Notes from Programming: Troy in Costa Rica

Associate Director Troy Shaheen recently returned from a programming trip to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. Read on as he recounts his visit to confirm the details of our summer program in Costa Rica for middle school students delves into the history of collaboration between Putney and this friendly community.

Last week I had the great pleasure of returning to Silencio de Tilaran, Costa Rica, having spent the summer here as one of the co-leaders of our Foundations Costa Rica program in 2011. I have wonderful memories of our summer in this small community of dairy farmers, and this programming visit was something I had been looking forward to for some time.

Silencio de Tilaran, Costa Rica

Silencio is a tight-knit community of about 30 houses linked by one dirt road, in the verdant mountain pastures that overlook Lake Arenal.  The history of the town is one forged in disaster and renewal; the town center forming in collective response to an earthquake in 1973 that destroyed the homes of the isolated farming families in the area. With all shelter, infrastructure, and order destroyed, one wealthy patrón donated a central plot of land and divided it among the handful of families who had lost their houses. Those families labored together and built a community from the rubble of the quake. No longer on their own out in the hills, they lived side by side in an environment of collaboration and mutual dependence. The community gradually advanced in infrastructure and economy, developing its pastures into efficient milk farms and acquiring running water, electricity, sanitation, government, a church, and a soccer field.

The primary school in Silencio, built by Putney programs from the ground up beginning in 1999.

Putney began sending students to Silencio in 1999 with the explicit goal of building a primary school. After several summers of tireless work from both Putney students and Silencio townspeople, the project was completed and now serves as a model primary school in the area. Each morning, smartly-dressed Silenciano students set out from their homes and make their way down the dusty road toward the school. Each member of the community is educated there before entering high school in a nearby city. We spent this past summer laying the foundation for an outdoor communal salón that connects to the back of the school. When finished, it will be used for community meetings, graduation ceremonies, and school performances.

Members of the local government enjoy a lighter moment in the outdoor classroom that Putney is currently working to complete.

I spent my visit catching up with friends in the community, playing soccer in the plaza, and discussing our plans for the coming summer in meetings local government officials. Don Edgar, the professor of the school, brought along a photo album documenting the history of collaboration between Putney and Silencio. Together, we leafed through years and years of meaningful projects, vibrant fiestas, and tearful goodbyes. I even spotted a photo of Yeison, last summer’s maestro de obras, as a young boy in his school uniform! The meeting was a powerful one. Many community members shared memories of particularly hardworking or comical Putney students. They told me of the many who have since returned to visit Silencio with their parents, spouses, or children. I was struck by how accustomed they had become to our presence each summer and how much more they knew about the narrative of Putney in Costa Rica than I did.

My return to Silencio gave me a new perspective on the history of sharing that has enriched this community and a much larger network of Putney students. I am thrilled to be involved in this ongoing partnership between Putney and Silencio and look forward to the new bonds our group will forge this summer.

Putney’s first group in Silencio in 1999.

The names of the first Putney group in Silencio.

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