Information provided by Rafael Villalobos, San Jose, Costa Rica, project coordinator
The global recession has hurt businesses catering to tourists who want to see the world. Itís also hurt an indigenous community that earns a livelihood from the sale of handicrafts to tourists in Costa Rica.
The Maleku are an indigenous tribe living in Guatuso, a beautiful tourist destination 150 miles from the city of San JosÈ, Costa Rica. Tourists come from all over the world to visit the light blue Frio River, said by locals to have its color because when God painted the sky blue He washed His brushes in this river.
The Maleku try to live peacefully and in harmony with nature. Having lost territory to cattle farmers, the Maleku are working hard to recover the forests and protect local flora. They use the tourism industry to give tours of the forest and showcase the many benefits it provides, such as medicinal plants, colored inks from plants and cacao beans for chocolate.
Most Maleku are artisans, working with local materials from the forest to create handicrafts. Many work as a family, with some members searching for materials, some working in the first steps of preparation, some painting the colorful images and others selling them to tourists. The Maleku make handicrafts by old traditions that celebrate their culture, items like masks, painted gourds, rain sticks and drums.
MarÌa Lillian, a member of the Maleku community, is the mother of Marta, 18, a CFCA scholarship student in ninth grade, Joselyn, an 8-year-old sponsored child, and three other children. The family works making handicrafts to sell to tourists. A single mask can take up to 15 days to make and a drum can be completed in about six days. Often a family member must travel up to 25 miles in order to obtain the materials they need.
Unfortunately, tourism has been affected by the global economic crisis. Guatuso has seen an 80 percent reduction in tourists visiting the area. This reduction also means a decrease in sales profits from handicrafts for families like MarÌaís. Previously making $400 a month on handicrafts, they are now selling only $30 a month.
MarÌa is currently making bread to sell because she had no other income besides the handicrafts. It is a difficult situation for the family, who love what they do and value their culture and tradition, but can no longer make enough money to cover their basic needs.
Last year, in order to bring their business closer to the tourists, a community of Maleku worked for months to build a community hall near the road where access of tourists would be easier. Due to the economic crisis, they have only welcomed one group of tourists this year, while last year they received 4 groups each month.
Paul Pearce, director of CFCA international programs, said this story illustrates how sponsorship is vital to help families weather economic ups and downs. ìItís an example of the precarious nature of a familyís narrow budget,î he explains. “Sponsorship can help absorb some of the blow of an economic impact like this.”