Community Outreach, Gringo Style

Rant warning! Danger! Danger!

I came across something in one of the local English language media outlets, did a little sniffing around, and found an article in the Dallas Times about an outreach program sponsored by Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. The resort is offering room discounts for those who participate in the program, doing things such as working in nature-conservation efforts and visiting with locals.

Now if that isn’t being a humanitarian, what in the world is? Visiting with locals is hard work! Especially if they are actually poor, and don’t have air conditioning and a pool.

But the good news is that after you’re done slaving all day (or maybe just a few hours) you can return to your Four Seasons Resort room, priced from $400 to $2500 a night (before discount, give or take a few $$), and wash off the grime and feel wonderful about how much you are doing for those poor ignorant savages. underprivileged Costa Ricans while you enjoy a foot massage and one of those cute drinks with a paper umbrella over it.

Or maybe that’s considered ‘gauche’ at the Four Seasons, I will never know unless someone can enlighten me.

To exit sarcasm mode, and enter rant mode, here I go. My fellow Gringos never cease to appall me. To pay $400 a night for a room and try to pretend you give a rat’s nose about the poor is disgusting. Hey, if you are rich, lucky you. If you want to live like King Tut and can afford it, there’s no law against it. But PUH-LEEZE! Don’t try to tell me you really care how the locals live or want to help them. I can buy you want to THINK you are really helping them in order to stroke your ego or soothe your conscience, but I don’t buy it for a second.

I confess that I am guilty of doing some charity stuff myself. I have kept a few kids in school for another year by buying uniforms (required) and supplies (required). I have paid water bills and rent for families living in tin shacks in the slums. I actually feel like a bit of a sucker when I do, rather than feeling like Jesus. My fellow Gringos certainly think I’m a chump, for the most part.

Costa Rica is a third world country, no matter what impression you get from inside a posh resort or in Escazu or Rohrmoser. And if it makes you feel better about not doing more, poverty wouldn’t go away even if Warren Buffet and Bill Gates sold everything they owned and spent it all trying to help. The sad truth is that poverty in Costa Rica is built into the system. If you are raised in a slum you will likely die in a slum. If you are raised in a mansion, you will likely die in a mansion. The mansion people are okay with that, and they run the country. The slum people don’t know what they can do other than deal with their poverty in whatever way they can, whether it’s by selling pirated DVDs on the sidewalks or selling their bodies on street corners.

I know lots of people who disagree strongly with my attitude. They say the problem is that the poor are just lazy and stupid. No doubt some are. No doubt some of the rich are lazy and stupid too. They just had the good sense to choose their parents wisely.

I have my own ideas of how I would tackle the problem of poverty in Costa Rica if I were the all-powerful dictator here, but I don’t see that happening, oddly enough. I don’t mean to pick on Costa Rica. Bad government and social problems can be found in every country. This just happens to be the country I am living in and the problems here confront me every day.

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  1. Esteban says:

    The Costa Rican people should be grateful that their good neighbors from up north should come down and spend their hard earned money in their country.

    I don't get you people who are always bashing the USA. Most Americans are generous and, beside what the government gives in foreign aid, give tremendous amounts to charities all of the world.

    • I think the theme of the article is that it seems doubtful a person spending $200 – $400 a night on hotel room while on a short vacation is really interested in doing any meaningful charity work. Also, volunteers typically have living arrangements in settings where they can get to know the community they are serving.

      Staying at a super resort is not going to connect anyone with the community, and it really seems like a marketing play for the resort.

      I don't see the article as negative toward charity in general.

    • NoCalRefugee says:


      There are some people who do real charity work here, and then there are those who want to think they are helping the poor Ticos by spending their money at the Marriot or Four Seasons. I am criticizing the latter group.

      As a % of GDP, the USA ranks next to last among the 22 richest nations on foreign aid. Only GREECE (now going bankrupt) did less. Most US foreign aid is military and the biggest chunks go to Israel and Egypt (to protect them from each other?).

      My post was about the self-serving illusions of some Gringos. What private charity I have seen first hand is mostly religious groups coming down looking for converts. Schools get built but the kids will get a daily dose of indoctrination too. I'd be happy to change my opinion if anyone can point me to some actual data.

  2. EDClemons says:

    Your points are well taken; the only real lasting beneficiaries of this happens to be the marketing department of the American Corporation Resorts. Sure there are a few jobs for the locals, that is excllent, but what about the continuing gift from the Resort Corp. to the local community. Now that is where the real progress could come from in improving the locals standard of life.