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Pura Vida in Costa Rica
Smith MBAs Explore the Intersection of
Public Health and the Environment
many years, Costa Ricans have subscribed to the philosophy of
pura vida--literally, "pure life"--which includes
valuing a strong community, perseverance and resilience in the
face of obstacles. This past January, 15 Smith MBA
students were immersed in pura vida as they traveled to
Costa Rica on a 10-day global studies trip that brought them
face-to-face with active volcanoes, two-toed sloths and more as
they explored the intersection of public health and the
"The main takeaway from the trip for me was being immersed in
another country's culture and seeing life from their
perspective," said Lisa Domeshek, a part-time MBA student at the
Smith School's Shady Grove campus. "I definitely came back
with a broader view on how health care works in other countries
and also on environmental sustainability."
One of the early stops on the trip was
a fair trade coffee estate in San Luis de Sabanilla.
Students toured the estate to learn more about the process of
growing coffee beans and the economic and environmental impacts
on the region.
Smith student Jodi Graves said she was impressed with the amount
of care that goes into the way the estate is operated.
"Everything is done by hand," she said. "But more
importantly, they do everything with the environment in mind."
A highlight of the trip for many was visiting
Institute, an organization founded by Ashoka fellow Alvaro
Ugalde dedicated to promoting the conservation of cloud forests
and the stewardship of watershed ecosystems across northern
Nectandra offers 'ecological loans' to the local community so
that they can purchase watershed lands, restore forest cover and
protect their sources of water. It does not charge
monetary interest, but instead charges 'ecological
interest.' Communities must commit to planting trees and
educating members on the importance of water, forest and the
relationship between the two.
Luis Valente Villa, a Nectandra staff member, said they do not
charge monetary interest because they do not want to encourage
the communities to engage in economic activities that would harm
"We don't want to take one step forward and who knows how many
steps backward," he said.
Valente Villa emphasized the importance of thinking about
economic development in the context of the natural capital of
the world. A priority, he said, must be placed on
maintaining the environmental services that nature
provides--benefits that cannot be adequately measured.
During their visit, students took a rainy, muddy hike up the mountain into the cloud
forests, where they got to see Nectandra's work firsthand.
"It was amazing to see such an incredibly motivated, grassroots
operation, dedicated to water preservation," said Amol Singla, a
part-time student at the Smith School's D.C. campus.
week continued with site visits to organizations including AyA
Water Treatment Plant (the largest such facility in Central
America), Baxter Healthcare and Pfizer. Students witnessed
the models of service delivery at La Carpio, a Nicaraguan
refugee camp nicknamed the "village of hope," and CIMA, one of
three private hospitals in the country.
Costa Rica's wealth of natural resources were on full display
during the ten-day trip. Students visited Poas, one of the
most active volcanoes in the world, and witnessed the striking
amount of biodiversity present at Manuel Antonio National Park.
The trip gave students the opportunity to consider the myriad
inputs that affect the public health of a country and to walk
away with a broader perspective on both the Costa Rican system,
and the current health care debate in the United States.
"It really incorporates all aspects of a person's life," said
Amol Singla. "Here in the U.S., we don't have to consider
as much where our water comes from and where our trash goes--or,
at least, we can be removed from that thought process on a
day-to-day basis. In Costa Rica, those are things that
everyone faces and has to consider."