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Reversing the poverty cycle

One woman is trying to improve the education in a Costa Rican neighborhood sandwiched by a garbage dump and sewage plant.

“Some people think that since they didn’t get an education their children will be the same way and they don’t support them in school,” she said, noting that the foundation has begun to break that cycle. She says her 7-year-old daughter Stefanie wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

Nystrom said Mairena might not have given the interview if it were years before. Before taking part in these community activities, the women were shy and not very confident. That’s changing. “You feel important,” said Mairena of her work experience. “You feel like you’re doing something good with your life, for the community.”

However, challenges remain for the children. For one, violence is a fact of life.

After snack time in a school started by the foundation, Nystrom leads a relaxing sing-along with the children, a song the teacher will learn to use during naptimes to come. But one 4-year-old seems to be sulking and refuses to sing. Nystrom explains that the girl’s brother was shot dead days ago after falling into trouble with gangs. In another kindergarten classroom, teachers marvel at the progress of another girl. In a fit of rage, her father had threatened to chop up his children with an axe.

Nystrom explains these are extreme cases, and the love in many families struggling to make it through poverty in La Carpio is overwhelming.

When passing through the barrio, everybody greets Nystrom, calling her by her adopted name, “Giselle,” which she says is easier than Gail for the residents to pronounce.

A young local woman holds a baby she has named Giselle after her American namesake. Nystrom doesn’t say it, but she has become a hero in this village of about 34,000. She says the Carpio community is ultimately its own hero. They are sandwiched by a city population’s garbage dump and sewage plant and disaster officials have qualified their dwellings as unfit for living. But, she says, La Carpio will blossom like the crocus.