Similar to most countries in the world, the Caronavirus 19 pandemic has taken a big health and economic toll on Costa Rica, and our town of San Ramon de Alajuela is no exception. The government has reported that over 63,000 in Costa Rica have lost jobs and over 140,000 more have suffered dramatic reductions in their work and pay. The government's economic and travel restrictions have severely limited work opportunities, and our CAA Educational Scholarship Student families are struggling. As of July 2nd, Costa Rica has confirmed over 4,023 positive cases with 17 deaths nationally, and in our area, the Canton of San Ramon, the count was 135 cases.
The national borders have been closed to foreigners/tourists since the third week of March, and the target date for re-opening the borders is now set for August 1, 2020. Gradually, the government is loosening restrictions on travel, retail, and food service, although travel and services in about 16 “hot-spots” are still restricted to "essential" services. The new case count was 190 on June 30th, and increases daily as more activity is allowed, and as citizens grow weary of the safety recommendations. As a result, the government just now imposed mandatory regulations requiring almost everyone to wear a face mask in public, and businesses still open are being inspected by the police and health officials -- as a result, numerous businesses have been shut down and fined for non-compliance and putting their workers un-necessarily at risk.
The Pan American Health Organization reported that Costa Rica’s case count will peak in October, while many in South America and other Central American countries will peak in July or August. Costa Rica’s mitigation strategy appears to have slowed the spread for a few months but hospitalizations are on a steady increase – fortunately, Costa Rica’s socialized medical system is bearing almost all the cost of treating the sick, sparing families the significant medical bills reported in some countries like the U.S. The health workers are contact tracing and following up with patients and those quarantined for preventative reasons.
How has the pandemic impacted CAA’s Educational Scholarship Program’s students? Schools have been physically closed since March, but for those students with internet access, some on-line instruction has continued. The Education Ministry just announced that they will re-start the Second Term in the first week of August with reduced-capacity classroom attendance, supplemented with online instruction. Many of the CAA scholarship students have been able to find ways to do some online classes for the First Term, but others have not been so fortunate. With travel and bus services curtailed and discouraged, and public buildings closed, some of our students that live outside of San Ramon centro have not been able to find internet access. Students are unable to ask teachers for help and many struggle to master the material using the on-line instruction alone. And, for many students, closing the classrooms has also meant they cannot take advantage of the free/reduced cost lunches available at school. Additionally, two of our Colegio students are scheduled to graduate this year -- they are awaiting word from the Education Ministry about how these class disruptions will impact their prospects for passing their final Colegio competency tests, and for graduation in December.
To address the most basic of these needs for food, CAA initiated a C-Virus Pandemic Food Relief initiative to provide groceries for these scholarship families, and for other families that participate in a local women’s empowerment-job training program run by the non-profit Arbol de Esperanza.
As of June 30th, CAA has raised and will provide at least 3,580,000 colones ($6300) in food assistance to these needy families: we have already distributed almost $3300 in food assistance to our educational scholarship families, and $2600 for the women-in-training families; and we have another $400 ready to distribute.
These 40+ families, at a time when work and funds are reduced, could not have been more pleased to learn that CAA had pre-funded food vouchers for each family through a partnering local super-mercado. And, by pre-funding the vouchers, CAA earned discounted pricing on many of the food items. Hopefully, this crisis will subside and allow parents to get back to work and students to get back into regular, but socially distanced class-rooms. Without food in the house, these last two months would have been even tougher for these families.
Your generosity and concern for our community is making a big difference for these scholarship families, and, on behalf of these distressed families, we extend our heartfelt appreciation. It is critically important to continue these efforts – to ensure that these students graduate high school,continue their education, and be able to provide a more secure future. By working together, we believe that this can happen.