa Rican bird’s feather to the
bar-coding biologists at Guelph, they can check the DNA and identify the species.

“We need to change all human relationships with wild things,” Dan Janzen explained. If humans can’t name a living thing, the professor believes, we won’t care about whether it lives or dies. But naming each species through bar coding gives it an identity so people will want to preserve it. He told The Wege Foundation guests that this project he calls “bioliteracy” will elevate the human spirit. “By sustaining and restoring biodiversity, we will rediscover our own humanity.”

Humanity is pressed for time, according to Janzen, if we are going to save species from man’s careless extinction by bar coding each life form to be libraried. In 1963, not even 50 years ago, the Earth had 95% of the species known in 1600. By 2007, biologists could account for only 70% of those from 1600 still remaining.