By Ellen Zoe Golden
It’s been 10 years since Laetitia Deweer had the idea of helping Guanacaste’s impoverished. That’s when she and her friend Lotje Deridder—both from Belgium–created CEPIA to improve the quality of life of children and teenagers and their families by promoting cultural development, educational opportunities, physical and mental health, and social integration. She and her group of volunteers, teachers, therapists and board members marked this special moment with a 10th Anniversary edition of the Black & White fundraising party, this year at Pangas.
Hundreds of guests paid $40-45 to dine on gourmet food and be entertained. Deweer and 10 kids from CEPIA talked about how far they’ve come in the time since the opening of the doors to the first center years ago.
Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Regina Espinozo stood in front of a projection photo of her 9-year-old self and spoke of coming to CEPIA after Deweer came to her Haucas School. “I went home, and talked to my Grandmother and told her I liked it,” she recalled. All she knew at the time was that her mother left her with her Grandmother when she was a baby. Growing up, Espinozo would see her father once in a while on the streets. “He’s an alcoholic.”
Participation in the CEPIA youth group presented the chance to go on outdoor trips, including the Beach Challenge presented by the former Guanacaste Country Day School where she came in second place. That medal still hangs in her room. After a few years with CEPIA, Elizabeth left and ended up on the streets drinking and doing drugs, but she eventually returned. After studying yoga, computer training, art and now English, she is looking for her first job.
Ingrid Tatiana Obando, 17, was one of the first students to join CEPIA after a visit to her mother brought much-needed food. She and her mother were living without it, and had no lights in their house either.
“Now I have a better character. I was not well behaved before. I didn’t like anything, didn’t think anything was important. After joining CEPIA, I got it into my mind that I wanted to change, “ Obando said. “Before I had no friends. I was talking bad and I wasn’t a nice person. I started to get friends when I participated in the activities.”
Now she takes English classes because she wants very much to work in tourism. Deweer said: “I feel she can do it.”
Ten years on, CEPIA is in a new building, one that affords individual rooms for classes and therapies. There are four commercial business in which the profits go directly to the people who are running them. These include the restaurant, second-hand clothing store, internet café and ecocultural tourism center.
(The store is in need used clothes to be sold there. Jaime Peligro Bookstore is now the place where people can drop off clothes they no longer need .)
In 2014, CEPIA had 140 volunteers , and Deweer estimates even more people this year to teach the classes when not covered by certified instructors. There is a clinical psychologist on staff, one that both Elizabeth and Ingrid see “for building my confidence and telling my secrets,” said the latter girl.
Also new is the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA) technical training, which is an indication of the governmental support given CEPIA. “First of all we now work well with the government,” said Deweer. “They are starting to take us seriously. Now when we ask the government for something, they are very cooperative.”
Next year, through Educacion Abierta, CEPIA will offer high school classes for grades 6-11 (Elizabeth has already signed up for 9th grade) which helps kids have better college opportunities.
To move forward, CEPIA relies on sponsors, donations and two major fundraisers each year including the Black and White Party, as well the Robert August Surf n Turf. There is also a private golf tournament at Reserva Conchal for homeowners. At the Black and White Party last month, Deweer noted that the most important thing there was the Angel Tree, where people chose a child’s name for whom to buy a Christmas gift (or donate $20). On December 15, 400 kids will receive presents, food and school supplies.
“All 400 of their homes have been visited by volunteers, 145 families,” said Deweer with pride. “We have a file on everybody; we know them all.”
For more information, please go to www.cepiacostarica.org.