December 5, 2012

My Experience in Bilingual High School ADE in Vara Blanca

Francia, teaching the students how to make tamales to raise
money for their upcoming trip to Marino Balleno.

My name is Francia Beron and this was my first year in teaching.

When I started my first year, and I participated in a meeting with other voluntary members, the teaching system attracted my attention as did level of development reached by the students that have committed themselves and have benefited from the project.

I started in the middle of March, and what I found in this group left me surprised.

We are a unified team working with maximized effort to achieve student success. Here, you work hand in hand with other people.

In addition to the academic classes like mathematics (no calculators!),  English and others, the students learn how to be real leaders. It is a fully integrated development. In this moment, the students are working with the Bandera Azul (Blue Flag) for their community supported by their teachers. They work together: analyzing problems, creating plans of possible solutions to those problems and applying a certain plan. In these ways they are learning to love their surroundings, substantially improving it, for their families and their neighbors.

The students learn how to contribute ideas and they have the opportunity to be heard and supported. They are not just limited to memorize different material, they have the opportunity  to see their dreams become reality.

In ADE I found a great family that supports each other, that fights to grow each day, in every situation, no matter how easy it seems. Every teacher is a guide to a student  in support of the parents that believe and trust in this association.

I admire every single one of these students that daily show their will to continue forward. Their wishes to learn and above anything their way to thank us for our help that we give them. It’s incredible to see other students speaking in other languages, and operate with ease and conducting their own projects in their life.

I think that if the ADE High School had not been created, gifted minds would have been wasted for other purposes.

The reason that I like this High School is the form that it instills moral and spiritual valors. This helped me personally grow like a human being. Without imposing religious doctrines but opening spaces for dialogue, good comprehension, debate between the different beliefs of each and every one of us. One specific example was a debate held between two groups of students about the existence of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was very interesting to hear the students say their opinions, based on the bible. We decided we needed to continue some other time.

I feel very happy and satisfied to belong to this group. I have already made the decision to send my own son to this High School when he graduates from Elementary School.

These past months have been a blessing to me and my family. Not only because I love my fellow workers, but because I love the students that welcome me with their arms open when I come to chilly Vara Blanca.

-Francia Beron

September 19, 2012

Student’s Reflections from the TAM Trip 2012

Costa Rica: Where Everyone You Meet is Your Professor

Buenas, ADE blog-reader! My name is Ivy, and I’m a Junior at Covenant College. Earlier this summer, I came with 9 other students from across the States and Canada (eh!) to Vara Blanca to take a course on tropical agriculture and missions. The TAM course, as we called it, was provided by the Au Sable Institute of Environment Studies and operated in conjunction with ADE.When we first arrived, I think most of us expected to take a simple ecology class, see a few ecosystems, learn a little Spanish, and drink some awesome Costa Rican coffee. That is to say, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

The day after we arrived, Tomás took the TAM group on a hike up the mountain to a sanctuary that overlooked the surrounding region. While we sat on the wet grass, Tomás explained how ADE’s philosophy of missions was based on Jesus’ example in Luke 10. Here Jesus tells his missionaries to enter into a reciprocal relationship with the families they were ministering to. This approach bridges many gaps by highlighting the gifts of the locals, and putting missionaries in a needy, learner’s posture. As students, ADE’s philosophy meant that we would be students not just of our Professor, Dr. Unander. Instead, everyone we met would be our professors. We couldn’t have imagined at the time how that approach would enrich our time there.

Sure enough, we quickly discovered a sea of teachers able to unveil Costa Rica’s treasure trove of mysteries. During the first week, local students from the ADE international school taught our class about the local flora and fauna in their rich ecosystem. Later, the older students gave us a lecture on Costa Rican culture, Spanish, and survival lingo. On hikes with the high school students, we learned what plants we should and shouldn’t eat, how to climb mud mountains, and how to use a machete. Meal time prep was spent under the instruction of Rosalena, a phenomenal cook, dairy farmer, and entrepreneur. She is the hardest worker I’ve ever met, and patiently guided us despite our poor Spanish. On Sundays, the local church challenged our souls to be salt and light where ever we are, and taught us about God’s welcoming, global church. During lectures, walks, and meals, Dr. U indoctrinated us on dozens of tropical plant families, sustainable agriculture practices, and missiology. Tomás also occasionally guest starred as our professor, lecturing our class on geology. We also roamed away from Vara Blanca to visit seven ecosystems in all! These field trips enabled us to learn from extraordinary farmers about progressive techniques for caring for the earth and utilizing DIY alternative energy sources. By the end of the three weeks, we had had the opportunity to talk with experts at Earth University and CATIE, members of several cooperatives, and locals all over the country. Our group also managed to squeeze our fair share of adventures in here and there. We learned and visited so much more, but you get the picture. The trip was one glorious whirlwind for the eager learner.

