Knead the Dough
Discover how one Peace Corps Costa Rica Volunteer creates the perfect recipe for a community project.
The Sandi Chanto family consists of thirteen children and their parents, and is one of the five founding families of my site, a small mountainous community in southern Costa Rica. In the past, the family owned a “trapiche”, a place where they juice and cook sugar cane to make “dulce”.
Through the years they have gradually slowed their business activities and used the land for their personal use. When the parents of the family passed away, they requested the land never be sold as a way of keeping it in the family. The family has expanded over the years and they carved out their own little neighborhood on the family’s land. The sense of community is incredible! They love to gather in the old trapiche, cook, and enjoy each other’s company. Occasionally they will find some sugar cane and juice it.
The Sandi Chanto family is made up of many hard-working women of all ages. When an opportunity arose to pair up with an organization called Bricks to Bread, my counterpart, Marixenia, knew the Sandi Chanto family would be an amazing fit. Bricks to Bread is an organization, founded by a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Nancy Fitzimons Alvarado, and is dedicated to building brick ovens in communities of need in Costa Rica. They look for women’s groups or families heavily dominated by women to empower them and help them start their own business.
We presented the idea to the family, and they were overjoyed and excited about this new opportunity. The oldest of the siblings mentioned that they’ve always wanted to do something like this as a family, but never had the resources to start it.
With the help of their organization, a few volunteers from the States, and the entire Sandi Chanto family, we started construction on New Year’s Eve with the location being right next to the old trapiche. Every person had a job whether it be mixing cement, cutting bricks, keeping the area clean, or cooking all meals and snacks.
Each day the volunteers and family grew closer together. Despite some language barriers, everyone was getting along and becoming an extended family.
To develop our relationship even deeper, the family and I took the volunteers on daily adventures to show them the town and experience Costa Rican culture. We cut sugar cane, toured a coffee field, walked on the border of Costa Rica and Panama, participated in a Zumba class, and even climbed up a hollowed out tree! The adventures and time spent together produced the trust we all needed to complete the project.
As our mutual trust grew, the women started working more on the construction. At first they were a little timid, but by the end, they were laying brick, mixing cement, and doing all sorts of jobs. The empowerment in just a few days was incredible! Their eyes would light up watching the project unfold and become something so special. The entire family felt valued and needed. My heart flutters just remembering their faces during the build phase of the project.
On the morning of January 4th we stoked our first little fire. That fire brought tears to our eyes and warmed our hearts. That same day we said goodbye to the hard-working volunteers that had become like family. This project will forever be in the hearts of all who participated.