Staying in such a rustic location really gave us a deeper appreciation for our experience in Costa Rica. At the beginning it was like whiplash going from hotel accommodations to almost camping. We found a new respect for Isla Chira after island native Liliana shared her empowering story with us.
La Amistad started 16 years ago, when a group of ten Isla Chira woman stood up for themselves and their quality of life. The environmental degradation on the island forced the men to be away fishing for long days, leaving the women in charge of the household and their ever-growing families. Realizing the impact of population growth on their lives, their first order of business was to stop having babies; this angered the men and deepened this community divide. Domestic abuse increased. So, the group of women partnered with the local law enforcement to protect themselves from their violent partners.
Their second goal, with the help of the Costa Rican government, was to establish schools to educate themselves and the locals on sustainable practices to ensure economic growth. They started implementing fishing restrictions to ensure a growing population for future consumption and sales. These restrictions included size, species, and seasonal limitations. They also began reforesting mangroves to protect nurseries.
The cabins where we stayed were the result of construction education that they received in preparation for meeting their third goal: hosting visitors interested in sustainability. Because of their inexperience and a steep learning curve, it took three to five attempts to finish each cabin.
La Amistad received money from the United Nations to fund the construction of a boat (a fourth goal, and to transport sick or pregnant islanders to the mainland clinic) despite the fact that the local women had no boat-building experience. So the women hired a teacher to teach them how to build one! The men had no interest in helping and mocked the women’s progress. The boat was finished in eight months despite the men’s negative outlook on the project.
Once they were finished building the boat they had to install the outboard motor which usually requires the strength of one physically fit man. Feeling empowered, the women would not give up. It took three women to install the motor by themselves. The boat represented their combined strength and independence. As Liliana boasted, “it’s the prettiest and safest boat on the island.”
To cap off our experience we had the honor of riding in this boat to the mangroves, a biodiverse ecosystem that provides social, economic, and ecological benefits to this island community. Mangroves also serve as a tsunami barrier, and a breeding ground/nursery for fish and other species. There are seven species of mangroves in the world, five of which thrive in Costa Rica. As the La Amistad story sunk in and as we managed through our own challenges on Isla Chira, we celebrated our emerging sisterhood.