With community support, residents transform a Nicoya park that was previously dominated by drugs and alcohol

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Rohalbin Carrillo had seen a group of kids and adults that used to come to play and pick up trash at the park in front of his house several Sundays in a row. One day, he asked them what they were doing.

The Sunday scene and the response he received seemed strange.

“We want to rescue the Mangos Park,” said Patricia Ruiz, one of the leaders. He, 23, and the rest of the San Martin community were used to seeing drug addicts and alcohol in this public space.

I decided to be a volunteer,” said Rohalbin, who is now president of the board of directors for San Martin’s Present and Future, which has been bringing together kids and adults to help recover the park since March, 2018.

According to residents, after 10 months of activities, more kids and fewer addicts have used the emblematic Nicoyan park. They’ve also had meetings at city council to show the impact they’ve had and seek alliances with organizations who want to help out.

The city of Nicoya has also pitched in to help the once abandoned park. Last year, the local government donated a playground and this year they will install another one as well as trails and benches.

Mayor Adriana Rodríguez says it’s all due to community work.

They have been watchful so that nothing happens to the playground,” she said in a council meeting and announced new investments in the park.

Changing Reality

If you type ‘San Martin de Nicoya into Google the words ‘shooting’, ‘murder’, or ‘drug trafficker’ are likely to come up on your screen.

A report  by the Housing Ministry (Mivah) in 2010 said that the main problems in the neighborhood are youth pregnancy and prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty and crime, and even a lack of adequate recreation areas.  

The neighborhood recognizes it. “They are at-risk kids,” says resident and group member Yorleny Gómez. She said that they’ve identified six people who have consumed drugs since they were kids.

That’s why every Sunday during activities we teach them about living together, values and addiction prevention for the kids,” she said.

The residents thought that if they could take control of public spaces, they could transform their reality and the future for kids in the neighborhood.

It’s a town finding solutions. As they get involved in activities and make decisions for the good of the community, they are going to see changes,” says Patricia Ruiz.

That’s why the group has decided to do activities for kids, adults, women and the handicapped. They are also hosting workshops on female empowerment, domestic violence, living together and addiction eradication. 

Every Sunday, the kids have recreational and educational activities. They pick up trash and paint park benches. Photo: César Arroyo Castro.

Necessary but Insufficient Support

One Sunday, the Nicoya firefighters led the day’s activity. The next Sunday, it was the polices’ turn and then the Lion’s Club. Some kids even went to the beach, which is about 45 minutes away, in an alliance with the environmental education program Guardians of Nature. This year they will also invite guides and scouts.

The board of directors and San Martin school principal have collaborated. They have lent us gyms during rainy season. The social worker and psychologists offered help in mental health,” Ruiz said.

But these collaborations aren’t the norm. Rather, members of Present and Future find donations from acquaintances or provide money out of their own pockets for snacks and activities.

That doesn’t demotivate them. “Our greatest accomplishment is citizen participation,” says Gómez, the treasurer. “With that, kids feel like they’re part of a society that has the opportunity to transform,” she said.

While they look for a fixed revenue stream, they continue to recover a space that has historically been forgotten and, as though it were a metaphor for their lives, they transform it.