Earth Charter in action in rural Costa Rica

Po-Yi Liu from Canada volunteered for five weeks in Costa Rica through youth development organization Youth Challenge International and its Costa Rican partner Reto Juvenil Internacional.

Reed about Po-Yi’s experience – how did she got to know the Earth Charter and how she decided to embed it into her life! Thank you Po-Yi for this article!

Earth Charter International Youth Facilitator


Uplifting Collaboration between Cultures in Juanilama, Alajuela, Costa Rica

In July 2009, eleven fellow youth Canadians and I went on a 5-week volunteer trip to Juanilama, Alajuela in Costa Rica under Youth Challenge International (YCI) and Reto Juvenil Internacional (RJI, sister organization of YCI in Costa Rica). YCI specialized in encouraging youth initiative to bring positive changes in the world, recruiting passionate volunteers from ages 18 to 30. Its programs tackle issues like economic development, poverty, gender, health, environment, and leadership development.

When we were staying in Juanilama, we did many things for the community: bridge construction, cleaning of an ecological reserve, English teaching, youth development, and most importantly, introduced the Earth Charter. Before this trip, I knew nothing about the Earth Charter, and I am thankful that YCI introduced this initiative to us through its programming.

In furthering community development and promoting safe environmental practices in Juanilama, our YCI team set up activities to encourage participatory, intergenerational, and intercultural dialogues among community members and us that were centered around the Earth Charter principles and values. We created craft and games sessions, workshops on each of the charter’s “four pillars”, discussion time, and of course, food – the perfect ingredient in building relationships with others! After all, the Juanilamans love to share food with each other.

Setting up social-development programs in an unfamiliar place was really a tough challenge! It truly challenges our ability to communicate effectively and on a heart-to-heart basis even when most of us were not fluent in Spanish. We were lucky to have our RJI group leader to translate for us. Trust me, working around “Tico time” was very difficult since we Canadians are so accustomed to being punctual and following a set schedule. Most of the time, our team ended up improvising on the spot for the Earth Charter activities in response to the dynamics at a given moment. One thing that I learned is that improvising or “going with the flow” allows participants to influence programming in positive ways. In that sense, it encourages shared leadership, rather than a top-down one. It just requires us ‘planners’ to let go of our own needs to voice everything and listen to what other people have to say.

The beauty of the Earth Charter is that it gives us and the Juanilamans the space to empower and learn from each other. We also had the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves, our assumptions, and our socio-culturally-constructed beliefs. Because of the Earth Charter activities and workshops we set up, we learned about the economic, environmental, gender, and socio-cultural struggles that the Juanilamans are currently facing. Our first event, for example, taught us that teenage girls are not given as much time as the boys are given for extracurricular activities, and therefore, none of them came to the event. It also taught us that there have been lots of misconceptions and lack of communication between the youth and adults in the community.

Although our trip was very short, the wisdom and knowledge gained from discussing the Earth Charter with the Juanilamans have proven to be extremely valuable to the next YCI or RJI group that decides to promote sustainable community development in the area. As for myself, I aim toward bringing the wisdom learned in Juanilama back to my own country because even our own Canadian communities need help with sustainable development. I am also very grateful for my teammates and the diversity they bring to the team.

Right now, I am working on incorporating the Earth Charter principles into my life and the work I seek to do in Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia. We’ll see what the future holds. I have a feeling that 2010 will be an exciting year for creative collaborations and transformative changes for all of us. I am ever-so-hopeful that I will continue to meet very inspiring and motivated people along the way too.

If you yourself are involved in the Earth Charter or are thinking of doing so, I wish you all the best for the coming new year!

Po-Yi Liu
po_yi_liu [at] yahoo [dot] ca