Hope Grows with a Unique Partnership

By Ducharme, Barbara Alliegro | Techniques, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Hope Grows with a Unique Partnership


Ducharme, Barbara Alliegro, Techniques


Representatives from a Minnesota school district are working with a project in Costa Rica to help build educational opportunities for children there, but they are also building an international friendship.

Father Carlos Chiu Fuentes and Carol McFarlane live worlds apart. Father Fuentes calls an urban center in the coastal plains of Central America home, while McFarlane is from a suburban area in the wooded north of the United States. Yet, in an impoverished section of San Jose, Costa Rica, the two found common ground last spring in an extraordinary project aimed at improving the lives of Costa Rican children.

McFarlane and other representatives from Minnesota's Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District and the 916 Foundation board of directors packed their work clothes and traveled down to the CEDES-Don Bosco project directed by Father Fuentes in the Alajuelita neighborhood of San Jose. Members from the White Bear Lake and Ham Lake/Blaine Rotary Clubs joined them. Once there, the group landscaped an area surrounding a recently built youth development center. It was the first work trip for 916 Foundation members, who have been working with Don Bosco projects in Costa Rica for the past four years.

The Costa Rican Project

Don Bosco is the identifying name for all of the education-based facilities operated by the Salesian Congregation, a religious order founded by Saint Juan Bosco in 1859. The objective of the congregation is to provide "formal and informal education of young people." There are Don Bosco projects throughout the world. They have served in Costa Rica since 1907.

Because Don Bosco projects often work with society's least privileged children, Salesian leaders recognize that one of their biggest challenges is getting children to their facilities. To solve this problem, especially in new service areas, Salesians build recreational facilities, like playgrounds, soccer fields or basketball courts, before building any classrooms. Children come to play, and, eventually, they stay to learn. The congregation currently operates the Don Bosco Technical High School in San Jose, along with three other educational facilities in Costa Rica.

The CEDES-Don Bosco project is a relatively new undertaking for the congregation. Construction, which started on the education complex in 1998, is slated for completion by the end of 2003. The 23-building complex, built on an old coffee plantation, will include the youth development center, a family development center, a modular training center, a technical vocational high school, student residences for up to 200 youth, a Salesian residence, various sports facilities and a church and chapel. In an area of San Jose where 20 percent of the population lives in poverty and where half of all teenagers do not attend school, the project will someday serve more than 5,000 preschool through high school students per year.

The Team from Minnesota

The White Bear Lake Rotary Club was the first of the three service organizations to become involved with the CEDES-Don Bosco project. Member Mario Perez, a Costa Rica native, was familiar with the Don Bosco organization. When he moved to Minnesota, Perez convinced his new Rotary Club to adopt Don Bosco as one of its international service partners. The club agreed, and in the spring of 1996, Perez supervised the first delivery of donated computer and audiovisual equipment to the Don Bosco Technical High School. Since then, the White Bear Lake Rotary has not only continued its yearly giving, it has also enlisted help from two other clubs. The Ham Lake/Blaine Rotary Club will join White Bear Lake Rotary in future Don Bosco endeavors. The Saint Paul Midway Rotary recently solicited and donated medical supplies to the project.

The White Bear Lake Rotary was also indirectly responsible for the Northeast Metro 916 school district and the 916 Foundation becoming involved with CEDES-Don Bosco. …

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