As all twenty fellows of the Women’s Empowerment Through Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program of the U.S. State Department came together again for three days of the program wrap-up, the sounds of the jungle surrounded us. Staying in the Almonds and Corals, near the small beach town of Manzanilla, our rooms were comprised of a cabin with Jacuzzi tubs and no walls. Only netting separated fellows from the geckos, boas, and every other creepy crawly that you can imagine lives in the jungle. For some of the fellows, this led to nights without sleep and intermittent screams that echoed through the grounds. One of my favorite part of Almonds and Corrals was the howler monkeys that would make their presence known with long call and responses of loud, deep growl-like grunting. Every time I heard them, I giggled and it became a bit of a recurring joke when we went out to town bars in the evening.
For me, I felt a bit spoiled with the all-inclusive meals, wireless internet, and the princess-like beds covered in mosquito nets, however, I did have occasional visions of snakes cuddling up with me in bed, sensing the heat of my body as a nice place to warm-up for the eve. I decided this both wasn’t my first choice and wasn’t something I should think too hard about if I wanted to sleep.
In many ways, the area of Puerto Viejo/Mantazilla is an evolving clash of cultures. You’ll walk down the street and see Rastas, burned Gringo beach bums, kids and drunk college kids, intermixed with mangy, wild dogs on every corner. My favorite example of this was at a bar where a sloth and her baby suddenly appeared in the middle of the swank décor. Seemingly unperturbed by the music and camera flashes, she slowly, and I mean slowly, crawled down the tree in the center of the restaurant. After finishing her business (did you know sloths only come down from trees to poop?!), she just as calmly made her way back up the tree and across the restaurant.
Back at Almonds and Corals, the three days in the jungle were both refreshing and inspiring. Having all of the amazing women together again, sharing their stories and experiences, gave me time to reflect on our own organization and my life and the impact that we are all having. From a World Café with local guests from afro-Caribbean and indigenous communities to exercises in creative thinking, we never hesitated to put our ideas on the table or, for that matter, to take a coffee break and chat.
The women in our group are truly remarkable people and change makers. Some are working in maternal health and reducing deaths at child birth, others are innovating the fashion industry with recycled, ethical wears while helping underserved women develop professional skills, even others are running urban farms where city kids experience first-hand where their food comes from, and the awe-inspiring work goes on and on. Throughout the past four months of this exchange program, I have learned many things through workshops, courses, and hands-on experiences. However, what I am sure will stick with me forever is the new partnerships and friendships that we have all made with one another. These women have reminded me of why I do what I do and how there’s so much more to learn from others. We have welcomed each other with respect and openness and the opportunity has left me and our organization, the Human Impacts Institute, stronger. Of one thing I am certain: our collective future holds endless possibilities. I’m grateful and excited to be a part of the ongoing voyage.
By Tara DePorte, Founder and Executive Director, Human Impacts Institute