It seemed to Michele that she had been born in the wrong era; the 1950’s and 1960’s lifestyle in the United States would have been more suited to her.
The decline of moral standards here in the States seemed to have increased year after year, and Michele found herself searching for more meaning to her life. Work-stress and a divorce took a toll, both emotionally and health-wise.
She knew a change had to be made; and a more simplistic lifestyle appealed to her. The phone rang and it was an old college friend, who she had not seen in over 13 years. This ‘Tico’ or Costa Rican friend turned out to be the catalyst that led Michele to Puerto Viejo, on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
Ever since she first stepped on Costa Rican soil in 1992, Michele yearned to return to the laid-back way of life. The Ticos are a welcoming people. Simplistic in their lifestyles, recreational activities center around family and friends.
If a neighbor is in need, there is always someone standing at the door willing to help out. Puerto Viejo is an eclectic mix of Ticos, Caribbean folks, and indigenous, with a spattering of European and American transplants.
In mid-2004, Michele began to once again research the coastal area south of Limon, Costa Rica. She stumbled upon a website for El Puente, a non-profit organization serving the needs of the indigenous BriBri of southern Costa Rica.
She was invited by Barry and Nanci Stevens to visit and see firsthand the work they are doing at El Puente. It was not long before a friendship was born and a job offer was made. After spending a week at the Steven’s home, Michele was hooked.
She returned to the States to sell her home and many of her material possessions, and returned to Puerto Viejo with her two small children in June, 2005. She felt led to this area, and the strong desire to make a difference in the lives of the indigenous helped to keep her focused during the planning process and the initial move.
Michele lived with her children in Puerto Viejo for three months. Their days were filled with daily activities in support of El Puente. They tagged along as Nanci Stevens made her weekly rounds of all of the local grocery stores in search of the food staples to prepare Saturday’s meal, and they helped chop vegetables and assist in other preparations on Thursday as a new batch of soup was begun.
Originally set up as a soup kitchen to serve a basic need, El Puente has grown into a ‘bridge’ of sorts, bridging the gap between generations; and serving not only nutritional needs, but educational needs, and providing a complete program, including a health clinic, aimed toward self-sufficiency.
Michele and the children arrived every Saturday morning in anticipation of the day ahead. The hustle and bustle of El Puente on Soup Kitchen day was at first overwhelming, but the family caught on quickly.
The children began to pick up some Spanish phrases, and helped to serve café and jugo (coffee and juice) to the indigenous families who had walked several hours from their homes deep within the rainforest.
A nutritious meal of vegetable soup, fruit, crackers, coffee and juice is now served three times a week, and over 60 people participate in the program. Families from different tribes who never spoke to each other before began to form friendships, and El Puente soon became much more than somewhere to go for a meal.
It evolved into a gathering place for families. Grandparents from different geographical areas now travel to El Puente on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to visit with their children and grandchildren. Women who never before smiled, now laugh and giggle as they watch a family DVD following the meal.
The women confide in Nanci and she provides them with advice and support. El Puente has begun to close a gap and to mend some of the sociological problems stemming from the extreme isolation these families have faced for many years.
After three months in Puerto Viejo, Michele was faced with a choice. The funding level at El Puente had not grown as anticipated, and although she loved the work she was doing, she was running out of the meager funds that she had brought with them. The family reluctantly left town in August and began the long road toward reintegration into life in the States.
For many months, Michele struggled with a reason for it all; and she resolved that their efforts would not be in vain. She felt sure there was a reason for that chance encounter with her old college friend. She knew deep down there was a reason for the move to Puerto Viejo, and surely there must also be a reason for the move back to the States after such a short period of time.
Perhaps the move back to the States was simply an opportunity to help raise the funds that are so desperately needed in order to keep El Puente afloat.
Michele set out on a mission. Her goal was to publish a book to serve in part as a fundraiser for El Puente. The first three months back in the States were spent compiling the stacks of newsletters she had sent back to family and friends during their stay in Puerto Viejo.
Soon, the Chronicles of the Jungle Mom: Notes from the Jungle manuscript was complete. It took another two months to work her way through the tedious proofing process with the publisher.
The book project was complete, but still, Michele did not feel her work was done. Two yard sales yielded a small profit and another donation, and then she began the task of contacting the 180 or so U.S. companies that are currently doing business in Costa Rica.
The idea was to solicit corporate donations. Michele would contact these corporations here in the United States, and the Stevens would contact the counterparts at their local offices throughout Costa Rica. Together, a miracle is waiting to happen.
The walls in Michele’s modest home are now covered with photographs of the indigenous ‘family’ she left behind. The faces of the BriBri people are forever in her memories and somehow, Michele knows that it is only a matter of time before she will return to Costa Rica. She keeps in touch with the Stevens and religiously reads their weekly newsletter to keep abreast of new events.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. Michele felt compelled to continue her research on the BriBri, and was soon led to another web site – One Human Tribe where she met photographer and film maker, Ken Herft, Jr.
As it turns out, Ken spent several years in southern Costa Rica, living and interacting with a BriBri curandero, or medicine man and his family, not far from El Puente’s home base. Michele was able to provide a connection between Ken and Barry and Nanci Stevens, and in March, 2006, Ken visited the region and brought the medicine man to El Puente to give a showing of his documentary, The Hidden People.
After the film, the medicine man, Don Candido Morales Morales, spoke to the BriBri people regarding the importance of retaining their age old traditions, especially the medicinal cures and remedies.
In this culture, a curandero is held in the highest regard, and is treated with the utmost respect. This was a remarkable day, as a young man in the crowd took an interest in Don Candido’s touching speech, and is now training to be the next medicine man.
Also, since the day of the film debut at El Puente, a local merchant in Costa Rica donated a laptop computer to Don Candido, and he and his sons have begun the process of documenting the wealth of knowledge that was soon to be lost to the next generation.
Michele’s work is not done; she plans to one day be there to see the construction of the new facilities begin. In her mind’s eye, she can see clearly what it will look like.
There will be enlarged kitchen facilities, a craft area for the children, community shower facilities, and volunteer cabinas for those who wish to participate in the activities at El Puente.
The Lord has led Michele this far and she is confident that he will lead her even further in this endeavor. As quoted in the film, ‘What the Bleep?’ – How far are YOU willing to go?
Written by VIP Member Michele Kohan.
- Michele Kohan’s book is available at Amazon, please support her by buying her book here Chronicles of the Jungle Mom
- You can read more about El Puente here.
- We would ask you to please consider making a contribution to El Puente, which will make a difference.
Americans Living in Costa Rica. Michele Kohan’s story.
Article/Property ID Number 1070
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