Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Poverty Issues in Costa Rica
I recently completed a project for my seminar class that required me to research poverty statistics and lifestyles in Costa Rica. Admittedly, I was drawn to this project after what I experienced in my trip to Nicaragua. Until this study abroad experience I had never before been to a developing/third world country. Now I have been to both. I think that the experience is somewhat strange. It is hard to describe what it is like to travel to a country that is so much further behind than mine but both living in the same world at the same time. It doesn’t really make sense that not all countries can have the same type of luxuries, commodities and necessities that other countries have so easily. For example, I (a fairly broke college student) have a washer and dryer in my apartment that I can use whenever I want. I don’t have to worry about the sun not coming out to dry my clothes or the electricity cutting off during a wash cycle. Building materials are different, luxury items are different, you drink warm milk, the diet barely varies, and everyone lives behind bars. There is so much more that is different in non-developed countries that I could not even relate to you right now because I have been living here for far too long to even notice them or note them as obvious differences.
Anyway, I was writing about poverty. Costa Rica is undisputedly poorer, as a whole, than the United States. It was clear to me when I first rode through San Jose that there were some true poverty issues that this country was suffering with. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that compared to all of Latin America, and compared to the World, Costa Rica really is not as poor as you would think. While approximately 25% of the population lives in poverty or extreme poverty, at least Costa Rica has a middle class. So many countries have a small upper class and a huge lower class and no middle class, it says something for Costa Rica that they have a visible, strong middle class. Consider Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ghana, and so many more countries that barely even have an upper class, that survive in nearly primitive lifestyles. Earlier in the year we had the chance to visit Nicaragua for a long weekend which some of us blogged about earlier. The poverty problems there are so much worse than here in Costa Rica I actually began to feel guilty for sitting in an air-conditioned bus while I watched men and women walking, barefoot, and leading their horse drawn carts or carrying their laundry from the river…I still do feel guilty.
Experiencing these developing/third-world countries truly opened my eyes up to the privileges I have compared to the struggles of a huge world population of impoverished people. I still can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if everyone gave just $10.00.