Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" (And Peaceful)!

As I blog, I am relaxing in a hammock at the University For Peace (UPEACE) in San José, Costa Rica!  After waking up a little too early this morning (probably out of excitement), I enjoyed a delicious breakfast prepared by my host mom- it even included mangoes picked from a tree in her yard!  Fueled by delicious food and excitement, I was ready for a trip to the famed University.  On the winding, green way to the University, we passed El Rodeo, a small community that is rather isolated; considering that only one bus leaves the community each day, most of the locals find employment either in the numerous coffee fields (now growing tomatoes since it is not yet coffee season) or in Ciudad Colón.  In this area, one can easily observe the economic disparity between the locals and the foreigners, who take advantage of the natural beauty of the area by residing in sprawling vacation properties during part of the year.  This observation provided an unexpected yet extremely relevant prelude to the course in International Development I would begin.
Upon arriving at UPEACE, the rugged exquisiteness of the campus inspires both tranquility and exhilaration.  Surrounded by forested mountains from which mist rises, the campus may as well be a nature reserve!  One-story buildings designed with large windows on all walls are scattered through out the extremely green campus.  Roofed outdoor paths connect the buildings, and nature paths canopied by countless different types of trees entice exploration.  A few of the many notable features of the campus include the peace monuments and the Garden of Peace.  While strolling down one of the nature trails, I could not miss the view of the peace monuments in the distance.  Across a pond, monuments of various ambassadors of peace symbolically arise from the top of a hill.  Once I walked around the pond and ascended the hill, a moment of profound awe overcame me.  Upon stepping onto the path that spirals around the statues, I entered a sacred covenant- a commitment of sorts to the universal peace upheld by the various leaders represented by the monuments and towards which we all strive.  All of the stone monuments are arranged in a circle, and each monument includes the name, face, and representative quote from leaders that have worked for peace, from both Costa Rica and around the world.  From the central statue, a dove, the symbol for peace and the University’s mascot, flies from a pair of hands- the hands of past generations and of future generations that will continue to act on the hope for a world that empowers humanity rather than disgraces it with ignorance and conflict.

a stunning panoramic view of the verdant mountains upon arriving at UPEACE
the peace monuments from a trail across the pond
a closer view of the monuments on the hill
all of the Global Scholars

A memorial for Gandhi, the prominent figure of peace, appropriately greets visitors at the front of the Peace Garden.  The Garden has an open, grassy area surrounded by flag poles.  When events are held in the garden, a flag is raised for each country that signed the UN Charter for peacekeeping.  Witnessing and experiencing the ecofriendly nature and design of the campus, UPEACE (if not the entire country of Costa Rica) is certainly making substantial green strides towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of environmental sustainability.  Given this, how “developing” is Costa Rica?  On the one hand, there is obvious poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas.  However, while some of the people may be poor, the natural resources of the country are rich.  Furthermore, even in the smaller communities (of the few I have been exposed to), the way of life there may be less complex and technologically advanced than developed countries, but the people appear to be just as happy (if not more so) than Westerners.  Then again, the parts of Costa Rica I have been exposed to are just representatives of the diversity of the country; other areas may suffer from more apparent poverty.  During the weeks ahead, I look forward to exploring the complex concept of development in the context of a country as beautiful as Costa Rica!
the Gandhi memorial at the front of the Peace Garden
the outdoor hall of hammocks soon to be filled with students studying and relaxing!


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