By the third week, our close-knit TAM class had learned enough to return to the international high school and teach about various tropical plant families. The cycle was complete. Our minds and our hearts were full. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much so fast in my life. The hands-on approach of the class enriched the material and left a lasting imprint on me and on all of my classmates. (I think my little brother is going to kill me the next time I tell him that the pineapple he’s eating is the only edible fruit from the bromeliad family, and that he shouldn’t eat too much of it, because it saps the nutrients from the Costa Rican soil.)

But in all seriousness, I am so grateful for the three weeks I spent learning with the ADE staff and Dr. U. I think everyone in our class is. My time in Vara Blanca filled my heart with wonder at the Creator’s works in Costa Rica. That is a gift. I highly recommend the class to all interested students and disciples of Christ. But, be ready to glue your learning caps on; everyone you meet is your professor.

July 19, 2012

Birding in Costa Rica

Did you know that Costa Rica is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world, including hundreds of species of birds? In fact, Costa Rica is often referred to as the “birder’s paradise.” Here in Vara Blanca and surrounding areas, we are surrounded by dozens of different bird species. Some of our most common residents are rufous-collared sparrows and clay-colored robins. However, this area is also home to some more extravagant birds, including the black guan and resplendent quetzal.

Some of the best birding areas include the Restaurante Tiquicia in Vara Blanca and the ADE Center in San Rafael. Arrive early in the morning at either location and watch flocks of parrots and parakeets fly by on their daily migrations. Another great option for birding is the ADE farm, where quetzals can be spotted at the edge of the forest during their April-May breeding season. Come at dusk to watch these dazzling birds as they make their way back to their nests. While at the ADE farm at any time of day, you may also see members of a resident flock of blue and white swallows flying around. Watch as they swoop and sally for insects, showcasing their incredible maneuverability and teamwork.

At ADE we believe in the inherent value of nature. Therefore, we do what we can to be good stewards of and to showcase the environment in which we live. Many people come from all over the world to see some of Costa Rica’s finest birds. Visit ADE and come see for yourself.

July 6, 2012

Robbie Brown: ADE Intern

¡Hola! My name is Robbie Brown and I am a student at Covenant College. I am about to start my senior year as a Community Development (Com Dev) major, and this summer I have the privilege of serving as an intern with ADE. At Covenant every Com Dev major must complete a research internship between their Junior and Senior years. As I was preparing for my internship last year I mentioned to my advisor that I had recently become interested in agriculture and its integral place in the life of a community. In the Com Dev department at Covenant we emphasize the importance of holistic development, and to me agriculture is one of the fundamental building blocks of life in society. Without farms we don’t have food, and life without food is…well, you get the point.

You may be confused as to how I got connected with ADE when I was interested in agriculture. Yes, their main focus is education, but ADE sees agriculture as central to communities, especially communities in rural Costa Rica, and education must be holistic as well, and therefore include agriculture.

My primary goal here this summer is to help get the blackberry co-op off the ground. So far I have been working on the farm planting blackberries, constructing a pigpen made out of dirt (it’s pretty cool), and setting up a biodigester. Furthermore, I hope to begin researching for the blackberry co-op in the next week. I hope to interact with the eight members of the co-op to find out how their blackberries are coming along, and what we can be doing to move the co-op forward together.

As I am about half way through my time here this summer, I can already say that it has been an incredible opportunity. I have gotten to see and experience Costa Rica in a very unique manner, I have gotten my hands dirty and done good ol’ fashioned farm work, and I have learned so much about doing Com Dev work in the field. It has been a blessing to work alongside the members of ADE and to see the things I’ve spent the last three years learning about being put into action.

June 28, 2012

Working on the farm...

Working on the ADE farm requires a lot of creativity and hard work. Our agricultural efforts are not only about physical labor. These efforts are also about creating a viable and sustainable support system for the ADE organization and our local communities.

