An innovative rehabilitation and litter-cleanup project is celebrating its fourth successful year in operation in the popular tourist destination of Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. Based in the port city of Quepos, the Asociación Esfuerzos Humanitarios de Quepos (Quepos Humanitarian Association) created the program to actively protect this highly visited area by enlisting the help of area residents who have voluntarily entered the association’s rehabilitation program.
Over the past three years, the rehabilitation program has offered assistance to more than 95 men who once lived on the streets. The project provides them not only a warm bed and food, but also a real opportunity to tackle their addictions and regain self-confidence and stability by returning to work.
This year, the association and members of the rehabilitation program, with the help of the local Aguirre Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit ProParques, will take on the new task of improving the infrastructure of ManuelAntonioNational Park, assisting with the installation of six eco-friendly lookout points and numerous bridges to enhance tourists’ enjoyment of the park.
Manuel Antonio boasts expansive white sandy beaches and an abundance of wildlife, and the park’s popularity as an ecotourism destination means that it receives as many as 260,000 visitors a year. This is not without consequence, as certain areas are prone to general wear and tear as well as littering. With the park lacking a sufficient maintenance budget, the association put forward an innovative solution to benefit all parties involved.
Working jointly with the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) and funded by donations from members of the chamber of commerce, participants of the association’s rehabilitation program keep not only the park and its beaches but also the nearby towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio litter-free. All litter collected is sorted and separated for recycling. In addition, workers are helping to create green areas in Quepos by establishing gardens.
Kim Stilwell, president and founding member of the Quepos Humanitarian Association, recognizes the importance of a collaborative effort to ensure the project’s continued success.
“Our mission cannot be accomplished by one person, one agency or one committee,” he says. “To adequately serve all of the clients of this project, both the concerns of the community at large and the needs of the homeless must be addressed.”
The association provides refuge for homeless men often coping with substance-abuse problems. Experienced staff offer guidance and support to help them along the road to recovery.
“The overall goal is to restore, to every extent possible, the lives of people among this homeless population, returning them to their fruitful place in society – to again be productive and healthy members of their families and their communities,” Stillwell says. “It involves and includes personal health – spiritual, mental and physical. This includes helping the client re-enter the work force.”
The association’s vision is to acquire its current residence, dubbed Casa de Amor – a house it rents in the Quepos area that is presently home to nine men – and develop it into a multifaceted rehabilitation center.
Stilwell and his team have given many homeless men not only a safe place to sleep at night but also a safe passage back to reconnecting with their families and society.
The program incorporates many different aspects designed to provide its members with essential life tools. Workshops have been created on Bible reading, spiritual and physical healing and the importance of hygiene, combined with medical care, work-ethic counseling and household duties.
Spanish and English courses have also been established, alongside sessions with Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute (IAFA) counselors and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Stilwell strongly believes Manuel Antonio is benefiting from these programs.
“Lives and families are being restored, and communities are being cleaned and made aware they can help solve this problem instead of ignoring it,” he says.
Richard Lemire, president of the Aguirre Chamber of Commerce, whose members have financially contributed to the ManuelAntonioNational Park improvement project, says, “We started with a small fundraising lunch inviting all the members of the chamber to donate $50. We raised $750, and this helped pay for the production of the improvement project.”
Lemire says MINAET has pledged to pay for new infrastructure and repair of viewpoints and trails in the park. A building will also be installed that will house a new office and education center for the park’s 20 rangers.
Lemire agrees that this is an innovative way of helping the local community and the environment.
“It is very positive, putting people back in contact with nature and its beauty to help their rehabilitation,” he says. “They are not only kept active and healthy, but revenue is also created for the center. This is the perfect example of a (partial) solution to the drug problem we have in the country.”
The success of the alliance has resulted in the chamber being open to exploring other programs in need of support. For example, the chamber is interested in recruiting the association’s help for a turtle-protection program at Manuel Antonio’s Playa Rey. Lemire says area residents and businesses recognize that the national park is the heart of the local economy, and needs to be maintained to ensure the success of the area’s ecotourism industry.
The association’s future includes exciting projects such as the opening of a sawmill and a paint workshop for cars, which will employ men who have been through the program. The creation of another induction site in Quepos with a working rehabilitation center and a sponsored back-to-work scheme are also close to fruition. Stilwell believes this successful rehabilitation model can be implemented in other areas of the country, combining environmental conservation, positive rehabilitation and the strengthening of the local community.
The Quepos Humanitarian Association welcomes donations of food and money for the center and is eager to create new alliances with people and groups that support the project’s vision. For information, contact Kim Stilwell at 2777-0249, 8381-0708 or [email protected].
For information on how to help the national park, contact Richard Lemire at [email protected].