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HomeTopicsExpat LivingReflections on the Rise and Fall of a Costa Rica Rehab Center

Reflections on the Rise and Fall of a Costa Rica Rehab Center

It is an odd feeling to return to a town or an area where you had once spent time, only to find that a certain personal landmark– a tree, a house, a restaurant– is no longer there. There was once a large multi-winged wood frame house, similar to those the United Fruit Company built decades before, that I had passed dozens of times, outside the town I had once lived. Sometime in the past couple of years it was dismantled.

I did a double take as I passed by recently. Ironic that only the foundation of the house remained, because for years it had been the home of a foundation that housed and worked to rehabilitate addicts. I always had an issue with the foundation. Not for what they did– making the effort to transform the lives of addicts who want to permanently recover from their addictions is a worthy cause.

My problem was the way they went about it. One of their primary fundraising methods was to flood the town with recovering addicts in t-shirts bearing the name of the foundation.

They could be found on downtown street corners and in front of supermarkets, or just walking the streets, hawking pens, pencils, cheap razors, all to raise money for the foundation. I did not like it. To me, they were just repeating the same hustle for spare change that they had used as addicts to score a rock or a pill. Maybe that was the idea– they were experienced at hustling in the street for small change. I thought it simply reinforced previous bad behavior.

Besides: How was I to know that the guy I gave 500 colones to for a pen that would go dry in a few days– I called them disposable pens– wasn’t going to go around the corner and score? Some of them looked like recent arrivals, gaunt and hollow-eyed, balancing on the precipice, trying not to fall back into the abyss. The street was probably the worst place they could be. This foundation was headquartered in the San Jose area.

They had a simple, stripped-down website with some information about their organization and goals, a few photos, and an email address. I emailed them and told them I had a suggestion for a better way to raise money. Why not put them to work making the town a nicer place to be?

One day they could pick up garbage along the roadsides. Another day they could help clean the beach. Maybe plant some trees on other days. They would benefit from the exercise and an actual work schedule. Local businesses could make monthly donations. Surely this would raise more money than peddling trinkets in the street.

About two weeks later I received a response from an assistant director. She thanked me for writing and then explained that the rules of the foundation prohibited them from doing this type of work. This was the work of the municipalities, she explained, adding that all of those guys on the street had a schedule and were accountable for the moneys received through the sales. She quoted their rehab success rate and thanked me for writing.

At the bottom she included a link if I wanted to make a donation. Years had passed since I had given any of this a thought, until the day I noticed their former headquarters was no more. I looked them up online and saw they still existed, but were now under the umbrella of an international organization. The legions of recovering addicts were no longer on the street. The website had been updated and was an upgrade over the previous effort.

One thing had not changed though: At the bottom of the page was a link for making a donation to the cause.

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