Apr 15 2012

On Community Service and Integration

Those of you who have been reading our newsletters for a while know that we are involved in an organization called the Community Action Alliance. We have proudly served as members of the Steering Committee for the past two years. The Alliance is built around a set of core values that include: a focus on action and results; the importance of service and volunteerism; putting aside differences, belief in the strength of diversity; and building consensus and working toward the collective good of the community. The following article was written by Mike Styles, who is not only one of the founders of the Alliance, he is also our good friend and neighbor.

As an ex-pat residing in a foreign country I have found one of my greatest pleasures to be helping other extranjeros integrate into, and providing service to, our new community — our new homes.  Right or wrong, prior to moving to Costa Rica I spent much of my life caught up in trying to make a living and did not “find” the time to give back to my community.  I am now in a position to do so and have realized this is a deeply rewarding part of my life that I have missed.  I also realize there is so much I can do.

It’s not so much that anyone needs my help; or that my way of doing things is better than others.  My motivation is purely selfish: it is about me and what I get from truly helping.  This is important to understand because we should not, and ultimately cannot, impose our values or culture on others.  Identifying who to help and how to help is part of the learning experience; one that all but requires making mistakes along the way to truly make that connection with people.  I have made more than my share of mistakes.  Most relate to trying to do something that either others don’t agree with or that should be done by others.  I have also learned from those mistakes and this is the key.

So where does this story of community service begin?  In September of 2009 a friend and I began hosting gatherings of ex-pats who were operating small businesses and were frustrated with learning how to navigate Costa Rican laws and business culture.  So much has happened since that time that I cannot possibly begin to cover and therefore will not try; however, from these humble gatherings we have ultimately evolved in to what we believe is one of the most effective ex-pat based community groups in Costa Rica: the Community Action Alliance.

One of the best ways to demonstrate this evolution is by looking at our upcoming Gran Venta de Libros (book sale); our second in the past six months.  Yes, it is a book sale: how hard can that be?  Well the fact that it is not hard by definition is one of the reasons for its success.  Another is the fact that “reading” is an act that is unquestionably good and universally accepted: it is not controversial and Gringos do not own the right or the patent on reading.  Yet another reason for success, and this is the key, is the number of groups and institutions we are involved with to ensure the success of the event.

The Book Sale will take place on Saturday, April 28 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Museo Regional de San Ramón, a gorgeous historic building located adjacent to the Central Park in the heart of San Ramón, and will benefit the Regional Museum and the Hogar Para Ancianos (senior center) de San Ramón.

Donation of books and other educational materials: Click here for drop-off locations.

Along the way, we literally are in touch with hundreds of organizations. This requires the full participation of our own organization and thankfully our experience has shown that there is usually a high level of interest and participation in fundraising events: people get excited and involved.

If you have any questions regarding donations, the book sale, or the Community Action Alliance, please contact me, Mike Styles at mike@styles.com or 8333.8750.”

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