Pilgrimage to Cartagena

By Richard Julian and Jose Gonzalez

During the last week of July, myself and some fellow Abriendo Mentes volunteers started hearing about a festival that was taking place in the nearby town of Cartagena.  We learned it is a catholic festival connected to the sighting of an apparition of the Virgin de Los Angeles in 1935 in Cartago.  People from all over Costa Rica visit this site in Cartago on the second of August to pay their respects.  This virgin is believed to perform miracles, and people believe that this act of pilgrimage is their penance for receiving the miracles.

Cartago is nowhere near Guanacaste, where we live. As a result, a number of other pilgrimages have started to take place across Costa Rica. Here in Guanacaste the pilgrimage leads to the church in Cartagena where there is a service followed by a fiesta.

At 3 a.m. on August second, with sleep in our eyes and bed in our heads, we met at Abelino’s house (a local Potrero resident and our guide for the trip) to begin the 20 kilometer walk to Cartagena.  We had the road to ourselves, and a feeling of illicit behavior and a sense of freedom carried us along despite the lack of sleep.  We had an incredible view of the night sky and were rewarded with numerous sightings of shooting stars and a great view of Orion. Perhaps the virgin was watching over us.


We were sleepy, worn out and quickly losing the art of conversation, but the feeling of sacrifice and achievement made the journey one of spiritual significance.  Despite not being a particularly religious group, I was still aware of the connection we had together and what we were achieving together, more than I have felt on other non-religious walks.

telephone cartagena

At 7am we strolled into the Cartagena Plaza and took our spot to await the procession.  We had decided to walk across the hills which was a more challenging route but quicker.  The main procession had instead followed the highway and so it was a couple of hours of waiting, chatting, napping and eating cheese sandwiches before the main procession arrived with representatives of all the towns in Guanacaste carrying statues as offerings to the virgin for the ceremony.


The whole town and people from miles around were in attendance in their best clothes to see the parade of cowboys on horseback, to eat at the various barbecues, and most importantly, to catch up with friends.


We soaked up the atmosphere for a couple of hours before hopping on the local bus to take us back to Potrero and much needed sleep.  We were grubby, exhausted and hot but we also felt a sense of achievement at having experienced and witnessed something special.

See more footage we took at the procession here.

Posted in Community Life & Events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Did School Really Teach Me?

By Christine Nagle

The challenge of reflecting upon what I was taught in university and adapting it to meet the needs of my students is both daunting and exciting as I enter my first month in the “real world.” Armed with tons of theory that I have crammed into my brain over the past four years, I will need to rely on my skills and experiences to ensure that my current students are getting the best education possible. That being said, from my first three weeks of teaching, I can already tell that things I learned about the theory of education in the university setting are different than the daily reality in the classroom.

First, the fact that this is a voluntary program means that if my classes are not engaging, my students will leave. Imagine that back in the States. This has been one of the most inspiring aspects of working in Potrero. My students are voluntarily going to class! They go because they want to learn; the classes we have are appealing, and they see value in learning how to communicate in English. This has been extremely gratifying to me because I want to challenge myself to make these classes even more worthwhile for my students so that they can take the opportunities presented to them and run with their dreams.

Second, culture matters. Like it or not, life in Mid-Atlantic USA, where I studied, thrives on competition, and our entire education system is built around rank, independence, and entrepreneurship. In Potrero, the values of cooperation and communal effort are emphasized.  Rather than facilitating rivalries, my students work together to solve common problems. For example, in class this afternoon, my fourth and fifth graders shared in each other’s joy when a new vocabulary word was found in their word search. Then they promptly helped one another find it in their own searches, ensuring all classmates were on the same task before moving on. This community ensures that they all thrive together despite the challenges.

Finally, kids are kids. In education we learn about how to best challenge and support all of the different learning styles and strengths that our students have to offer the world. But my short time in Potrero has already taught me that while each of my students brings a different personal story to the classroom, when it comes right down to it, all students are kids. They want to have fun, they want to be curious about the world around them, and they want to find a place where they can belong. All of which I look forward to in my classroom and throughout the other Abriendo Mentes programs.

While the theory of education differs from the actual implementation in the classroom, my experiences learned in university have given me a solid foundation. It is on this foundation that I can build and adapt my current classroom. This has become an invitation for improvement and an opening for creativity and reflection: How can I challenge my students to shape the lessons we learn in the classroom and improve the world in which we all grow up? Overall, education presents itself as an opportunity. With these diverse skills, students can build on the foundation of their education and change what the future has in store for all of us.

photo (75)

Christine stamping her students’ attendance cards after class!

