Student Leadership Initiative in Costa Rica: Research in Action 2015

Twelve students in SMU’s Student Leadership Initiative (SLI), sponsored by the Embrey Human Rights Program, participated in a service-learning trip to Costa Rica Jan. 2-12, 2015. The SLI students were led by Dr. Howard J. Recinos, Professor of Church and Society at SMU Perkins School of Theology, and Dr. Joci Caldwell Ryan, a lecturer in the women’s and gender studies program of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Bearing witness

An update from sophomore Kayla, a double major in political science and human rights:

After spending 10 amazing days taking in Costa Rican culture and visiting with amazing human rights organizations, I can proudly say this was a powerful learning experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Unlike some other human rights or mission trips, the goal of this trip was not to go into Costa Rica to help the Costa Ricans with some sort of financial, physical or other aid. We were observers looking in from the outside, attempting to gain some clear, on-site perspectives of the state of human rights in both Costa Rica and Central America, and how these organizations gauge and respond to human rights needs.

The issues were as varied as the responses. We met with sex workers striving for labor rights and political voices, indigenous people at odds with the Costa Rican government over land projects and education, children’s rights advocates focused on teen health, and lawyers working within the Interamerican Court system to be legal advocates for those Central Americans with few means to take up causes on their own.

The power of hearing Costa Rican voices describe their struggles and triumphs was not to be taken lightly. It became incredibly clear that though many organizations have seen political and social successes in human rights advocacy, there is still much work to be done. I hope that SLI continues to take students up close and personal with these issues in Central America, because I believe that bearing witness to these struggles is the best way to understand them.

Aside from experiencing human rights organizations, working in time for fun and absorption of Costa Rican culture was very important. From horseback riding on the beach and getting our faces painted on the streets of San Jose, to learning Costa Rican history at the National Museum of Costa Rica and singing karaoke with Dr. Recinos, Costa Rica was about both gaining crucial insight and having endless fun. And of course, the food and coffee were both amazing! I truly couldn’t have asked for a more interesting, insightful, and unforgettable Central American experience!

Until next time – pura vida and pony up!


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