Written by Ashley Nord, NEOUCOM medical student and CWB Volunteer
Before I came to Costa Rica, I learned about the precarious from my coordinator. Precarios are areas in which people build homes illegally on untitled property and, after time, the sheer influx of people results in small communities. One of these areas, Bajo Los Anonos, is the main area to which we provide service at the Children Without Borders clinic. Inhabited by an estimated 2,200 people at its height (now down to 1500), Bajo Los Anonos has fallen victim to a government-led eviction campaign. After the floods in November, the municipality of Escazu said the families need to be removed because they live in the direct path of a flood zone.
On my first day as a volunteer with Children Without Borders, I was able to experience the barrio for myself. I have to say, it was shocking to see the conditions in which its people lived. Homes made of metal scraps, haphazardly pieced together over crumbling rock buildings, garbage in the streets, no running water in some areas…it seemed at first like a place where no one would want to live. But as I delved deeper into barrios, I saw children…families…friends…and I realized that even though the conditions were destitute, this was their home. To have one’s home destroyed right before his or her eyes would be traumatic under any conditions.
They say “home is where the heart is”; in terms of Bajo Los Anonos, I could not agree more. For the people there, their home is about being with each other, not about their living conditions. As our clinic is located in the heart of the barrio, right now the people of the barrio only have a short walk to reach our dental and health services. However, after a recent visit to the Municipality and learning of their plans for the Bajo Los Anonos, we suddenly realized the severity of the evictions and the impact it will have on this community. According to the Municipality and the Health Ministry, all of the areas directly around the Virilla River and most of the areas above are scheduled to be bulldozed Although there is no clear time frame for these actions, we heard from some of the residents that this could happen in as little as 20 days, depending on how soon the Health Ministry issues the eviction notice. Although the Health Ministry claims its reasons for the evictions are due to the safety and health concerns of the barrio being located next to flood zones, it appears to us that the major reason is because none of these people actually own the land upon which they live.
As a result of this alarming new information, it appears that many large changes are coming. Most importantly is the fact that these evictions will affect our clinic’s ability to reach those in need. If these evictions do occur as they already have, we may need to consider other options for our services or our location. Whether it involves moving the clinic to a better location, transporting patients in from other areas, or reaching out to partnership with other organizations, we will have to find a way to make ourselves more available to our patient population.
So far, it is unclear what options the people at the Bajo Los Anonos currently have in terms of relocation. We will need to find out more about this if possible; ideally, wherever they go, we should attempt to reach out to them to continue serving their needs. Even if we are forced to move the clinic’s location, we will still function as the same incredible, service-oriented organization. We will still be Children Without Borders, just closer to the hearts of the people we care for and care about.