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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Becoming part of a community

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 21 June 2008 | Views [920]

Pizza party at the Rancho

Pizza party at the Rancho

I wrote this story for the Ranch´s newsletter.  It´s is a reflection on what it means to become part a small community and the whole idea of responsible tourism.  As part of our orientation here, we have also discussed the impacts that our presence and behaviour, as foreigners, have on the local people.  See what you think:-

Sitting snugly in the heart of the small, hilltop hamlet of Mastatal, el Rancho Mastatal is a real community within a community.   A dictionary definition provides some clues as to what “community” means: people living in the same location, sharing the same governance, with common interests and values, interacting and depending on each another.  So what does it mean to join the Ranch, even if only for a little while? 

As one of the new interns here, I am amazed at how quickly I am fitting in to the rhythm of life here.   Although in some ways it is no surprise.  We are all here because we are interested in what the Ranch does (for example, natural building) and what it stands for – communicating and demonstrating how to live sustainability, supporting the people of Mastatal through the Mastate Foundation, protecting and rehabilitating the local rainforest and, not least, creating an inclusive and welcoming place to be.

The Ranch depends on everyone sharing responsibility for essential day-to-day tasks - the most important of which is cooking the delicious meals we all enjoy eating.  Like the start of any great relationship, arriving interns and volunteers and Ranch residents enjoy a period of mutual exploration, evolving trust, guidance and ultimately a shared purpose as we develop individual projects which contribute to the Ranch and the wider community of Mastatal.  For me this is an opportunity to grow as a person too: to learn new skills, widen my horizons and to reflect on what I will take away from the whole experience.      

This is a dynamic community, people come and go, staying anywhere from a few days, to weeks, months and in some cases years (ask Greg!).   Nevertheless, the spirit of the Ranch remains the same, held fast by founders Tim and Robin.  As the ‘elders’ of this small community, they remember the Ranch’s beginnings, the dream behind it and everything that has been achieved since its inception.  They are also the bridge to the people of Mastatal, helping Tico neighbours to make sense of this eccentric bunch of gringos!

I have an impact on the people of Mastatal simply by being here.  Well, not me personally, but foreigners in general.  Over the past seven years as the Ranch has grown, the village has changed.  Eco-tourism, already a major source of income for Costa Rica, is spreading through home grown initiatives such as Iguana Chocolat, Cabañas Siempre Verde, Villas Mastatal, the new Soda and increased Tico-Gringo traffic at the Pulperia (the local bar opposite the Ranch).  You might think this is all good for a poor rural area in a developing country?

Actually, no it is not.  Drink and drugs are becoming a problem, casual sex is an awkward subject for those who live here all time and hard economic realities point to tourism providing an easy buck.  The trouble is not all the people around here can have a ‘tourism’ job.  Most young men around here work the land for a dollar an hour; a beer will cost about an hour and a half’s hard labour.  Despite everyone’s best intentions this aspect of “community” is much harder to anticipate, difficult to adjust to and probably impossible to control.

So back to my first question: what does it mean to become part of the Ranch community, if only for a little while?  The answer probably goes something like this: laughing with new friends, sharing fun and responsibilities, learning new things, respecting differences, and perhaps most importantly being mindful of what we contribute to the community outside our gates.


Tags: community, sustainability

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