Posted in Transfer, Youth Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Guanacaste Day

By Angel Mercer


I’m probably pronouncing it incorrectly, and spelling it incorrectly, but it’s more important that children have happyness rather than the capacity to spell it correctly, no? Thank you, Chris Gardner! Anyway, every 25th of July, Ticos celebrate the Guanacaste province’s annexation from Nicaragua in an event aptly titled Guanacaste Day. The celebration encompasses fiestas, folk dances, cattle shows, bullfights, and concerts. “Bomba” is the expression used to announce the joke that will inaugurate the festivities.

This event involved the children of Potrero transforming their school into the epicenter of the celebration. It was there that an expatriate like me could come and watch the bailes tipicos (typical dances) such as the El Torito (The Little Bull), Caballito Nicoyano (Little Horse from Nicoya), and the Punto Guanacasteco (The Guanacaste Step) and absorb the richness of the ceremony.

Celebration is a mode of culture. Like language, culture is a vessel for transmitting beliefs, customs, history, ideals, and practices to one another and to future generations. The Costa Rican identity places value on education, democracy, peace, and family togetherness. Guanacaste Day illustrated these ideals and the manifestation of their conviction in the power of the people. The Guanacasteco saying, “de la patria por nuestro voluntad,” translates more or less as “part of the country by our own choice” and expresses the idea that democracy is more than just a word, but a perspective put into practice everyday in Costa Rica, especially on Guanacaste Day.

angel photo

Angel with his host sister Alexa in her traditional costume and his host mother Fanny

Posted in Community Life & Events, Transfer | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Counting our Success Stories

By Mary Cox

I sat down at the table for dinner in the home of my host family, and asked my Abuela Tica about how she came to know “Mery and Drew” (our founders). She answered that she met them five years ago, when Abriendo Mentes started, and emphasized that Mery and Drew always came back. Meradith and Drew had made a commitment to the Potrero community, and they kept it.

This dedication seems to be a key to the success of Abriendo Mentes in the community. It is because of Abriendo Mentes’ dedication that they have gained the trust of the community here, something that is not easily given to foreigners. This trust has allowed AM to play an integral part in the development of Potrero, reaching beyond teaching English to children to include programs for both youth and adults – a full community economic development initiative.

All of this in four short years, and the flagship youth English classes are showing amazing results. AM kids are at the top of their class in school, and their parents excitedly share test scores, grades and success stories with us. These are just the outcomes we want to see.

Now for the hard part: tracking them. To really quantify and communicate our outcomes with others requires capturing and analyzing data. The right data. It’s a challenge for any organization, and even more so for a small organization because it means using more of your scarce resources – i.e. overhead.  Our first step is to understand the specific questions about our impact that we want to answer, so we know what data we need to capture for each program. Then, we need to strike a balance between the data we want and the resources we have to capture the data to ensure tracking is sustainable. That is what I’m working with the team to do while I am here this summer.

I’m currently pursuing my MBA in International Business and Development, and am excited to bring my skills to AM as the Strategic Planning and Evaluation Intern this summer. In my work experience as a Technology Business Analyst, I used many strategies to capture and analyze data for projects, and, as a Manager, I learned the importance of tracking and sharing data over time to know my team was achieving its objectives.  It is a pleasure for me to help AM implement these practices, to demonstrate how it is truly serving is mission.

Dedication to keeping commitments is a deep-seeded value at Abriendo Mentes – an organization that is committed to measuring its outcomes. So keep an eye on us to continue to hear more of our success stories, and as data comes in, to see how great our impact really is.

Brasilito Summer Camp 229

“Dedication to keeping commitments is a deep-seeded value at Abriendo Mentes.”  (Photo by Abby Sampson)

Posted in AM Perspectives | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Potrero Through the Eyes of a Local Dog


“Shsssch…afuera”… I wish they’d stop saying that to me! I just want to come inside and hang out with my humans. It’s not like I’m begging for scraps or anything… okay, well maybe, but just a little bit. A dog has to eat, you know!

Other than that, life here in Potrero is not too hard. I get to run around all day with my mates, exploring our little bit of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We usually have eventful days, like today. My morning started out with a romp in the glistening waves of the Pacific. I can see why those humans named it “peaceful,” as I run along the cool water, soaking up the warm sun, and occasionally rolling around in the sand to itch those hard-to-reach spots.

After shaking the sand off my fur, I poke my head into the “supers” to see what the local news has to offer. Amidst the dog community we certainly hear the common news of the day, but normally it has to do with how those Abriendo Mentes humans are planning another vocational education seminar, having a fun lacrosse game, or selling handmade bags made by the human moms. I mean, it’s all well and good that the humans have so many opportunities around here, but I really wish they would plan an awesome day for us, too! Maybe if we stand outside their office and look really cute…

I was also able to walk to the “Kids’ Club” with my human sister today where she is learning English conversation skills so she can grow up to find a great job or maybe even go to university! I heard my human parents say the possibilities are endless, but I must say, I am perfectly comfortable speaking “Bark.”