In the fields or under the green house at the ADE farm, many projects are currently under way. Besides a large blackberry crop that is in the very beginning stages of production, ADE is also working towards planting a garden with produce like broccoli, lettuce, peppers and other vegetables. Vegetables are not the only concern in the garden though, as ADE continues to consider the potential of gooseberries. This fruit that grows native in our area may, just as well as the blackberries, provide an income. Many planter trays full of gooseberry seed are currently growing in the garden green house.

Additionally, a restored chicken house and an under-construction pig barn look forward to future occupants that will contribute in many ways. Chickens which can give eggs and young also provide a valuable fertilizer that will contribute greatly to garden growth and blackberry production. Working with pigs can also open a window of opportunity to turn methane gas into a sustainable household energy source. A two-fold project in and of itself, the construction of the pig barn is being used also as an opportunity to test the possibilities of construction with dirt-filled bags. Should the project prove successful, this dirt bag construction may evolve into home building in the area, as tests have proven that dirt bag buildings are highly earthquake resistant. (More on this project coming soon!)

Thus, ADE’s agricultural projects have the potential to create community-wide impact.

May 31, 2012

Interning with ADE

An internship with ADE is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Like any other internship, interning with ADE affords an opportunity to experience a possible future career choice. Interning with ADE is so much more than that, though.

Unlike other internship opportunities you may have considered, interning with ADE provides you with an option to live in an entirely different country and experience different ways of life. In fact, all of ADE’s interns are placed with a host family that lives in the local area. Whether or not speaking the native language may be an issue for you, this truly does open up windows of opportunity to play, learn and stretch your horizons. Additionally, an internship with ADE means joining the staff community. A community with bonds that go beyond the professional, ADE staff members also meet once in a while just to hang out and have fun. So would an internship with ADE be more of a vacation for you than a work opportunity? Maybe.

Of course, an internship with ADE will come with its challenges, as well. You will be expected to put forth your best effort in all that you do and to be a part of a team. Also, you may be asked to assist teaching English for weekly night classes. These requirements are hardly asking too much though, as you will be able to create an internship that is tailor-made specifically for you. Whether your interest lies in Community Development, Business Marketing or Photography, ADE is likely to have a place for you. So bring your skill set, your passions and have a great time while contributing to local communities. 

Written by Emily Onorato (pictured above in the middle)

May 23, 2012


Blackberries can be a pain. They are covered in thorns, making the fruit hard to get to, and also require a good amount of tender loving care. However, the rewards of a good crop are well worth the cost. That is why ADE is working on harvesting the potential of blackberries in order to benefit the communities in which it operates.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Fabio Baudrit Moreno Experimental Agriculture Station in Fraijanes, ADE was able to begin planting a variety of hybrid blackberry. Due to the altitude and climate in the Vara Blanca locale, wild blackberries of approximately five different varieties thrive very well here. Additionally, the strain of blackberry, which ADE is now working with, has been proven to grow and produce exceedingly well in these climates. To date, working with the blackberry crop has required much planting and re-planting (as some seedlings die from overexposure or are excavated by armadillos). Also, the plants have required weeding, pruning of dead stems and leaves and cutting off of buds, flowers and new fruits (to give more energy back to the plant). The future rewards, however, will be truly worth the efforts.

Currently, ADE is working with community members in Vara Blanca, San Rafael and La Legua to start a blackberry cooperative. The initial plan for this organization will be to sell the raw fruit in the communities and then eventually sell in mass to canning companies so that the harvest can be produced into jams. Eventually, ADE may also oversee the initiation of a canning operation to accompany the blackberry cooperative so that canned product may be produced in-house. Beginning stages of this plan are well under way, and we’re excited to see what may happen next.

May 9, 2012

Your Money or Your Life...

When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life;
now that I am old I know that it is.
Oscar Wilde

Most people believe that money is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, in life. Wars are fought and elections are won or lost over money and how it is used. Marriage relationships are formed and broken over money. Many people spend their lives pursuing it and it has ruined many lives. There is no doubt that money is a very powerful force in the world, yet for most people it is also a very personal and private matter. Most of us who are Christians even view our money as an issue between us and God.

The Bible mentions money more frequently than it mentions salvation and, in the book of Acts, we see an approach to money among the first followers of Jesus that is quite different than today’s norm.

Acts 4:32-35
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need."

