PHRGE co-op spawns community storytelling project in Costa Rica

While a student at Northeastern University School of Law, I was fortunate to be able to pursue two human rights co-ops with the support of the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy. I completed my first co-op during the summer of 2010, staying here in Boston to work with Physicians for Human Rights. My fourth and final co-op was a PHRGE create-your-own international co-op that sent me to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. There I worked with NUSL alumnus Emily Yozell to learn about the precarious state of land ownership and the threat this poses to the cultural survival of local Afro-Caribbean communities.

Puerto Viejo is one of several coastal communities in Costa Rica's Talamanca region.

Puerto Viejo is one of several coastal communities in Costa Rica’s Talamanca region.

Thanks to the support of PHRGE, I was able to spend three months living among and learning from these communities. I began collecting interviews and established a website to broadcast local stories and explore the legal aspect of this conflict between sustainable development, human rights and local dignity versus environmental conservation. I was both intrigued by the complexity of the issue and moved by the stories of those I met. When I returned to Boston last summer to graduate and study for the bar exam, I knew I wanted to keep working for these communities.

In the past year I have returned to Costa Rica twice and established The Rich Coast Project, a community storytelling and collective history project aimed at advancing the social, economic and cultural rights of coastal Afro-Caribbean populations and other communities along Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast. Through the combination of new media storytelling and legal research, we will tell the communities’ side of the story and explore alternative approaches to the competing aims of sustainable development and environmental conservation.

Luba stands in front of her home in Manzanillo, where she lives with 5 family members. She is one of several local residents who is facing the threat of demolition for allegedly violating the coastal zoning law that restricts development within 200 meters of the high tide line. The majority of the town of Manzanillo, which was founded over 200 years ago, is located within this area.

Luba stands in front of her home in Manzanillo, where she lives with 5 family members. She is one of several local residents who is facing the threat of demolition for allegedly violating the coastal zoning law that restricts development within 200 meters of the high tide line. The majority of the town of Manzanillo, which was founded over 200 years ago, is located within this area.

Ms. Narcisa Hancel "Titá" is an important matriarch in the village of Manzanillo. She is a granddaughter to the community's founders who settled in the area during the 1800's, you can see her grandfather Peter Hansel's grave at Manzanillo's Miss May point overlook and her parents' graves in the village graveyard. Titá has lived in Manzanillo for her entire 85 years: "a true born Costa Rican." Now several of her children and grandchildren have criminal cases filed against them for building their homes inside this village which was decreed to be outside the protected area upon it's creation, but later determined to be inside the wildlife refuge without consulting or respecting local people's rights.

Ms. Narcisa Hancel “Titá” is an important matriarch in the village of Manzanillo. She is a granddaughter to the community’s founders who settled in the area during the 1800’s, you can see her grandfather Peter Hansel’s grave at Manzanillo’s Miss May point overlook and her parents’ graves in the village graveyard. Titá has lived in Manzanillo for her entire 85 years: “a true born Costa Rican.” Now several of her children and grandchildren have criminal cases filed against them for building their homes inside this village which was decreed to be outside the protected area upon it’s creation, but later determined to be inside the wildlife refuge without consulting or respecting local people’s rights.

The project will work with local advocates to produce a collective memory of the area and its people, tracing the historical process of development and examining the impact of national conservation policy over the past several decades. This process will be supported by the simultaneous development of an online resource of community archives, legal research, and educational materials aimed at promoting widespread understanding of the complicated legal forces at play.

The goal of the project is to use creative advocacy to build the case for keeping the local people on their land, showing that not only is it the right thing to do, it will also produce better results for the people and the environment.

If you are interested in knowing more about The Rich Coast Project and ways you can support or be involved in our work, Visit www.therichcoastproject.com or email me at kbeck@therichcoastproject.com. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

George Hansel has lived in Punta Uva his entire life, a small town founded by his grandparents. He has many fond memories of growing up in this tight-knit community, where neighbors treated one another like family and shared whatever they had.

George Hansel has lived in Punta Uva his entire life, a small town founded by his grandparents. He has many fond memories of growing up in this tight-knit community, where neighbors treated one another like family and shared whatever they had.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to PHRGE co-op spawns community storytelling project in Costa Rica

  1. patelpurvip says:

    Storytelling was actually a focus area for one of my majors in college — I was an interdisciplinary Theatre/Dance major, and my senior project focused on elements of storytelling, and I do miss being involved in creative work sometimes. I think this is an AWESOME way to combine both creative narrative projects and legal advocacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s