Service Learning in Costa Rica

This past year I had the privilege of working with freshman from the College of Geosciences on a year-long service-learning experience that addressed water security and water provision from a global perspective.  In fall, these freshman met once a week to discuss global water challenges and to read a Doc Henley’s book Wine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World.   The book inspired students to engage in informed discussions about contemporary water challenges and the role of the geosciences.

Led by Judy Nunez, my partner in this endeavor, we traveled with 15 students to the Texas A&M Soltis Center in San Isidro, Costa Rica to spend a week in April learning about water governance hands on.  I joined them, after a very long 24 hours of travel from Fortaleza. We also were joined by a staff member from Wine to Water, the NGO started by Doc Henley, to accompany and guide students through the their volunteer program and lead evening discussions.

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We spent several days with the local ASADAS (Asociaciones Administradoras de. Sistemas de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Sanitarios). ASADAS are community-based water institutions responsible for domestic water provision in rural areas.  There are 1,400 ASADAS that provide about 24% of the country’s domestic water.  We followed the water, from the spring to the tap, and learned about very different models of working with water resources and the challenges of provision in rural communities in Central America. In addition, The students could not wait to give a helping hand and be of service to the ASADA.

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Texas A&M students working on projects for the local ASADA.

We also strengthened our individual and institutional relationships with the local ASADA. Texas A&M is part of this watershed, indeed, the nature reserve on the center’s property contributes greatly the source water protection and water quality for the downstream communities.  As such, we also need to support the democratic institutions that support the region’s well-being.  This is one way we can play a productive and supportive role, offer freshman a high-impact learning experience, and contribute to the water security of the local community.

We want to continue building on this experience and integrating research activities as well.  Our plan next year will follow the same model, but build in new books and perhaps include other activities that address water quality concerns downstream from the local pineapple plantations.  I would like to think about a theme for each year to advance the project. Perhaps this next year’s theme could be “Citizen Science and Service,” and reach out to the NGO Freshwater Watch.

A partnership between the College of Geosciences and the Water Security Initiative underwrote a large portion of the costs to support this trip.  Student only had purchase airfare, and for some, this was subsidized by other grants or awards.  Our next challenge is to identify ways to make this sustainable over the long term.

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Hiking to visit the community’ source water (April 2017).

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ASADA member instructing students on the day’s work plan (April 2017).