By Liza Larson, member of the Rotary eClub | Engage
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
This quote is something that I have on a Post-it Note hanging in my office—it’s a reminder about how important volunteering is in my life. About two years ago, I discovered Rotary International and an emerging “club to be” called Rotary eClub | Engage sponsored by the Plano East Rotary Club. The virtual nature of the club gives me the flexibility to be able to volunteer when traveling for business, when I just don’t want to leave the house, or when (like these last few months) we physically can’t.
In May 2019, I joined a Rotary global grant project sponsored by the Rotary Club of Denton where I made a two-year English language mentoring commitment to a woman entrepreneur and mother named Rosa who lives in rural central Costa Rica. Rosa and her daughter, Angie, work as local tour guides in a town called Turrialba, which was once a flourishing town and a direct stop on the train that ran between the capital, San Jose, and a southern Caribbean tourist town, Puerto Viejo. In the 1990s, a terrible earthquake destroyed Costa Rica’s rail system, and Turrialba residents lost much of their income. Residents like Rosa and her family have taken action with the help of Rotary to rebuild economic opportunities with an emerging, community-based ecotourism industry. As part of that process, she is learned English and continuing her studies to better serve and attract tourists to the area.
Every time I talk with Rosa, I garner a renewed sense of purpose, self-worth, and connection. You can imagine the stress and financial difficulty she and her family are enduring right now. This has led me to help her in other ways than just language. Rosa has become the president of RETUS Tours, which when translated stands for the Network of Women Entrepreneurs in Sustainable Tourism in Turrialba. Our conversations now include talking through organizational challenges, marketing efforts, and growth strategies.
Rosa and the women of RETUS Tours have pivoted to this new reality with resilience, creativity and compassion. They remain a cohesive group of dedicated tour guides, who are following the new government tourism protocols, and obtaining all licenses and permits that will be needed in the post-pandemic Costa Rican tourism industry. Their growth hasn’t slowed. For example, The Hogar de Mariposas Butterfly Sanctuary is opening a second Sanctuary on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and four new women have been welcomed into the RETUS Tours cooperative, creating a concierge tour package with greater choices for travelers. As more women join, more employment opportunities in rural Costa Rica follow.
To supplement their income, several RETUS Tours members make and sell face masks locally and they have a source that is purchasing as many as they can make. Additionally, the women who received Rotary-funded aquaponic gardens in 2018 are growing produce and feeding their neighbors and others in their communities. Their generosity can bring you to tears. When they work as a group, they become a powerful network in their communities.
Given the shutdown of the tourism industry, I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit Costa Rica and meet Rosa in person, but it’s amazing how our relationship has grown regardless. I am proud of the work we’ve provided to help the women of RETUS Tours recoup the losses from these last few months and prepare for a strong re-opening.
Explore and experience what Costa Rica offers with RETUS Tours. You will receive local Pura Vida hospitality, and enjoy its meaning; Pure Life. It is the Costa Rican way.