Over the course of three days, I learned quite a lot about the Quakers in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. The first group of American Quakers arrived in 1951 and because they were from Alabama, they realized the importance of preserving the biodiversity of the region. When you are not from a certain place, such as Costa Rica, it is easy to see the beauty and special qualities of the area; whereas, when you see the same thing every day, you tend to take it for granted because you view it as “normal” not unique. So, the Quakers who settled among the locals became essential to the positive growth of the community.
The Quaker community has worked to provide jobs to the local community whether it be at the cheese factory or on one of their farms. Just the presence of the Quakers and their essential needs in Monteverde ensured some additional jobs for Costa Ricans. Additionally, they brought many technological advancements when they moved from Alabama. The Quakers were the main reason that the road up the mountain was paved and they passed along general knowledge about different engineering related tasks that would better the local farms. The original as well as the current Quaker communities had such an open line of communication and flow of knowledge with the local Tico communities that made such a difference. In the 1950s, if the two communities had decided to be completely separate and isolated, it would have been devastatingly negative to the entire Monteverde region and the ecosystem. Lastly, the Quakers were an essential part of helping the Ticos to realize why sustainable farming practices were important and why it was important to preserve the environment because they hadn’t seen anything else like it and they saw how special it was.
As Costa Rica, and specifically the Monteverde region, shifted towards ecotourism, many changes started to occur. The number of foreign visitors and foreign investors increased exponentially which could be a positive thing because it means the local economy is being boosted. However, it could also be a negative thing because the more of a foreign presence there is, the more likely it is that some part of the local culture is lost as over-development and tourism take over. This is how people like the Quakers and farms like Life Monteverde come into play. The exponential increase in foreign tourism and investment makes it many times harder for the Quakers and Life Monteverde to educate, promote, and implement sustainable practices with the hopes of saving the natural forests and wildlife. Generally, tourists are pretty ignorant people because they have no clue what they are stepping into and so, this makes it that much easier for them to negatively impact the region. A challenge that both the Quakers and Life Monteverde need to overcome is finding the right blend between promoting tourism and between focusing on their core missions. You can do both but I think it gets to a point where you have to either try to be in an equilibrium or choose to prioritize one over the other. It seems as though it is very much a see-saw with tourism at one end and the core missions of Life Monteverde and the Quakers on the other.
Overall, I think the impact is a positive one because over the years, the Quakers have provided innumerable benefits to the local community. In many ways, they could even be credited with helping to get the first sustainable thoughts and practices floating throughout the community. Of course, some would say that with them and their popularized story, they brought a horde of tourists who come to see the beautiful sights but with no care about ensuring that the sights remain picturesque. After spending three days in the cloud forest and on the second largest reserve in Costa Rica, I can see the limitless impact that has been made on this region; especially, hearing about certain species that were going extinct but that they were able to repopulate. Knowing that the Monteverde region has been able to improve the biodiversity and actually see the results of decades of hard work has me convinced that the impact is amd will continue to be positive.