When I arrived in site, I was immediately struck by the natural beauty of the place. Las Vegas
is situated in a small valley with pastures and grasslands surrounded by small rolling hills and
full of plants and wildlife. This, combined with the fact that Las Vegas is located along a major
tourism corridor, gave me the idea to start a rural tourism project in Las Vegas.
Rural tourism is tourism that is meant to utilze the resources that exist in a rural town in a
touristic way. Tourists come to see how life is lived in a typical Costa Rican rural town.
In Las Vegas, we planned on building a tour that would include a tour of a local organic
farm, an art class led by a local artist, a typical lunch cooked in town, and a tour of the
waterfalls outside of town.
Unfortunately, this project never made it past the idea phase. It was difficult to get
support from the community for a project so large. Through this "failure" I learned an important
lesson, that many Peace Corps projects don't complete as originally planned and, many times, that
is okay. Our projects are not for us, they are for the community and if the community doesn't support
an idea, then it wasn't meant to be.
My main projects in the Peace Corps have almost all been in the elementary schools. My work has
consisted of giving classes on computing, career readiness, basic business knowledge, and, more
recently, physical education. This work has been my most regular and most successful in my time
in Las Vegas.
The school system in Las Vegas has been a difficult one. In my first year and half in site, the
local elementary school went through 8 separate principals, with large gaps in between where there
was no principal at all. Being that the principal is also the only teacher for the entire school,
not having a principal means no class at all. Through working with the elementary school students, I
hope to teach them something interesting and useful but also to try to keep them in class and
on-schedule even though their school system is a bit chaotic.
Going into the Peace Corps, I never thought I would be working with youth, let alone a pseudo-grade-
school teacher. However, I thoroughly enjoy my classes with youth and it has been the most rewarding
part of my service so far.
One of my longest-running projects in site has been my work with a local organic farm owner/entrepreneur.
My counterpart, Maritza, built two small greenhouses behind her house where she grows organic vegetables.
Almost every part of her growing process is natural. She creates fertilizer from the excrement her cows
leave behind, she uses water from a spring on her property, and she even makes her own pesticides from a
While her farm is super cool, Maritza felt uncomfortable with the business-side of things.She had been
doing well by selling locally to friends, but she wanted to grow her business and sell to restaurants.
Maritza asked me to help her with her business so I came to help with things like accounting, controlling
prices, marketing, and social media. She even put me to work in the greenhouse.
Her business is now thriving and she is expanding just like she wanted to. I really enjoyed working with
Maritza as she is super laid back and fun to be around. Some days I would go to her house to work and we
would just end up drinking coffee and watching day-time TV together. This turned out to be a fun and
interesting project and I made a good friend along the way.
Mujeres Emprendedoras (English: Women Entrepreneurs) is a course made by a international organization designed
to help promote female entrepreneurship in Latin America. It is a course of 12 one-hour sessions that
teaches basic business skills, reinforces entrepreneurial behavior, and helps build confidence and self-
esteem in the entrepreneurs.
I did this course over a few months with a group of women from my community. I was surprised by how
good the turnout for the course was and by how dedicated the women in my course were. Most of them had
never held a former job before but all of them were full of ideas and motivation. At the end of the course,
we had a really cute graduation ceremony. Since then, some of my students have gone on to start their
small business endeavours.
One misunderstanding that I am still experiencing in site (a year and half in), is why I am living in Las
Vegas and what my job is. People that I have known for a long time here will introduce me as "Alex the English
teacher." Even once I explain that I am not an English teacher, I am repeatedly asked to give English classes
or tutoring. This is a really common issue for Peace Corps Volunteers and while its not really a big deal, it
is kind of annoying.
However, in order to appease my community members, I decided to start an English class once a week for anyone of
any speaking level to come. The class is focused on teaching English in the capacity of tourism as tourism jobs
are common in this area of Costa Rica and they pay really well. This way, I can teach English to make everyone
happy and still accomplish my original job of Economic Development by teaching employability skills.
