Mixed among government buildings, parks and monuments on the east side of San José is a century-old building that houses more than papers and bureaucrats – the Santa Luisa de Marillac Residence, which 10 young women ages 13-18 call home.
One of 107 nonprofit organizations that work with Costa Rica’s Child Welfare Office (PANI) to assist children and adolescents in at-risk situations, this residence is run by the nonprofit San José Orphanage, which also has shelters in Guadalupe, north of San José, and Coronado, east of San José, and a San José day-care center providing affordable care for low-income parents and single mothers.
Most of the children who live in these shelters are not actually orphans; rather, they have been removed from their homes by PANI because of abuse or neglect, explained Jaqueline Porras, Santa Luisa de Marillac social worker.
PANI has a policy of trying to keep children with their families, said PANI spokeswoman Fanny Cordero. However, when this is not possible, children are placed under some form of protection. In 2005, PANI placed 6,141 minors under protective care: 1,671 in foster care, 1,223 in other transitional homes, 2,541 in daycare centers and 706 in shelters, according to a PANI report.
Maricruz Castro, 17, has lived at the Santa Luisa de Marillac Residence since she was 13; previously, she lived at the organization’s Vista de Mar shelter in Coronado, where she moved at age 4.
Sitting on a sofa with three of her housemates in the residence’s living area, she talked with The Tico Times about her studies at Boston, a private technical college in San José, where she received a scholarship to study administration of tourist businesses. She also learned some English at the nearby INTENSA school.
When Castro turns 18 and moves out of the residence next year, she says she hopes to find a job at a hotel on the beach in the northwestern Guanacaste province and “make enough money to have my own apartment with my best friend,” who also grew up at the shelter.
Though many young women like Castro go on to be successful and self-sufficient when they leave the residence, helping them reach that point is not easy, Porras said. And it’s made more difficult still by a lack of resources.
The San José Orphanage is run by a board of 13 women volunteers. The organization receives limited funding from PANI for each child at its shelters, but most of its resources come from private donations, explained vice-president Rocío Moreno.
Porras said she and the other four women who run the San José shelter (one psychologist and two who oversee the residence in shifts) feel the effects of budget constraints.
On a recent tour of the facility, Porras was quick to point out flaws. In the daycare facility, she pointed out small wooden chairs, worn and splintering that surround a child-sized table.
“These obviously should be replaced with new chairs that have proper back support,” she said. “We do what we can, but we could always use more resources.”
Moreno and the other 12 women on the board are all too familiar with budget woes.
The organization’s shelters and day care service approximately 120 children, but these facilities have capacity for double that amount, Moreno said.
By law, the organization is supposed to get 50% of funds raised by end-of-the-year festivities in the southern San José suburb of Zapote, or about ¢40 million ($77,220) Moreno explained.
But in recent years, the organization received “not one céntimo” from this event. The Zapote festivities are organized and carried out by a Festivities Committee, whose members are appointed yearly by the municipality, said San JoséMunicipality spokeswoman Gloria Marín.
This committee is responsible for organizing and carrying out the Zapote event in addition to a horse parade, or tope, along the capital’s Paseo Colón Dec. 26 and a carnaval in San José Dec. 27.
However, for the past several years, there have been several “inconsistencies” with the funds from the Zapote festivities, Marín said. These irregularities have led the Comptroller General’s Office, which must approve funds before they can be turned over to the Orphanage, to refuse to do so.
“Basically, the accounts didn’t balance out,”Marín said.
San José Mayor Johnny Araya recently gave the orphanage a check for ¢70 million ($135,135) – part of the funds owed from the past several years’ Zapote festivities.
But that makes only a dent in helping to cover the approximately ¢210 million ($405,405) required to run the facilities yearly, Moreno said.
As far as getting money from future festivities, Moreno said she hopes for better results. For the first time, a representative of the San José Orphanage, Eugenia Quesada, has been appointed president of the Festivities Committee managing this year’s activities.
Quesada said the commission plans to improve the system by allowing private companies to bid on the festivities, which include food sales, concerts, traditional dance performances and games for children. A failure to use private bidding in the past has been part “bad management” and corruption, Quesada said.
“There was no control of ticket sales, no organization, and the commissions never recorded any kind of income,” Quesada said. “The accounting was in total disorder.”
The San JoséMunicipality’s auditor has filed complaints of these funding irregularities with the Prosecutor’s Office, but they are still being investigated, she said.
To make up for budget shortfalls, the organization has held a weeklong fundraiser called the Cadena Menor for the past two years.
This year’s event, held earlier this month, featured concerts by international and national musicians in the former Customs building. Crowd-pleasers included Costa Rican musicians Dionisio Cabal, Pato Torres and the Grammy award-winning group Editus, as well as international artists including the rock band Perozompopo, from Nicaragua, and Síntesis, from Cuba.
Though the San José Orphanage is still calculating earnings from the Cadena Menor, administrative manager Jorge Chacón told The Tico Times this week the event raised an estimated ¢25 million ($28,262) through ticket sales, a telethon and donations from private businesses – more than double the ¢11 million ($21,235) raised last year.
How to Help
The San José Orphanage will continue accepting donations as part of the Cadena Menor fundraiser through the end of the year. Contributions can be made to bank accounts named “Cadena Menor” at Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Credomatic and Banco Popular or by calling the San José Orphanage at 221-0619.