For now the staff members of ADE have chosen to live with what is commonly referred to as a “common purse.” We follow this example, found in Acts, of sharing everything. Any money that is earned is put into a common account and each person’s, or family’s, needs are provided out of this common account or “purse.” None of the ADE staff receives a salary or regular support for the work that we do, rather we all work together on various projects (i.e. running a high school, teaching English and Spanish classes, hosting groups, hosting interns, creating websites, etc.). When income is received from any of these projects, it is shared with the whole group. Some of us share housing, we share two cars, various tools, and even meals at times.

As you can imagine, this leads to some blessings and some challenges (often the two are intertwined). When everything is shared, a sense of community is developed in which each person is valued for who they are rather than what they do or how much money they make. This also means that, if one is comfortable, everyone is comfortable and if one is hungry, everyone is hungry. We share in each other’s joys and struggles and every person’s needs are provided. We also are able to encourage one another in our faith as we pray and wonder where the next week’s or month’s budget will come from. There is a higher level of accountability for each person and family and how they spend their money. Although one person handles the general finances, everyone can see how money is being spent, resulting in more transparency. Sharing housing, tools and vehicles also saves a good deal of money.
There are always frustrations that come with the common purse as well. It is difficult to go to work every day and not have the security of bringing home a paycheck. It can be frustrating to keep track of every expenditure and every receipt. People have different ideas of how money should be saved or spent, which can lead to conflict. It can be difficult to trust in the other members of the team to help bring in money. It can be frustrating not to have full control over how one spends money and to not be able to spend money on occasional luxuries. However, all of these difficulties are outweighed by the benefits. One learns how to depend on God and on fellow workers, how to view all things as belonging to God, how to have self-discipline, how to have good spending habits, how to work with others, how to resolve disagreements, how to be generous and how to share, how to be content with what one has, how to live simply, and how to consider others better than oneself.

This way of life seems very foreign to most of us, but much can be learned from it. God has blessed the staff members of ADE in many ways and has continually provided our daily bread in incredible, and often unexpected, ways as we have endeavored to work together in this manner.

January 26, 2012

Students Learning Together

After almost 2 years of planning, 6 students from Delaware County Christian School (DC), along with their teacher Señorita Ng and a chaperone, arrived here in Vara Blanca, Costa Rica at almost midnight on Tuesday, January 3rd for 9 days of Spanish Immersion through a partnership with ADE and some of our high school students.

Five of our students chose to be guides for the trip and started preparing their lessons and presentations over a month ahead of time. The very first day when the DC students and the ADE students were all eating their first meal together, there was a clear uneasiness and separation between the two groups. No one was quite sure of what to do. By the last meal you never would have guessed at the awkwardness of that first breakfast.

The DC students had many "classes" (taught by the ADE students) on local Spanish phrases. Many of the new phrases they used throughout the week like: ¡Guácala! and ¡Tome chichi! (You know, the important stuff). The students also learned how to cook some typical Costa Rican food, how to do some typical Costa Rican dances, and how to milk the cows they walked past every day. It was also a packed week with trips to the market, the city, the movies (seeing "El Gato con Botas"), the Poas Volcano and the Arenal Volcano, the waterfall gardens, and much more. All along, the ADE students were continually helping the DC students with Spanish and forcing them to practice. Even in car trips, they played some games in Spanish to take advantage of all the time the group had here.

For both groups I think it was an unbelievable success and an amazing partnership of learning. The DC students became so much more comfortable speaking Spanish. They learned a lot about the local Costa Rican culture, in ways they can't learn from their Spanish textbook and they won't ever forget. They also got to see much of Costa Rica and enjoy things like rope swings, zip lines, and hot springs. The ADE students also learned so much. They started to learn how to teach, how to be professional, and how to lead a group. They learned how to relate with people from a different culture and as one of the student guides said: how friendships can develop so fast and she can have many friends from all over the world. They were empowered to value and offer the many skills they have like Spanish, the local culture, and ecology around them. The ADE student guides are developing as leaders for their school and their community.

As teachers (both from DC and here in Costa Rica), I think we valued most the partnership that was created as students grew beyond just academics, but as people and citizens of the world. It really was an exchange instead of so many of the service or educational trips that normally take place on service or educational trips.

We're looking forward to the relationships that persist and the continued partnership between DC and ADE.

Written by: Lindsey Miller