“I have five children” Erenia explains in a quiet voice. “We were homeless. We slept on the streets, in churches, in doorways, I had nothing.” 

During my travels in Costa Rica, I had the good fortune to be introduced to an extraordinary charity that is helping the lives of hundreds of children and families. CEPIA (Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents) is a not for profit organisation in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.  With some 800 children enrolled in the programme it is a true example of how one extraordinary lady, Laeticia Deweer, can help to change a community.

Meeting Erenia

Erenia was mopping. A sign above the window read Muriel’s Kitchen in pastel blue. 

“She was homeless with five kids” the organiser announced to the group. I was horrified. How do you survive as a single parent with five children on the streets? 

“She now has this business” continued the project worker. “We don’t employ Erenia but buy the food from her. It’s entirely her own enterprise”. 

As the group retracted and moved on with the tour, I hung back and Erenia emerged from her kitchen. Struggling to find the words in Spanish and simply not knowing where to begin, I finally blurted – “what a great business you have.”  

“Gracias” replies Erenia.  This is her story:

Erenia came to Costa Rica from Nicaragua over 20 years ago. Housed by the government in a poor and violent district of San Jose, the better life they had hoped for was getting further from their reach. With a husband battling alcoholism and teenager who had fallen victim to a grooming ring for drug trafficking, Erenia’s maternal instinct kicked in. She decided to flee. 

Under police protection with only a bus ticket and few colónes for food she set off with her five children to the Guanacaste Province in the north of Costa Rica. There she lived on the streets, slept in parks and lived off the kindness of strangers until someone told her about CEPIA.

Muriel’s Kitchen

Realising the desperation of Erenia’s situation CEPIA gave food, clothing and access to a lawyer. They also enrolled her in a cooking class. With a donation from the church, of which she was a devout member, she was able to rent a small house. As the cooking classes progressed, Erenia stood out as a star pupil. Talented and hard-working. 

At this time, CEPIA was building a kitchen to feed children at risk, and they invited her to be the cook. Today, Muriel’s Kitchen is a fully-fledged independent business not only producing the food for the children enrolled at CEPIA, but also providing outside catering for local events. Through CEPIA, Erenia has gone from the streets to successful businesswoman and as a result, she has educated all her children. While some are still in school, others have graduated and are pursuing careers of their own.

CEPIA

CEPIA provides full day care for children aged two to six years old and for children aged six to twelve years old, they provide after school care (in this part of Costa Rica a school day is between three to four hours due to lack of resources). There is a programme for teenagers who have dropped out of school and they also have 500 children enrolled in after school clubs across 17 communities, such as swimming, basketball and surfing. In addition to this, they also have 600 adults enrolled in technical training from bar-tending to intensive English lessons.

Making a Difference

CEPIA is making a difference. All around I saw hope, I saw futures. Computer lessons, internet access, art, sports facilities, a library – all broadening the horizons of these children who do not have the support at home or even in their own community school. 

There is so much more CEPIA wants to do. Build a shelter for women like Erenia and have a jobcentre to connect young adults with employers at the end of their training. Leticia, her team of volunteers and so importantly her donors, are a true example the impact you can have on a community and empower even the most desperate, to be the greatest version of themselves.

To visit CEPIA as part of a holiday to Costa Rica, get in touch with our experts today.

Thanks for reading

Kate Wharton, Canada

Author: Kate Wharton