While my experience teaching this class has proved to me that teaching English is not my cup of tea, I have
come to enjoy the class I teach. At this point, the class attendance fluctuates between 2 to 5 students. I have
gotten to know this small group really well and we manage to have a lot of fun in our classes.
Through some folks I met at the local Rotary Club in Jaco, Costa Rica, I got to know an organization called
Girasoles (English: sunflowers). Girasoles is an organization that works with at-risk young women helping them
get the training they need in order to get employed. The women are between 16-25, most did not finish high school,
most have never had a job before, and a high percentage are single mothers. With the help of Girasoles, the women
take courses on computation, administration, etc, they do internships, and many get their high school diplomas.
I was asked to teach a Tourism English class for the local branch of Girasoles. As mentioned before, I am not an
English teacher and it is not my favorite thing to do, but I believe in the mission of Girasoles and I wanted to
help out in any way I could. So for a few months, I taught an intensive English class to two groups of young women
once a week. The most rewarding part of this project was going to their graduation ceremony where they all received
recognition for all the hard work they had done and were all ready to go out and seek employment on their own.
JumpStart is a month-long intensive English camp during summer break for elementary school kids that are about to start high school. The idea of the camp is
to get students, who have probably had very little to no English preparation prior, a chance to catch up in English skills to the level of the other students
they will be with in high school. Not only does JumpStart teach English, it gets the students ready for the big lifestyle change that comes with the transition
to high school.
I, along with a Tico counterpart who is studying to be an elementary school English teacher, led a camp of 11 students during the entire month of January. It
was a ton of work. I started in September with the grant proposal, worked all throughout the fall to secure the grant, found a venue, got students signed up,
bought materials, administered monitoring and evaluation tools, and much much more. And that isn't even mentioning all of the lesson planning and material
preparation that we put in during the camp! Although JumpStart was an exhausting (and sometimes frustrating) affair, it was one of the best projects I have
completed in my Peace Corps service. We started with 11 students that knew basically no English but we finished with 11 students that could carry a basic
conversation in a second language. They grew so much not only in English ability, but in confidence and self-esteem as well.
At the end of our camp, we held a
graduation event where we invited the campers families to attend sessions that would be led by the students. The students picked some of their favorite
activities that we did together and they lead them with their families participating. It was incredible to watch our students go from a complete lack
of confidence in themselves to leading an entire session in English in front of adults in the span of 4 weeks.
Courts for Kids is an organization in the US that donates basketball courts to communities in need around the
world. The orgnization helps with the costs and find a group of American volunteers to send to the host country
to assist with the actual construction of the court. Most groups are high schoolers or college students and
they come not only to donate to the community, but to learn about the culture of the host country and meet
the people they are building the court for.
I had the opportunity to go to a Courts for Kids build and help out here in Costa Rica. I was helping support
another volunteer's project. The group that was sent down was a group of college athletes from the US. We had
four hard mornings of pouring concrete and in the afternoon we participated in fun cultural activities with the
community members. In the end, we inaugurated the court we built by having a big games day celebration for
everyone in town.
In Las Vegas, we were able to secure a Courts for Kids grant as well. We worked really hard and had a group of
high schoolers set to come down and build it for us. But two weeks beforehand, the build was suspended due to COVID-19.
A major problem in Las Vegas is that of the trash. Currently, there is no government-provided trash collection
service. Being as Las Vegas is such a small town and is too far away from the center of the county, the government
doesn't want to spend the money on providing a trash service. This leaves the residents of Las Vegas to their
own devices when it comes to trash. Typically that means burning it. Just about everyone burns their trash and
buries what doesn't burn.
Obviously this is a major environmental concern and something that caught my attention right away in site. My
community members, for the most part, also recognize the environmental damage and wanted to do something about
it. To that end, I helped organize a community Ecological Committee. The community elected a diverse group of
board members to the committee with the goal of protecting the environment in Las Vegas, especially in regards
to waste disposal.
So far, working with the committee has been slow but we are working on a solution to the trash problem. The committee
wants to start a local trash collection service that will collect trash from everyone in town and bring it to
a processing facility for a small fee. The idea is that the service will generate enough income to keep running
and be self-sustaining.