Anna Brammer climbed on board the local bus that makes the twice-daily trip to her home in San Joaquín, a small town in the Talamanca mountains above Turrialba.
Making her way to the back of the bus with a shopping bag of fresh fruits and vegetables in her hand, she stopped at every seat, greeting the other riders with a gentle kiss and a shy smile.
The 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer has made a name for herself in this little corner of Costa Rica. Through shared dinners, English lessons, and conversations on her front porch, she’s forged a connection with the residents of this remote farming town.
And although the other volunteers are busy stuffing their suitcases for the trip home this month when their two-year commitments end, Anna is hoping to make one last connection before she returns to the United States.
Over a year ago, Brammer started a project to build a bridge for the isolated indigenous village of Nimari, located over muddy footpaths and through pastures about an hour down the hill from San Joaquin. After dozens of meetings and long hours of fundraising and research, she’s now seeing the fruits of her labor and needs only $300 to complete the project.
Once finished, the $14,800 footbridge will provide the 240-person community with a vital link to the outside world. No longer will school children be kept at home or sick people be forced to forgo medical attention because heavy rains made crossing the river impossible.
“It will provide some consistency to the community,” Brammer said, as the local bus bumped along its way to San Joaquin. “When it rains, things stop. Children can’t get to school, meetings are postponed for days.”
The Peje river, which rises above the knees in the dry season, is a tributary of the PacuareRiver. For the members of the community, every trip into the city or visit to the local school or church requires them to hike up their pants and carry their shoes overhead. When heavy rains come, the river cannot be crossed on foot.
“Sometimes no one can pass,” said Edwin Mora, a member of the community. “In heavy rains, it takes four or five days for someone to cross. This is why we are (working to get a bridge).”
Community members have made requests for a bridge to the tribe’s governing body to no avail. Today, they consider it a blessing that Brammer stumbled upon their village.
Since then, Brammer has found her way into Mora’s home and into the hearts of many in the Cabécar tribe. She’s spent many an afternoon at their homes, sharing in coffee and bean and cheese empanadas, and learning about their language and the challenges they face.
For Brammer, who studied indigenous cultures as a student at the University of Michigan, finding an “in” with the Cabécar people was her good fortune as well as theirs.
“They’ve maintained a lot of their culture,”
she said, her face lit with enthusiasm. “They have one of the most intact languages.” Yet, their relative isolation has also kept them out of the national spotlight and therefore from benefiting from the available aid, which tends to get funneled to tribes like the Bribrí, that live closer to the Caribbean coast and thus receive more exposure.
“It’s been a problem here,” Brammer said. “Funding and support often go to the BriBris and the people here get left out.”
But the absence of support has given Brammer an avenue to get involved, and once she heard of the community’s effort to fund a footbridge, she gladly stepped in.
“I had been wanting to work with the community,” she said. “But I wanted to connect with a project that was already going. I wanted the community to take responsibility for the project so as not to perpetuate dependence.”
Brammer offered to help, but kept close to the sidelines, looking to work more as a counselor than as a spearhead for the project.
“I tried to do the things they couldn’t,” she said. She applied for a grant from the Peace Corps and organized a fundraising event among friends in San José. “Other than that, I worked to push them along and make the (bridge project) move a little faster.”
The community is now close to beginning construction. The engineering blueprints are being drafted and the final logistical plans are being laid.
“We are close,” said Mora, as his wife poured coffee for their guests, gathered on hammocks and old couches in their dirt-floored living room. “When it’s done, it will be a benefit for the entire community.”
While I interviewed Mora, Brammer was across the room chatting quietly with the little girl who had been teaching her to speak in Cabécar and with other family members, from whom she was learning the tribe’s history and customs.
With the bridge just months away from construction, Brammer’s hope is that before she leaves Costa Rica, she’ll be able to help make that one last connection.
For more information about the project or Brammer’s efforts, contact her at [email protected].