El Puente – updated 3/1/07
El Puente provides assistance mainly to the local indigenous people of the area (called the Bribri). I found out about El Puente (“the bridge”) during my online research of Puerto Viejo. I also found information on Banana Azul’s website, and I contacted Barry at El Puente to see how we could help. We wanted to give our time as well as some supplies we could cart down with us.We agreed to meet Barry and his wife Nanci on the 15th in order to help with the soup kitchen. One of the many ways they help is the homemade vegetable soup days. They serve coffee, juice, soup, and crackers. Nanci knows the name of everyone who comes through, and they love her. Here are some of the people we met while helping out:One of the Bribri families that frequently visits El Puente:I love this picture of Katia; I just happened to capture a moment where she looks so serene and serious.A not-so-serious Katia (love her smile!):I fell in love with Daniela as soon as I saw her smiling face. She kept smiling at James and was so polite and loving. When we took pictures together, she moved her hand up to mind to hold it. I melted.Daniela:I mistakenly thought that Barry and Nanci moved to Puerto Viejo in order to start El Puente. However, it started one step at a time, when they noticed an elderly Bribri man walking by their house every day into Puerto Viejo (they live right beside a popular path that the Bribris use to get to the main road). This man would later return, carrying plastic bags of food. They later found out he was digging through the trash to take food home to his family. Nanci started making soup for him, and that is how it all started. They have come so far in just a couple of years…they make it possible for over 30 children to go to school, they provide food, counseling assistance, and many other things. Barry and Nanci have such amazing hearts and spirits…they both have also have such wit and humor. I really enjoyed meeting them and hope to visit El Puente again.**edited 3/1/07**I have been trying to figure out how to write more about my experience with El Puente, and how much it affected me. I originally had a really long, really heartfelt post typed out, but forgot to save it, and clicked on something else…and I lost it. I was mad at myself for doing that, so I forced myself to write something else. Unfortunately, I was already drained from the post-that-never-was, so what I came up with was pretty crappy.I honestly can’t explain to you how wonderful Nanci and Barry are. What they are doing for these people is coming from their hearts. They give so much of their own resources: time, money, love, sweat, tears…almost everything they have is used for El Puente (including their home). They don’t ask for anything back. They truly feel they have been called by some higher power to do this. We never spoke of God or Religion as THE God or THE Religion, but it was very evident that they believe something or someone – somewhere – put them exactly where they need to be to do this. They haven’t been there for very long – a couple of years – and they are improving the lives of so many already.I was also unsure of what to say about the Bribri families I met and that Nanci and I discussed. I don’t want to exploit their stories by talking about their personal struggles. What I will say is that like many people all over the world, they don’t have enough to eat. Many children weren’t going to school until El Puente stepped in to assist them. Even with this help, it’s still very rare for a child to go any further than 5th grade. Alcoholism and abuse are present in some families. Prostitution is legal and some girls are sold for sex by their own parents.I left El Puente feeling happy and sad and guilty and overwhelmed. I feel like I have so much. And I do. I have so much STUFF. And none of it really matters really. It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve been back, and I’m still struggling with the guilt. I don’t want to spend money on more crap I don’t need. How about the broccoli that I threw out because I was too lazy to cook it? All of this is weighing on me. I can’t really explain it away and I’m glad it’s making me think. I don’t want to live in my own little world where I think that more stuff will make me happy.I don’t want to continue letting life pass me by. I felt more happiness in Costa Rica than I have felt in a long, long time. It goes beyond just being free of work obligations. I was taking everything in around me and actually seeing things. I don’t really do that here. I want to figure out why because I definitely don’t have that answer yet.Anyway. These are some of my thoughts about El Puente and the impact it had (has) on me. Please feel free to email me with any questions, and again, please visit El Puente’s website in order to learn more about what they do and how you can help.