While today was eventful, it was also just a typical day here in Potrero, full of community and hard-earned potential. That’s all I have for tonight diary. Maybe tomorrow I’ll finally catch that bike…


Posted in Community Life & Events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faces from the Community/Caras de la Comunidad: Estefanía

Originally posted by Mujeres Activas de Potrero on July 10, 2013

estefania desktop

Estefanía Tasara’s business is a new hot spot for lunch in Potrero. Estefanía is the owner of Dulces Momentos (“sweet moments”), an ice cream shop and restaurant. She was generous enough to share with us her knowledge of business and how she has had success as a woman in business.

Estefanía is constantly thinking about how to offer something unique to the community. To differentiate her restaurant, for example, she offers healthy meals, excluding sodas and packaged items from her menu. She doesn’t use frozen ingredients, either. Above all, she credits her success to her personality. She strives to make her customers feel at home and she is always listening to their suggestions. Lastly, she says that her prices are competitive.

Estefanía didn’t open her restaurant to make more money, because she already had a good job. Instead, she says that she started her own business for her son. She wanted to be able to spend more time with him and take care of him instead of spending all of her time outside her home. She says that it is difficult to change your life like this, and many people choose not to, but it is worth it.

We asked Estefanía what advice she would give to woman entrepreneurs or women who wanted to start a business, and she said that it all goes back to your attitude towards life. You have to have goals and think different. She tells us, “it’s not easy, but you can do it if you have the will to overcome the challenges.”

(En español)

El negocio de Estefanía Tasara es un nuevo favorito sitio para almorzar en Potrero. Estefanía es la dueña de Dulces Momentos, una heladería y soda. Ella nos compartió sus conocimientos de negocios y como ella ha tenido éxito como mujer en negocios.

Todo el tiempo, Estefanía está pensando en como ofrecer algo único a la comunidad. Para diferenciar su restaurante, por ejemplo, ella ofrece comidas saludables y no vende gaseosas ni cosas en paquete. Ella no usa ingredientes congeladas tampoco. Pero, más que todo, ella atribuye su éxito a su personalidad. Ella quiere que sus clientes se sientan tranquilos como están en casa. También, ella constantemente está interactuando con sus clientes y escuchando a sus sugerencias. Finalmente, ella dice que sus precios son competitivos.

Estefanía no abrió su restaurante para ganar más, por que ya tenía buen trabajo. Pero ella dice que empezó su propio negocio para su hijo. Ella quería poder pasar más tiempo con él y cuidarle en vez de estar afuera de su casa todo el tiempo. Ella dice que es difícil cambiar su vida así, y muchas personas no tienen ganas de hacerlo, pero vale la pena.

Le preguntamos a Estafanía que consejo las daría a las mujeres empresarios o mujeres que quieren empezar un negocio, y ella dice que todo depende de su actitud para la vida. Hay que tener objetivo y poner cosas diferentes. Nos dijo, “no es fácil, pero sí, se puede, si tenga ganas de superarse los desafíos.”

Posted in Transfer, Women's Empowerment (MAP) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nicaragua

By Sassy Weinstein

When I say adventures in Nicaragua, I mean adventures in the fullest and most literal way possible. It all began at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua: one of the most bizarre situations my three friends and I have ever experienced. After traveling on three different buses just to get to the border, we were tired and hoped there would be some sort of directions or someone to tell us how to proceed in crossing the border, however we unfortunately received the exact opposite. We found ourselves walking somewhat aimlessly along a dirt road lined with tractor trailors and vendors selling who knows what, just hoping that the road would take us to Nicaragua in some way or form. After going through several different checkpoints, paying our fee at the migration office, exchanging money, and refusing taxi rides from masses of taxi drivers,  we finally found our way.

It was smooth sailing once we got to our destination in San Juan del Sur. Coming from small town Potrero, San Juan del Sur felt like a huge city. We had our first dinner at a restaurant right on the beach, where we were able to witness one of the most incredible sunsets and enjoy some deliciously fresh mahi-mahi and a cocktail; it was the perfect way to end a long day of traveling.

The next two days, we explored some of Nicaraguas most beautiful beaches: Playa Hermosa and Playa Remanso. The beaches were expansive, seemingly like they went on for miles, and with great waves for surfing. I have always wanted to surf, but the waves on the East Coast, where I’m from, are way too scary for me and the water is way too cold. I knew this was my chance and I was not going to pass it up! Just as i expected, it was incredible – a bit scary in the beginning but even more exhilarating, especially the first time you are finally able to catch a wave. For any beginner learning to surf, Nicaragua is the perfect place to learn!

