Last week, we had an interesting discussion at staff meeting. We all discussed in small groups our goals and dreams for the school, and then barriers that kept us from accomplishing them. Then we shared ideas with a global discussion. One thing that came up was the fact that many of the staff are international teachers who come to the school for a year or two. This makes it hard to build community, since there is a division between Costa Ricans, ex pats who have settled in the community, and teachers in their first year at the school (I am one of 9 in this last category, of about 36 who make the school run...another 7 are in their 2nd year). At one end, there is certainly a language and cultural barrier. Also, there is a problem that people (unconsciously) don't want to put all their energy into relationships when they know they might need to say goodbye in just a year. People come each year with new energy and new ideas, but this leads to some inconsistency when the next teacher does not necessarily continue the same conversation. Some problems we discussed are conversations that have happened before, and the solutions never seem to work out completely. This situation is especially interesting considering that most students enter in preschool and continue through graduation in 11th grade.
Why do so many teachers come and go? The answer is fairly simple, if also complicated. Many teachers are recruited from North America. The salary for teachers is low. In take-home income, I am making less than I did as an Americorps volunteer living at minimum wage. And while many expenses are cheaper than when I lived in West Philly, prices for many items are high since Monteverde is a tourist town (restaurants and such cater towards folks with money to spend) and in the mountains (you buy a bus ticket for your rice and shampoo). And of course, there are added expenses, like the cost of a ticket home for Christmas and the temptations to be a tourist and explore as much of this new place as possible. The founders of the school included ex pats living in the community who had a vision for a new kind of school, quality, bilingual education with an emphasis on understanding and protecting the environment that would be accessible to as many students as possible. As a bilingual school with English, there is an emphasis recruiting native English speakers. Which leads to a new set of question. What do I bring beyond a southeastern PA accent? How would a Tico teacher do my job differently?
I have been a member of many communities that I've since left, but continue to impact who I am and how I interact with others, my own schools, summer camps, Americorps, my host family in Ecuador. I know that they all change as new members come, and it's easy to not think of myself as part of them anymore. But there is also a bond that exists between me and others who have been part of these same communities at completely different times. I'm interested in exploring how the internet could be a way to bring past, current and future members of CEC community into the same conversation.
Monteverde itself is an interesting mix of people. There is a very large transient community. Tourists, students at language schools, biologists doing research, construction workers, in addition to CEC teachers and others. Many of these groups do not interact with each other. This mix of people adds another type of diversity to the incredible biodiversity that attracts so many people to the zone. And it creates tension at the same time.
Even the diversity in residents of the zone creates interesting tensions. Consider the one paved main road in the Monteverde zone. This was added in the past year (maybe two), after a bit of controversy. Most roads are still dusty/muddy littered with rocks and holes. The road from the Panamerican highway up to Monteverde is still dirt, terribly bumpy and even deadly (just last week, the post courier was killed by a mudslide while traveling on his motorcycle). Many environmental advocates want to keep the road relatively inaccessible to limit the number of tourists (who come despite the road) who visit the zone and thereby limit the human impact on this zone´s fragile ecosystem. Others argue that the road should be paved to allow better access to the hospitals, malls, family and friends in other towns and cities and easier access to transport goods up the mountain. Last week, heavy rains caused landslides that blocked the roads to and from Monteverde for days, and this is not uncommon for the season. Now, there is a paved road that cars, trucks and ATVs can race down. Is this change progress? Community development?
I think many view my role in Monteverde as part of this flow of folks coming and going and that I'm just "passing through". I'm not wholly sure how long I plan to stay, and will make that decision later. But I know that I'm not just passing through, because I am ready and wanting to understand this community and allow myself to be influenced by it and grow within it. And I'm looking forward to continuing that process.