By Donald Ridder
The Carpio community, located near Embassy San José, is an example of how marginal neighborhoods in Costa Rica with large Nicaraguan populations have endured hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. Carpio is a classic squatter community that took root in the 1990s and is located on steep terrain, sandwiched between two rivers, a municipal garbage dump, and a sewage treatment plant. The community hosts a concentrated population crammed into makeshift houses on narrow streets.
While many Nicaraguan migrants came seeking refuge or a better life in Costa Rica, a new wave of migrants arrived following the April 2018 political unrest in Nicaragua and its subsequent economic crisis. Some asylum-seekers and migrants are still arriving with nothing but the clothes on their backs, from where they were living in already tight quarters with friends or relatives.
For many Carpio residents who lack legal status in Costa Rica, the only work available is in the informal economy. The lack of legal residency status also means they do not have regular access to the national health care system. The COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic contraction in Costa Rica further reduced opportunities in the informal sector, leaving many in Carpio unemployed or underemployed.
Recognizing the severity of the problems in Carpio, the embassy stepped in to help. Altogether, the community contributed food, clothing, and donations valued at more than $25,000, directly benefiting 1,200 families. Additionally, in 2020, post obtained a J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust grant which awarded $3,750 to Costa Rica to acquire medicine and medical supplies to help meet health care needs.
Spearheaded by the Community Liaison Office, individuals within the embassy community volunteered and donated to several community organizations working to help Carpio’s population of 30,000 people cope during this economic crisis. Their ongoing efforts exemplify how an embassy can be a good neighbor in addition to modeling humanitarian volunteerism, even during challenging times.
Donald Ridder is the co-community liaison officer at Embassy San José.