WHAT WE DO
Since its beginnings, the Curt Thomas Sheck Foundation has focused on education. In the early years, support included both scholarships at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and donations of books, school supplies, sports equipment, building materials and cash to small rural primary schools in Costa Rica, Central America. In addition, environmental education materials were purchased for schools in the southern Nicoya Peninsula in conjunction with the private Curú Wildlife Refuge.
A library for Guayabo
In 2004, the long-held vision of a library for Colonia de Guayabo, the first rural community the foundation connected with in 1984, took wings and is now the foundation’s principal thrust. Putting resources into a rural community such as Guayabo is paramount since the people have limited economic ability to improve educational opportunities for their children.
The Curt Thomas Sheck Community Library (Biblioteca Comunal Curt Thomas Sheck) is a joint effort of the foundation with the Colonia de Guayabo Development Association and the community at large.
As plans progressed, the vision broadened to include a distance-learning component that offers online learning to young people and adults. It opens the door to university classes and adult education programs, supporting the people of Guayabo as they seek to expand their opportunities and privide a better quality of life for themselves and their families.
In addition to the books in the lending library and the Internet and computers, a palette of learning activities and the library's photocopier--the only one in town--draws young and old to fill their personal, educational and bureaucratic needs for copies, a valuable service to the community.
Partnering with Costa Rica Foundation
The Foundation for Education and Progress in Guayabo (FeProGuayabo) was established as a Costa Rican Foundation, with the support of the Curt Thomas Sheck Foundation, specifically to operate the Curt Thomas Sheck Community Library. Under an agreement with the Development Association of Colonia de Guayabo, which owns the land where the building is located, FeProGuayabo administers the library. It grew out of an initial committee of dedicated community volunteers who joined together to work with the Curt Thomas Sheck Foundation during the construction process. It was seen as important to have an entity whose primary focus was to operate and oversee the library. Our foundation continues to provide important support to the library as FeProGuayabo carries out the considerable challenge of providing services and programs in this rural community.
Rooted in tradition. Focused on a better future.
The library's octagonal shape honors the architecture that once existed in nearby Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica’s only archaeological park. The indigenous people lived in the area from about 2000 BC to AD 1400. The library's conical roof shelters a multiuse central area, bookshelves and computer workstations. In front of the building is a stone calzada (or walkway) such as found in the indigenous culture.
Though archaeologists and anthropologists are still discovering how this ancient culture lived, some say peoples from Central and South America and even cultures from what is now Mexico, the United States and Canada made their way to Guayabo to learn, an early "library" of knowledge and experience. One of the long-range goals of the community library is to gather, protect and share existing research on the culture that flourished here. In 2009, Guayabo National Monument was designated as a World Engineering Heritage Site for its system of aqueducts and stone roads by the American Society of Civil Engineers in the United States
The Curt Thomas Sheck Community Libary is located in the heart of the village established here in the 20th century. The small stream that flows alongside, lined by guava trees (called guayabos in Spanish, source of the town’s name) and other trees and flowering plants has it source in-the protected forest of the national monument. Nearby are the community building, the school, the Catholic church and the soccer field. It sits on sacred land, as does the entire village. Pottery shards discovered while digging the foundation for the building were classified by an archaeologist and turned over to the National Museum. Visitors never fail to comment on the special energy they feel inside the library.
Library and Learning Center:
Guayabo, Costa Rica
Guayabo is located about 2½ hours east of the capital of Costa Rica, San José. The drive time from Turrialba, largest town in the area, depends not so much on the distance (12 miles, or 19 km) as on the condition of the road. Unless there are landslides, tree falls or sections of road in a bad condition due to a fault line that regularly causes pavement to buckle or a section of the road to cave in, it takes about half an hour, passing along winding roads through the mountains, with breathtaking views of a rural landscape.
Members of the original Library Committee, from left: Ree Strange Sheck, Mariano Araya Solís, architect Napoleón Villegas Ramírez, Hernán Argulo, Vianey Alfaro Alvarado, Dignora Rojas Vargas, at the site chosen for the library.
The Curt Thomas Sheck Community Library offers to Colonia de Guayabo and its neighboring communities access to tools they can use to enrich the quality of their lives. It provides adults and children with resources that enhance the primary school program, give young people a chance to continue studies beyond sixth grade through online education (Guayabo has only a primary school), lend valuable book and online resources to students who attend high school in Turrialba, Santa Teresita or La Suiza (traveling by bus each day), and offer adult continuing education. The mother of a high school student reiterated the importance of computer access—students where her son attend can get on the computers there only one hour per day. Only a handful of households in Guayabo have a home computer connected to Internet.
Sara Brenes helps attend the public at the library
Ongoing programs at the library include training and workshops, talks and cultural activities. The Foundation for Education and Progress in Guayabo (FeProGuayabo), a Costa Rican foundation established to operate the library, has an evolving menu of options, responsive to community needs: for example, computer classes, running a small business, agroecotourism, leadership, family finances, sustainable agriculture, English classes (seeking to establish a quality ongoing program). Storytelling and movies, mostly documentaries, are regular happenings. A weekly crochet class taught by a community volunteer has become a social event for women young and older and is "sewing" the seeds for a small cooperative business .
The center serves about 2,000 people in the "greater metropolitan area," reaching into nearby villages. Most who live in this mountainous area derive their incomes from coffee, sugar cane, small-scale tourism businesses, dairy farming and cheesemaking, fish farms and other agricultural activities.