BY MOLLY BEEGOO
Over the last decade, crime rates have plummeted in Purral, an area of Costa Rica’s capital city, San José. As Molly Beegoo writes, one key reason for this change has been an increase in churches collaborating together and reaching out to those in need.
South America is infamous for its high crime rates, drug problems and sheer number of people living on the streets. In 2009, around 5,300 families lived in the slums in Costa Rica alone.
Purral, near San José, especially experienced problems, with the highest murder rate in the whole country in 2010. Crime was rife, causing many public services to stop, as doctors, nurses, bus drivers and utility maintenance workers all left their jobs.
There were very few working electricity or telephone lines and running water was hard to come by. People feared to leave their houses.
We talked to Pastor Martin Loría of Iglesia Cristiana Trono de Dios (Christian Church Throne of God), right, Network Co-ordinator of Viva’s partner network in Costa Rica, about the situation in Purral then and now. Looking back to that time, he said: “The police service was no longer effective. From time to time, they would mount a major intervention but could not achieve a situation of security for the inhabitants.”
All these problems motivated him and a number of other pastors in the community to meet together to discuss a plan of action, supported by the network. However, with very little knowledge and experience about solving the issues, they struggled to come up with any effective way to combat them.
“We didn’t know; we had no experience,” said Pastor Martin. “We elaborated various plans, relying on God. We looked for support, but overall we wanted to work together and create the power of synergy: that God would bless our unity. We began to really seek solutions.”
That was when the idea was suggested of having a meeting of all the churches, to root this idea of working together. It was here they formed the Pastor’s Council for Development and realised a goal that helped them move forwards.
The group began to plan events and got in contact with government agencies which gave them resources to assist in achieving these goals. Slowly but surely, the churches began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We began to have an impact and see transformation,” said the pastor. “The institutions began to come to us. For example, in the health system, they began to approach us to give help to support the civil servants; the doctors, the nurses and health visitors.
“Thus, we saw that each time the community improved and they began to see change in the security situation. Already, the police managed to arrest some drug traffickers, and the armed gangs began to disappear. Things changed.”
In the end, the government invested $2m in the area’s schools, parks and sports centres, which created a better atmosphere and demonstrated to the churches how much they could do when working together. Now, the Pastor’s Council for Development is a legally recognised charity and is able to have representation in multiple government departments.
Today, Purral has changed dramatically. Whereas in 2006, it was ranked number one in terms of danger due to crime, it has now dropped to 17. School attendance is on the up too.
“In 2011, the central college of Purral was at the point of closure because it didn’t have enough pupils to begin the elective courses,” reports Pastor Martin. “Now the Technical College of Purral has a waiting list to receive students, not just from Purral, but from other districts too.”
The Council of Pastors has begun many different projects as well. One of these helps 130 children every week, who come from backgrounds of violence, be it due to gangs or an instable home. They are rehabilitated by learning about art and sports and the truth that God loves them, no matter what.
The Purral network continues to strive towards their goal of freeing all children from every form of violence affecting their country.
Click here to the interview with Pastor Martin (4 mins):
Molly Beegoo spent a week on work experience with Viva. She attends a school in Witney, Oxfordshire.