A class field trip to Costa Rica’s capital to distribute food and drink to the homeless turned from a dreaded requirement to an eye-opening experience.
The events I witnessed and people I met not only changed my view of poverty, but also inspired me to become involved in a similar project upon my return to the U.S.
My professor helped to create an organization called “Perros de La Calle” or “Dogs of the Street,” in which every other Sunday he collects food and drinks to distribute to San Jose’s poor and homeless. In order to observe and participate in humanism on a personal level, this field trip is a requirement for the class.
Thus, we gathered in San Jose’s central park on a cloudy Saturday morning, sorting sandwiches, cookies and juice boxes into different bags. Upon finishing this task, our professor gave each student a bag to hold and thus our adventure began.
With a bag of 2 sandwiches, 2 juice boxes and a pack of cookies, I walked with my class of 40 toward one of the rivers running through the city where many of the poor lived. Arriving at the river’s bank, we found “Negro,” a blind dog whose owner had previously thrown acid on his face. Although Negro is receiving treatment for his blindness, he may need his eyes surgically removed if the medication does not improve his condition or the pain he endures from his abuse.
After coaxing Negro from behind a tree, my professor laid out a bag of dog food for him, encouraging him to eat. Negro finally relaxed enough to come forward and timidly eat, but continued to flinch every time a student petted him.
As we were leaving, one of my friends noticed a woman being abused across the river. At first, she and a few others didn’t understand what was happening due to the distance and tree foliage, but soon enough, they did. I could not see anything, but this is what I was told by three other girls from my class:
Three people were standing across the river- a woman, a man and another person (they were unsure if this was a woman or a man). The man grabbed the woman and she began to fight back violently. The man then threw a rock at her, pushing her to the ground. At this point, my classmates could no longer see, but the woman somehow got back up after a few minutes and finally fought the man off. She seemed to be distraught and fixing her clothing afterwards.
During this incident, our entire class remained frozen. One of my friends began shouting at the man, trying to get his attention so he would stop upon seeing the 40 of us watching him, but he didn’t hear. Meanwhile, my professor called the police, describing our location and identifying the victim and perpetrator.
After witnessing this horrific incident, many of my American friends were shocked and silent, including myself. However, our Costa Rican classmates continued to chat and laugh amongst themselves, as if nothing had happened. This may simply be a cultural misunderstanding or difference of opinion, since one of my Costa Rican friends said it was typical for “couples to fight and get back together” and none of us are entirely sure as to what happened.
We then continued with our original plan, and distributed food and water to the homeless, including a group living under a bridge and at least 10 children living in a building that resembled a boat.
The last leg of our journey was along the most dangerous street in San Jose. After tucking away our jewelry and securing our purses, we gave out the remainder of our supplies to the massive horde of people who came running down the street. We also found a man caring for a litter of five adorable puppies, and even got to feed and pet them!
Afterwards, we ended our day American style in McDonald’s after 4 hours of walking around the poorest and most dangerous parts of San Jose. Despite everything we did and saw that day, the trip was actually an enlightening experience. Most of the people and animals were extremely friendly, and seemed like they wanted social interaction and company.
And while I was initially shocked and disgusted by the occurrence near the river, I realized this was something that could happen anywhere in the world at any time. We merely witnessed this in broad daylight since we were in the worst and poorest part of Costa Rica’s capital, a horrible event, but a coincidence nonetheless. We don’t know either sides of the story, and therefore, cannot pass judgment as to what happened that day. We can only hope for the best.