Fabricio Camacho has a dream that has the potential to change the scope of education in Central and Latin America.
Education is at the heart of Camacho’s daily life in his job as the general manager of the University of Georgia’s satellite campus in Costa Rica. He has been with the university since its opening in 2001.
From field work to paper work, Camacho’s voice is present in almost all of the functions of the campus near the small village of San Luis.
“My main job, and what it says in my contract, is essentially to run this campus,” Camacho said.
Over 2,000 students and tourists visit this campus yearly, but out of this number, students from Georgia’s Athens campus total only 300, or about 15 percent.
The campus may have its roots in Athens, but its reach has grown dramatically since it opened. Students from every corner of Northern America, as well as Europe, currently study here. Camacho is pleased at the campus’ expansion, but he wants more.
“One of my dreams has always been to try to provide educational opportunities for local students,” he said. “I would like to see our numbers become half and half. For some reason, this hasn’t been the emphasis of UGA.”
People from Costa Rica do hold an important role in the function of the campus, however. The majority who constitute the custodial, kitchen, and maintenance staff are people from the Monteverde and San Luis area.
“The people from this community are amazing workers,” Camacho said. “I don’t have any other way to describe the work ethic, enthusiasm and the passion they have toward this project.”
Camacho noted that hiring workers from the nearby community is a conscious effort by the University of Georgia in promoting sustainability.
“Hiring local people means hiring the ambassadors of the community, which I see as a no-brainer,” Camacho said. “The university in Athens might think they are doing this community a favor by having UGA here, but I think it is the opposite.”
The university also hires interns and volunteers from neighboring countries. One of these people is Andrea Mora, a scientist from Honduras and the current agricultural intern.
Mora recently graduated from The Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School with a degree in environment and development. This school is located in the Yeguare River Valley of Honduras.
Mora said that Zamorano has students from Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador and other parts of Latin America. Mora said that she hopes that in the future, students from Zamorano will be able to study at UGA Costa Rica as she is.
“There’s a lot of people trying to find a place like UGA Costa Rica,” Mora said. “There’s just not too much noise outside the United States about it.”
But even if more students knew about the program, Mora said, the language barrier might deny Latin American students the opportunity to study at a primarily English-speaking university.
“People have the desire and want to have someone teach them English,” she said. “There isn’t too much education in some of those areas. It’s a mess. Education is key, we just need to make it accessible.”
Accessible, and affordable.
Quint Newcomer, the director of UGA Costa Rica, whose office is located in Athens, discussed some of the financial barriers that prevent local students from using the campus’ resources.
“Funding is a huge challenge. Tuition for one semester at UGA (at the in-state rate) is more than the Costa Rican students would pay for an entire four years of college,” Newcomer said.
Nevertheless, Newcomer is in full support of Camacho’s dream. He sees the integration of local university students into UGA CR programs as a work in progress.
“UGA CR has only been in existence for about 11 years now, so we have to realize that a lot of what we’re still doing is building the foundation for what will develop over the coming 10 to 20 years,” Newcomer said.
Costa Rica does have an extensive higher education system of its own for those Costa Ricans who have the ability to make it.
San Luis only provides public education until the completion of the sixth grade, unless students opt to take the two-hour trek up to Santa Elena, a nearby larger town.
Camacho is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in a program titled ‘Natural Science for Development’ through this higher education system.
When Camacho completes the program, his final product will be an organic compost that he has engineered himself. He plans to employ this compost in the crops grown on the university’s campus. He said that UGA Costa Rica is innovating new technologies and ideas on a daily basis.
“What we do here at UGA is try out some of the technologies that are available, and validate those technologies to society,” he said. “That is the overall goal of this campus, to promote and investigate how we can make the transition to more sustainable lifestyles.”
Camacho said that he is proud of the work that UGA Costa Rica puts towards creating a more sustainable world, and he believes that people could learn a lot from the research done at the campus.
“We are establishing a model of how tropical regions could be in the future,” he said.
Because countries outside of North America and Europe have limited access to the campus, the reach of the model is limited. Camacho accredited his university and his nation with the ability to educate in several areas, if given the opportunity.
“We have all the advantages of modern life, but we also have healthy water, healthy food, healthy biodiversity, healthy forests, and a healthy economy without having to destroy the resources we have,” he said.
Blog post and photo by Hannah Echols, UGA Art, Astronomy and Journalism Study Abroad Student