By Lauren Haag
For Spring Break 2012, ten Ramapo College students arrived in Aranjuez, Costa Rica in province Puntarenas, on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. Students arrived on March 17th and traveled back to the US on March 24th. Costa Rica was one of two international alternate spring break programs offered by Ramapo College, the other being in Ecuador. There were also national locations in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Massachusetts. Of 60-plus students who applied for the opportunity to spend their break in Costa Rica, ten were selected, which I was one of.
Alternate Spring Break is a program hosted by many universities and colleges as well as outside programs to give undergraduate students an opportunity to travel for spring break in an altruistic sense. Each program offers a specific volunteering purpose and only a small portion of time is dedicated to recreation purposes, and no alcohol consumption is allowed. Volunteer initiatives can involve building homes, schools, working with children, and sustainability.
In Costa Rica students were hosted at a macaw sanctuary, El Mantial Sanctuaria de Lapas, run and created by Rodolfo Orozoco. The sanctuary was located in a more remote area of Costa Rica where various exotic animals were housed and cared for. The sanctuary has a rich history of its conservation and establishment experience.
Rodolfo Orozoco began his sanctuary originally in a less remote area where animals were constantly stressed by the city life and neighbors annoyed by the presence of the animals. About a decade prior to Ramapo’s visit Orozoco had purchased the land now known as the sanctuary. The land was very open and renovations started small. Orozoco planted many trees and created many extravagant homes for the animals to have shelter and protection. The sanctuary was originally an effort to breed Scarlet and Great Green Macaws which are native macaw species endangered in Costa Rica, however, many other species now call the sanctuary their home. Various domesticated and smuggled animals have made their home in the sanctuary because of police confiscating animals owned illegally and presenting them to Orozoco to care for.
At the sanctuary there are now two species of Tucans, various parakeet species, various macaw species, Eclectus parrots, African Grey parrots, Australian Cockatoos, Marmaset, Spider, and Tamarin monkeys, and Tapirs. His new location and extension of land allows him to adequately house and take care of all these various animals that can’t easily call other places home because of their acquisition to the Costa Rican environment or domesticated life.
A big aspect of the project is the community’s involvement in the sanctuary. Various community members volunteer or work for the sanctuary taking care of the animals and promoting the values and vision of the sanctuary. In this way the sanctuary can give back to the community by providing jobs, and the community can give back to the sanctuary by understanding its purpose and facilitating it.
The Ramapo community was involved in taking care of the animals – feeding and cleaning, creating a small canal, planting trees, collecting seeds, and composting. A big part of the pictures of the sanctuary are sustainable techniques. All materials are composted, and hardly any garbage is not able to be composted because fresh products are always used. Electricity and water are conserved as much as possible as well.
Ramapo students began a project to build a canal system to move useable water from a flood zone into the sanctuary in order to be used as a resource. Composting work involved picking up leaf litter from the trees and carrying onto new land that will be used for farming. The leaf litter can be used to enhance the soil quality and also must be removed to eliminate predators from hiding in it and potentially harming the animals. Trees were planted to create more privacy in certain locations for the animals.
In the future Orozoco hopes to implement a craft program where single women from the nearby community can learn the craft and sell it in his souvenir shop at the sanctuary in order to help provide for them and become involved in the sanctuary. His dream is to unite the importance of the sanctuary with the needs of the people so they can learn to use the land and each other to promote overall success.
Orozoco has also recently purchased a new amount of land next door to his sanctuary where the Ramapo composted materials were being placed. The new land is going to be used to grow and farm important fruits that the animals need, in order to cut cost and increase sustainability and efficiency of his sanctuary.
Video created by Ramapo student Steven Shaw on the various Ramapo alternate spring break adventures: