The Happiest Place on Earth
October 6, 2011
October 6, 2011
“Pura Vida” are familiar words in a thriving democracy enjoying sustainable peace in our world today. The literal translation in Spanish is Pura (Pure) and Vida (Life), but to Costa Ricans it means a bigger idea—to enjoy life fully and happily.
Since 1948—well over 60 years ago—when the standing army of Costa Rica was abolished, this small South American country has developed a democracy that embraces a very diverse population with a 95% literacy rate, life expectancy of 77.6 years, comprehensive health care, and a very strong environmental focus. In 2010, the first woman, Laura Chinchilla, was elected President, along with her running mate, Luis Liberman Ginsburg, the first Jewish Vice President. Together they come from two of the many strong ethnic roots in Costa Rica. Among the expectations of their administration is the continuing stewardship of an environmentally progressive government focused on the active involvement of all citizens through education and the creation of business models linked to environmental initiatives.
Costa Rica is a democracy with a very involved population. Adult citizens teach the younger generation to be active in areas that support the diversity of national interests benefiting all. The efforts to inspire each new generation to value personal improvement by taking advantage of the great opportunities for learning that lead to actively participating in a peaceful, prosperous future, is exemplified by the amazing National Park and Protected Land System. One of the world’s foremost environmental leaders is Costa Rican—Alvaro Ugalde. At just 22 years-old, Ugalde realized the terrible toll deforestation was taking in his homeland. He determined then to find a way to stop that destruction and protect as much as he could of the glory that is Costa Rica’s natural beauty and invaluable sanctuaries for many endangered species. He set out to educate the government, corporations, and foundations about both the ethical responsibility to the protect the environment and the dangerous consequences to all of civilization of failing to protect precious natural resources.
The result of Alvaro Ugalde’s decades of dedication is that today fully one-quarter of Costa Rica is officially protected in National Parks, wetlands, endangered species sanctuaries, and other eco-sensitive areas. Five percent of the biodiversity in the entire world is protected within 26% of Costa Rica. These efforts have also boosted the economy by spawning a new kind of tourism—sustainable tourism—appealing to people from Costa Rica itself and around the world who want to experience an environmentally sensitive adventure. Sustainable tourism now brings in more revenue than bananas and coffee together! The strength of the National Park System comes largely from the people in communities throughout Costa Rica. They participate regularly in numerous activities to deepen their knowledge through education that extends from understanding delicate eco-systems that ensure pure drinking water to gender issues.
The message that runs through all of these efforts is that the children are the future, and parents, guardians, schools, and government must enrich education in all matters that impact the freedom and peace enjoyed by the people of Costa Rica.
We can look to Costa Rica as an example of sustainable peace in our time. There are surely lessons we can learn from this small but long-lasting democracy as we strive to develop cultures of peace, where one day all people will live “Pura vida.”