It’s January and the kids are on vacation. It is also Monday, the day when projects are started. It’s 9 a.m. and it is hot in Samara, as usual. What is unusual is to see a group of children waiting eagerly to enter the Crear library.
The excitement is not capricious. The happiness is because the library kicked off their summer camp, led by American Andrea Keith, who has been head of the project since January of 2009. Crear Association is a program that was created in 2005 to offer English classes and educational programs to children in the community.
Keith is like the coastal version of the famous Mary Poppins, who educates children with music, art, stories and athletic activities and teaches them values, but her abilities go beyond being just any “teacher.”
In addition to leading Crear, at the end of last year, Keith won the Yo Creo (I Create) prize, which is a recognition from the Latin University of Costa Rica, which rewards young people who are creating positive changes in their communities.
Among Crayons and Laughter
From the first moment that Andrea has contact with the children, her personality is revealed. She is sweet but she also has character. In the beginning, she opens her heart to the children, but she also knows how to make it clear what the house rules are.
Photo by Ariana Crespo-During the month of January, the American led a summer camp in which kids participated in recreational activities to enjoy their free time.
Keith is young. She is 29 years old and almost always walks around with her blond hair down. Her Spanish accent is amusing, since she pronounces the R as if she were a Tica and slang words for cool like “chiva” and “tuanis” are part of her vocabulary. The girl knows Costa Rican expressions perfectly.
Her vocation with the children did not come about overnight. She graduated with a degree in Spanish and psychology from Austin College in the United States.
“Not to be corny, but the children fill me with motivation,” she said. “I like my job. I don’t complain on Sundays about having to work on Monday. It’s very nice when I ride my bike to El Torito School and the kids shout happily: “The gringas have arrived!”
Although the little ones energize her every day, the teenagers are the ones she has a greater connection with. Therefore, she takes pride in having created the Las Divinas program last year for girls 12 to 16 years old, with the main objective of empowering women.
“I’m glad to see the girls increasingly more focused on finishing high school. I talk to them and they really have that goal. That excites me, because at first they were not so focused on finishing school. In addition, now there is a girl who wants to be a veterinarian and we were able to arrange for her to do an internship during this school break at the town veterinarian’s office,” Keith commented with excitement.
The gringa (American), as some neighbors call her, is not only excited to see how the girls and the Crear project grow, but also to see how people treat her less like a tourist with each passing day and they feel like she is part of the community.
According to Keith, when she started Crear, many mothers did not trust her and they thought she was just an American who would be in Samara for a few months, but when they see that she has made the library more and more beautiful and that the projects are consistent, she has earned respect in town.
The Trip That Changed Her Life
When Keith was in college, she always dreamed about getting out of Houston, Texas, where she was born and raised, and moving to Spain. Costa Rica was never a priority. Honestly, she didn’t know much about the country.
In January of 2006, the university organized a three-week tour of Costa Rica and they visited several places, but when Keith went through Braulio Carrillo to go to the Caribbean, she realized that the natural immensity of Costa Rica deserved more time. That is why, that same year, she participated in an exchange program with the National University in Heredia, living for a year in the City of Flowers.
During that year, she took advantage of every weekend she had free to visit different Costa Rican destinations, but when she arrived in Samara, she felt something special.
“Samara was like the first place where I did not feel like a tourist. Truthfully, when I came here, I knew I had to get closer to nature and that this was the perfect place. I come from a city that is not very beautiful and I had never had the opportunity to be in such a natural environment. That is why I set the goal that I had to come back,” she said.
When she finished the exchange, Keith returned to her country in August of 2007, to graduate in May of 2008. Her goal was to move to Samara that year and that was when she found out about the Crear project.
“I wanted to live in Samara, but I did not want to go to work as a waitress or in a bar. I respect those jobs a lot, but it was also a matter of making all of that effort in college worthwhile, so I wanted to work in my field, plus I knew I would get bored in another job and when I found out about Crear through a friend, it seemed perfect,” she recalled.
Now, after six years of living in Samara, she considers it to be one of the best decisions she has made and she loves the lifestyle she leads.
Renting a house almost on the beach, in the center of Samara, she takes advantage of every morning to take a walk and drink a coffee while feeling the ocean breeze, as well as enjoying surfing, which she has learned to do over the years with lessons from her boyfriend, Nikola Ruhlow, one of the organizers of the Camaronal Challenge.
2016 has just begun, but Keith already has notes in her cell phone with goals for this year, for three years from now and long term. Her own house, a surfing program for children and more volunteers for Crear are among the dreams that this fighter draws in her mind and that she is certainly already making a reality.
Photo by Ariana Crespo-One of the things she enjoys most about Samara is being in contact with nature, which is why she takes advantage of every morning to go out for a walk.