“The Central Park” of La Carpio

arropa-la-carpio.jpegSo today was another day dedicated to my work with my Arropa organization, again, I’m home and it’s hard to get back to my daily routine as I’ve got way too much on my mind. It’s hard you know, I sit here in my nice home, I’m drinking a $3 bottle of aloe vera, TV on, working away on my computer and suddenly it clicks… i’m a rich person, I live in luxury…

You see, today together with Gail Nystrom of the Humanitarian Foundation I visited one of the biggest slums in Costa Rica (yes, another one) called La Carpio. Gail has been helping this area for the past 18 years and her days consist of helping and providing families with whatever she can give. The Humanitarian Foundation has done wonders there, they have community centres and even a women’s clinic, Gail drives up and down the muddy roads helping people with their needs, passing out condoms to the younger boys and organizing workshops for women. In the community centres the children come and go, they play games, read and do many Montessori activities. In the back women create souvenirs and bags made out of recycled milk cartons and coffee bags… a source of income for the Foundation.

The task of the day was to help a family who’s house burned down a few days ago, a family of 6 that lost everything in the fire and where living on a borrowed piece of land. On the drive up Gail brought along a little boy from the centre, a scruffy little 5 year old man who couldn’t talk but screamed in excitement when he knew he’d be taking a ride in the car. According to Gail he was born a normal boy but constantly had seizures. After the doctors failed to help out the family with the boy he had one final seizure, a stroke and is now a special needs child with a beautiful look in his eyes and his t-shirt full of drool. He kept us company throughout the morning and he’d find any opportunity to steal a hug here and there or hold your hand to get around without falling in the muddy dirt.

When we finally found the family we wanted to help… (and I tear up when I get to this part), I walked into their place on my own as Gail had to find a way to get the car through the dirt roads to get it close enough. I was greeted by a little beautiful 2 year old girl with a golden smile, she’d never seen me before but grabbed my hand and lead me in through the “door” which was made out of old pieces of fabric. There are just no words to explain the living conditions in that space. No way in the world could I have ever asked them if I could take a photo, the smell, dirt, must and pee. Their shack consisted of 4 walls and a small “bathroom” (which is actually a hole in the floor, a luxury in this area) the dirt floor was wet and humid. They sleep on some borrowed mattresses that are old and smelly, some just a piece of foam with nothing else. I sat down with Sugely, the mom, very young woman with 4 children (ages 2, 4, 7 and 10), she suffers of Leukemia and recently found a lump on her breast. Sugely hasn’t been able to see a doctor mostly because her little 2 year old has a brain tumour and every effort she makes to visit a hospital is to get the girl’s medication to avoid seizures. Now that her house burned down, she lost everything, including the paperwork to take her baby girl back to the hospital to get her pills, this means she needs to start all over again in order to get her back on medication. The father, he can’t find work and because they have no door on their shack, him and his father take turns to stay up at night to make sure nobody walks in.

When I explained to Sugely and her husband who I was and why I was there, I was trying SO hard not to break down and cry… it’s hard you know, you walk into a situation like that and suddenly all your crappy problems have absolutely no meaning at all anymore.

Whilst Gail brought the car around with the donations I sat on one of the mattresses with the little girl and we played with 2 dirty balls, the hard plastic ones you find in the playground at McDonalds, those were her toys, the only ones.

As much as it felt so rewarding to help this one family there is soooo much more that can be done. Last but not least, as we were driving out, Gail let me in on a very sad piece of news. That street we were on, a block away from the main road, it was “The Central Park” of the La Carpio slum, these people actually lived pretty well, I was speechless. La Carpio sits between two rivers and no matter which one you pick the closer you get to the river, the worse the living conditions are.

This Sunday I’ll be back… but we’ll be heading down to the river. Before that, I’ll sit here and I will count every one of my blessings and until then, I will keep reminding myself that all those little problems that haunt my mind, they’re not even worth revisiting again.