Posted by Steve Lettau on May 14, 2020

With help from a Rotary Foundation global grant, a group of women in rural Costa Rica are using ecotourism to enrich their families’ futures

by Diana Schoberg Photography by Ricardo Morales Portillo

Drive east from the small city of Turrialba in the mountainous central region of Costa Rica, and after about an hour you will find yourself traveling down a bumpy gravel road. Cross a narrow bridge and you will find the even smaller town of Mollejones, which is where Karen and Evelyn García Fuentes grew up on a coffee farm. The farm belongs to their father, who had inherited the land from his grandfather.

When Karen and Evelyn were in their late teens, they left town and went to college. Moving to the city is the dream of many rural teenagers the world over. But after college, the sisters decided to return to Mollejones. Finding work close to home was difficult, but Karen had heard about a business in Costa Rica that raised butterflies for export. Karen set to work on learning what it would take to launch a similar enterprise. “We wanted our own project,” Evelyn says.

At the beginning, their father didn’t believe in the idea — and the butterflies terrified their mother. But Karen worked hard and focused on the business. Evelyn joined her, and their mother now works with them too. Another sister is handling the marketing and social media, and their father has given over more and more of his coffee farm to the butterflies. “The business has united the family,” Karen says.

The traditional perception of rural farmers is that their kids need to study so they can eventually leave. But the García sisters came back home. “We broke that cycle for our farm and our community,” Karen says.