After surfing all day, we were exhausted… But we had to rest up because it just so happened that the one weekend my friends and I decided to go to Nicaragua was also the weekend of one of their largest fiestas celebrating Dia del San Juan. Right outside the steps of our hostel was a huge street festival with vendors selling fresh fruits, meats, and many other Nicaraguan delicacies (all incredibly cheap, as we found most food to be there) as well as a fun band playing live music that would go until almost 5 am! Needless to say, we did not get much sleep that night, but it was 100% worth it.

The next day, even more tired than when we came, we embarked back on the journey to Costa Rica, which was much smoother than our arrival. Overall it was a fantastic whirlwind of a weekend in Nicaragua. We did some incredible things , enjoyed delicious and cheap food (lots of tacos) and met some great people who were also traveling, coming from all over the world, ranging from Australia and New Zealand to Israel to Switzerland. I know I speak for both myself and all my friends when I say I’d go back in a heartbeat and feel incredibly lucky that I was able to take such a great trip even though I’m only in Costa Rica such a short amount of time.

ImageSunset on Playa Hermosa

ImagePerformances at the street festival
Posted in AM Perspectives, Transfer | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kicking Off Month Two of the Summer Matching Marathon

The second month of AM’s 2013 Summer Matching Marathon has just begun. The Summer Matching Marathon (SMM) is our biggest annual fundraising campaign, where every dollar donated to Abriendo Mentes between June 1st and August 31st will be matched by a private donor. This year, we have upped the ante and have increased our fundraising goal to $7,500, which if met, will result in a total contribution of $15,000 to AM!

Thanks to our generous supporters, we successfully raised $5,000 last summer, which when doubled, resulted in a total donation of $10,000 to Abriendo Mentes. Last year’s Summer Matching Marathon was used to fund vital operation costs, including rent, utilities, and teacher salaries, as well as core program costs, including field trips and Fun Fridays for our youth participants (weekly extracurricular activities featuring music, art, sports, environmental education, etc.), the purchase of new equipment to expand our technology center, supplies for the brand new office for the Womens’ Group, and materials for our adult ESL classes. Without the generosity of our donors, AM would not be able to continue to provide the invaluable educational opportunities that we offer to the rural Costa Rican communities we serve. We are so grateful to everyone who has donated to AM over the past four years; please know that your contribution has made a significant impact in our work and the lives of our participants. If you would like to learn more about this year’s Summer Matching Marathon, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our SMM webpage.

Posted in Adult Education, Women's Empowerment (MAP), Youth Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

MAP Introduces Meditation and Breathing Techniques in Health Workshop

By Francesca Cellini

Sunday evening Mujeres Activas de Potrero (MAP) hosted a workshop for the women of Potrero as part of a series to promote healthy living. The workshop covered meditation and breathing with the goal of teaching the participants stress management and mindfulness techniques that they can incorporate into their daily lives.

The workshop began with taking the blood pressure of the women, as well as their height and weight. Next, AM volunteer Jose gave an information session about relaxation and breathing. By introducing new ways to sit and to breathe, he taught the women how to allow energy to flow through the body.

The participants especially enjoyed the last portion of the workshop – a relaxation exercise. AM volunteer Francesca led this exercise by guiding the women through relaxation and breathing techniques as the women were lying down, focusing on being mindful of their bodies and their breathing.

The workshop participants left feeling relaxed and willing to try the techniques they learned in their daily lives.

ImageFrancesca guiding the relaxation exercise

Posted in Women's Empowerment (MAP) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

AM Serves Up Trivia For a Cause

By Lindsay Losasso

What is the capital of India? Which is the only mammal that can fly? Where did bagels originate?

These were just a few questions from Abriendo Mentes’ inaugural Trivia Night Challenge last week at the Shack. More than 40 participants, forming 13 different teams (all great team names including the Super Maes, Team T-Rex, and Los Conchos), came out to test their trivia knowledge, all in the name of a good cause, with all player entrance fees benefiting Abriendo Mentes.

We’d like to extend a special congratulations to our big winners – the British Monkey Scuba Junkies, who really knew their stuff! Overall, it was a great night of good laughs, fun times with friends, and a little friendly competition. We’d like to extend our gratitude to our co-sponsor Harry at the Shack and his staff for helping us host a successful evening. Thank you to everyone who joined us and if you couldn’t make it this month – we’ll see you next time! Stay tuned for more information coming soon.

trivia collage

Posted in Special Events, Transfer | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment