3 minutes reading time (616 words)

Preserving Culture Through Pedals

Jesus Mena Martinez is a cattle farmer from Isla Chira. He watched many neighbors and even members of his own family move away in search of a better life filled with unlimited opportunities. While resources may be scarce, life on Chira Island is rich in culture and the landscape breathtaking. It is a hard life to leave behind, but many feel forced to go to survive.

Isla Chira is a small Pacific island located in the Gulf of Nicoya off the coast of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. It is the largest of a chain of islands dotted along the coastline which were once part of the mainland but now submerged with only the top of the hills visible. While the land and population may have dwindled over time, the heart and soul of the island is still very much alive. 

Nearly 3,000 residents make up Isla Chira, which lies close enough to the mainland to keep it somewhat accessible. Tourists can find their way to the island on the daily fish market boat or by chartering one to make the journey. Once there they can explore the beautiful landscape from mountains to beaches at a slower, relaxed island pace.

Most of the residents rely on fishing, farming, and salt panning as a way of life. The reliance on marine resources puts significant pressure on the island's overall natural resources making long term economic development a huge concern. This is exactly the type of community that our partner FINCA Costa Rica strives to assist and preserve. 

FINCA Costa Rica established the Empresa de Crédito of Isla Chira (co-op) in 2009 to help grow local businesses and build community wealth. Their aim throughout the country is to make these isolated communities self sustainable through micro-credit projects. Occasionally they help create new businesses, but often they are simply providing capital to improve small businesses that already exist.

Jesus Mena Martinez (seen above on the horse) is the co-op president. He negotiated the deal with FINCA Costa Rica and MiBici to bring bikes to the island through one of our shipments. This project helps build capital for the co-op, making all the loans possible, while also providing valuable, affordable transportation to the community.

Jesus Mena uses loans from his co-op to improve projects around his farm. He was born on the island and grew up in a large family that farmed for a living. Many of his siblings have moved away from the island, but he stayed and runs the family farm. He thinks it's important to preserve his family's heritage and continues to support his family through their livestock farm.

Don Abelardo (seen here) bought this large boat with a loan from the co-op. He uses it to transport livestock and different supplies needed on the island. He makes his living helping his community obtain the materials they need to support their own businesses. 

Thais Martinez runs a small grocery store on the island. She was also born and raised on Chira and saw the limited resources available to residents, not just as employment, but every day necessities. 

When she opened her small market she could only offer a limited amount of merchandise due to limited funds. With her loan from the co-op she was able to not only expand the selection but increase the supply. She now sells to the entire island and is able to support her family on income earned at the market.

Through MiBici, Empresa de Crédito of Isla Chira receives a resupply of about 50 bikes every year through donations made by Bikes for the World. The sale of these bikes throughout the community provides income for the loans offered through the co-op.

Featured Volunteer: Sister ACTS
Featured Volunteer: Woody Woodrich