Aid comes to the mountains

first_imgA young Cabécar girl from Alto Telire waits for free medical attention. Courtesy of Lucas Iturriza Dr. Wilman Rojas, director of the Caja’s Talamanca Health Area, recalls those earlier days: “When we looked at the infant mortality rates in the Talamanca region, we discovered there were 27 deaths per 1,000 births, and in Telire, the rates were even higher, at more than 100 deaths per 1,000 births. Those rates justified scheduling more trips, and from there, the Caja created a fund for medical missions to the most vulnerable communities.”According to Rojas, communities in the area have an epistemological profile similar to Costa Ricans who lived 100 or 200 years ago, and common problems include respiratory and other infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, and complications from childbirth, among others.The topography of these millennial mountains has protected and isolated the semi-nomadic Cabécar, hunters, gatherers and subsistence farmers who liken the mountain to their own hearts. It is a matriarchal society where everything is tied together by clan.For hundreds of years, the only form of survival was subsistence, a hard life without external influences and dependent on hunting, fishing and small-scale harvesting of crops. When the Alto Telire Cabécares discovered the clothing of “outsiders,” they found it to be warmer and more comfortable than the natural clothing made from palm trees that elders used to cover their bodies.Rubber boots became a necessity, making it easier to montear, or walk in the mountains, and hunt for several days. Boots led to fewer injuries and allowed them to travel faster and farther.The same was true about new weapons and bullets – the Cabécar left behind bows and arrows, and nearly the blowpipe, which they still use today. They also began using other basic items from the outside world, including flashlights, batteries, cooking pots and pans, machetes, soap, bleach, blankets, salt and sugar.Up in the mountains, there are no jobs, no paychecks, no bosses. Everyone pitches in to take care of the family, protect the clan and grow crops of bananas, plantains and cassava on small plots of farmland.Still, food is scarce, and population growth has made hunting increasingly difficult. Finding money for purchases at “outside” markets – something that has become a basic necessity – is challenging. In order to earn a few colones, those old enough for migrant labor travel to El Valle de la Estrella (Valley of the Star) and work clearing land for ₡5,000 ($10) a day. They also toil in banana plantations, where they stay for up to six months before returning back up the mountain with as many supplies as they can carry: clothing, food, a new machete, a radio. A helicopter’s view of Alto Telire, Talamanca, in southern Costa Rica. Courtesy of Lucas Iturriza In 1992, authorities began to respond to the bloodshed, and in time they were able to scale it back. Today, local Cabécares cultivate significantly less marijuana than in the past, and there is less violence. But there are many other risks.“Before, these trips were incredibly difficult,” Rojas acknowledges. “At first we’d go up the mountain accompanied by police, but locals didn’t trust the police because they carried out raids and burned their [marijuana] plants. So we decided to separate medical missions from the police and stop using police helicopters, and that made a big difference. Residents began to associate our blue and yellow helicopter with doctors and medicine, and they started to accept us into their villages.”The blue and yellow helicopter takes off from Tobías Bolaños International Airport, in the western San José district of Pavas. On the helicopter’s side is the circular logo of the Caja. I find myself on one of these medical flights to Alto Telire, my second trip to the region, to document the Caja’s work in this Cabécar community of 300-500 people, Costa Ricans who stoically resist an ocean of adversity.Learn moreOn April 21 at 6p.m.The Tree House in Playa Chiquita, on the southern Caribbean coast, will host a viewing of the short documentary film “Gira a Alto Telire” (“Journey to Alto Telire”) by Edsart Besier, as well as photographs of the region by Lucas Iturriza, of the agency Photonomada.See” alt=”last_img” /> read more