LU students spend summer in Costa Rica with nonprofit

When people imagine spending their summer in Costa Rica, many think of relaxing by the gorgeous beaches or enjoying the lively culture the country has to offer. However, for FACS students Jaida Valdes and Shannon Ridgley, spending the summer in Costa Rica meant serving impoverished communities through an internship with CoLaborers International, a nonprofit that serves alongside locally-led efforts to help impoverished communities around the globe.

During this two-week-long internship, the FACS students had the opportunity to teach refugee women sewing skills through the CoLaborers International’s entrepreneurship program. These sewing skills are essential for women who struggle financially. Many of the refugee women they served fled to Costa Rica from violence and persecution in their home countries. 

In Las Gradas, the community where the FACS students served, residents can only go out during certain times due to the dangerous nature of the environment. According to CoLaborers International’s website, Las Gradas is surrounded by pollution and is inaccessible by car. Due to these restrictions, leaving the house for work is too difficult, but having these sewing skills not only provides women with a way to create income. It also provides a safe environment to work while they are in the comfort of their homes. 

“There (are) some financial issues … (with) the area (given) how much time people are allowed (to be out of the home) or if they can even (go out) of the home. With the sewing, we were able to make a bunch of products. Then (we took them) back to America (where) they were sold online, and the people (in Costa Rica) ended up with all the (profit). That was just designed to help them more financially,” Ridgley said. 

CoLaborers International aims for the refugee women to not only support themselves for a few weeks with their new sewing skills but also to have a lasting source of income even after the internship is done. The program continues on a weekly basis to help the refugee women keep up their skills. 

“We were able to help them so that in the future they can make and sell more (sewing items),” Ridgley explained. 

The FACS students also learned a lot from their time in Costa Rica. Ridgley spoke about how her internship inspired her to continue to do missionary work.

“A major thing that I learned from (my time in Costa Rica) was a deep love for everybody. I fell in love with the area down there; it was a wonderful place. I’m going to do missionary work (again). It was an incredible experience,” Ridgley said. 

Working with CoLaborers International also impacted Ridgley’s personal academic experience.  

“A lot of the information I was learning from (Liberty), I was able to incorporate (in Costa Rica). I want to take my academics more seriously because everything I have learned here is applicable to the workforce,” Ridgley said. 

Items produced by the refugee women in Costa Rica can be found at this website.

Oribello is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

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