Thursday, October 6, 2016

Conservation and Quakers

The Quaker influence in Monteverde, Costa Rica

By: Madeline Keener
Produced and Edited By: Charlie Hatch

Nestled into the Tilaran Mountain Range at 4,600 feet above sea level, the mountain top town of Monteverde is a hub for ecotourism all thanks to the conservation efforts inspired by a group of expatriates.
In 1951, a group of Quakers and other pacifists were looking for a way out of the United States. The draft for the Korean War was threatening their values for nonviolence. They began to look for a new home, one that would not obstruct this need for peace.
“During the process of being on trial for their behavior the judge suggested that if they didn't want to live by the rule of the land that they should find another place to live,” said Francisco Burgos, the Director of the Center for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute.
A mere three years earlier in 1948, Costa Rica disbanded its military. This was one of the main reasons that the Quakers chose to make the move to the country. On top of this, one of the Quaker families was a member of a farming organization that supports farmers in Latin America. They had previously visited Guatemala, making Central America feel even more like the right fit.

Caption: The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was founded in 1972.
Photo by Madeline Keener
When the Quakers arrived in Costa Rica, they did not plan to move to the mountains. They started in the country’s capital San José. A few of the members of the community would go out in search of the ideal location. The lush, green valley in the mountains caught the eye of the scouts and Monteverde was born.
The land was purchased from the Guacimal Land Company and divided up amongst the families. Most of it was turned into farmland and dairy production began in Monteverde. The new inhabitants did not just bring cows to the region; they also brought their religious values.
“When the Quakers arrived, as one older Costa Rican told me, it brought peace to the mountain,” said Kay Chornook, author of Walking with Wolf, a book about the life and times of one of the original Quakers move to Monteverde, Wolf Guindon. “The Quakers were non-drinkers, lived simply and very cooperatively with each other,” she explains.
The official title of the religion of the Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends. These settlers from Fairhope, Alabama—and several other Quaker Communities in the U.S—made quick friends with their new Costa Rican neighbors.
"In my opinion, the Quaker Community, rather than forming an isolated neighborhood with a distinct closed circle, integrated with the culture of the locals and minimized conflict with them," said Marvin Acuña Ortega, a professor at National University of Costa Rica.*
With help from their new local farmer friends, the Quakers’ dairy industry began to grow in Monteverde. Soon they would be supplying milk to the mountainous region where national distributors had been unable to reach.
The contributions of the Quakers do not stop at dairy farming. One of the largest impacts that the Quakers have had on the town of Monteverde has been their dedication to conserving the environment and the beauty of Costa Rica.
Cows out in a pasture just outside of Monteverde, Costa Rica.
The Quakers brought dairy farming to this region.
Photo by Madeline Keener
Nearly two decades after the Quakers arrived, in 1972 the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was founded. The land used to create this national park had been set-aside by the Quakers when they first moved to the mountain. They understood that keeping the mountaintop clean, uninhabited and preserved was just as important to them as farming.
Two graduate students recruited Wolf Guindon after traveling to Costa Rica to study the wildlife. According to Chornook, it was their arrival that “brought [him] into the work that would continue for the rest of his life.” Guindon played a key role in the foundation of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
With the newly established park, hundreds and then thousands of people began flocking to Monteverde to drink in the sights, sounds and splendor of the nature there. Now-a-days, ecotourism brings over 200,000 travelers to the town each year. The mountain sits on the Continental Divide, which provides an array of habitat for different species on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean sides.
“I think that this area of the country is a model in conservation of nature,” said Francisco Burgos the Director of the Center for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute. Burgos—who has been a Quaker for the past 14 years—joined the Monteverde Quaker community after moving to the town five years ago.
Before working at the Monteverde Institute, Burgos served as the first Latino director of the Monteverde Friends School. Also known as MFS, the school offers prekindergarten through 12th grade. It was founded by Quakers in 1951 shortly after they arrived. This school provides a bilingual education in both Spanish and English to the entire community and has many study abroad opportunities for students that are interested.
“I love the school. […] I think that it's a unique place that can provide a lot of learning opportunities for a multicultural community as we are,” Burgos said.
Rick Juliusson is the current Co-Director of the Monteverde Friends School. He explains that while founded on Quaker ideals, the school does not intend to convert its students.
You don't have to be Quaker to be here. You don't have to be Quaker to teach here. And it's not our goal to turn people into Quakers. We do teach about these values. About simplicity, peace, equality, community, integrity […] And the last one is stewardship,” tells Juliusson.
These peacemakers not only teach Monteverde through the school. While walking the trails of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve visitors can learn a thing or two. Despite the possible threats from poachers or those looking to illegally chop down trees for lumber, these rangers do not carry guns within the park. Guindon was one of the original rangers and set the nonviolent standard for the park.
While on a trip in Monteverde, Professor Mary Little of the Center for Sustainable Development Studies had the opportunity to speak with one of these rangers. According to Little, “He said that Quakers see it as their responsibility to continually improve the community, the lives of those around them and the planet we live on.”

*Quotes were translated from Spanish to English by the author.

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