We met Barry Stevens in Bread and Chocolate, our favourite breakfast spot, where he struck up a conversation. On one hand his story was fairly typical of the many American expats in Puerto Viejo: he came to this chilled Costa Rican beach town eight years ago fed up of corporate life and never left. But Barry didn’t just spend his time lazing on beaches: he set up an NGO to support the local Bribri indigenous community.
Just a few miles from the trendy cafés and shops of Puerto Viejo, the Bribri people live in poverty in the jungle covered hills. They lack education, food, decent housing and opportunities. Barry first became aware of the problem when he found a man searching through his trash for food. He ended up setting up a soup kitchen in his own house and years later he and his wife Nancy are still feeding around 50 Bribri people three times a week. Many walk for two hours from their hillside homes to reach Barry’s house.
We visited the soup kitchen at El Puente (Barry’s NGO) and it is clear that this isn’t just a place for people to come for a nutritious meal. It’s a community hub where people get together for advice, friendship and to take part in one of the many projects El Puente organises.
As well as the soup kitchen and food packages for families in need, El Puente’s main aim is helping the Bribri people to help themselves. They buy the expensive school uniforms so the children can go to school, provide micro loans to start up businesses, act as a venue for vocational training courses and many other projects depending on the needs of the community.
Volunteer in Costa Rica
If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity in Costa Rica, El Puente are always looking for people to help out. They do not charge fees and are very flexible: help in the soup kitchen for a day or stay for months. Volunteer roles depend on your interests and skills. You could work in the kitchen, help kids with their homework (Spanish required) or even develop your own project.
Volunteers need to arrange their own accommodation but there are plenty of affordable options in Puerto Viejo.
Visit the Bribri Community
If you don’t have time to volunteer but are interested in learning more then Barry is happy for people to come along to the community kitchen on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can also arrange for treks into the hills to visit the Bribri community with a local guide. Prices are very reasonable and go entirely to the guide.
For more information visit the El Puente website.