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Reading Community Makes an Impact in Costa Rica Through Art and Cultural Exchange

Story written by Angelica Malone

Reading Community Makes an Impact in Costa Rica Through Art and Cultural Exchange

Albright College’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) organization recently traveled to Costa Rica to participate in a unique service project that showcased the talent and creativity of the Reading community. Led by ASB President Angelica Malone ’23 and Vice President Olivia Console ’23, Albrightians partnered with local Reading schools, students, and community members to create murals for two elementary schools in the Limon Province.

The idea for the project began a year earlier when Malone and art professor Kristen T. Woodward traveled to Costa Rica to take part in a faculty-led study abroad ecology course through Albright’s biology department. During that trip, Angelica’s organization was invited by Israel Mesen, the founder of Camaquiri Research Initiative, to complete this project. Camaquiri Research Initiative is a non-profit organization that aims to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable development through scientific research and community-based conservation in Costa Rica. Upon returning to Albright, Malone, and Woodward immediately started planning the project. They partnered with faculty Michael L. Miller of the art department on mural design and fashion design professor MeeAe Oh-Ranck on fundraising. In addition to Malone and Console, students making the trip to Costa Rica included Brandom Hernandez-Ruiz ’23, Katie Ayala Hernandez ’24, Anthony Ortiz-Santana ’25, and Zachary Malmstrom ’23.

“Studies have shown that children learn best in bright, colorful, and visually appealing environments, making this service project a great enhancement to their quality of education,” said Malone.

The involvement of local students and community members from Reading was crucial to the success of the project. Middle school students in Reading played a significant role in creating a large portion of the mural work, while the leadership and hands-on work of local Albright College students were instrumental. The effort of all these groups not only contributed to the success of the project but also provided them with an opportunity to learn about another culture and share their own interests and talents with students from another country.

A large portion of the mural work was created in advance, in part by local middle school students in Reading. While in Costa Rica, the middle school students were able to communicate with the students in the Limon Province of Costa Rica through video calls, learning about each other’s cultures and sharing their mutual interest in art.

The day the group painted with the children in Costa Rica also happened to be ASB vice president Olivia Console’s birthday — prompting the kids to sing “Happy Birthday” to her in English.

“I think that day was particularly impactful for me just because it was such a wonderful example of cross-culture relationships and learning, something that really does mutually benefit both parties,” said Malone.

The murals have already made an impact on the local communities. The new murals on the schools caught the attention of the local superintendent, who was invited back to Camaquiri Research Initiative’s conservation center to discuss the possibility of using their kitchen to prepare government-provided free meals for students at the school El Sota, something that they are not currently offered. The murals provided the starting point for meaningful change in the lives of the students they were created for.

The group will be creating a documentary-style video of the experience, showcasing the hard work and dedication put into this project by everyone involved.

“Working with the Reading community to create something special for the students in Costa Rica was a rewarding and inspiring experience for all of us involved,” said Malone. “We hope that this project serves as an example of the power of collaboration and community involvement in promoting positive change.”