Costa Rica Eco-Study Tour Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary!

Students from Western North Carolina visited Costa Rica for an eco-tour.This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Costa Rica Eco-Study Tour and on Saturday, July 25, a celebration was held to commemorate the event at the Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center. The anniversary gave past and present participants a time to reflect on their trips and renew old relationships.

Our special guest, Omar Barrett, the Costa Rican national who serves as our tour bus operator, shared his appreciation for all the participating teams and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation (CPF) for funding the tour. Ronald Mendoza, our tour director of Learn and Discovery Tours, was unable to attend but was able to join the celebration via Skype.

Ten years ago, former CPF Executive Director Susan Jenkins observed that members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), especially the youth, did not have the opportunities that regional youth had or experiences such as international travel. Susan reached out to relationships formed while working with the Kellogg Foundation. One of those relationships was EARTH University, a sustainable agriculture university located in Costa Rica serving the needs of the Caribbean area and northern South America in developing agriculture leaders and researchers.

Costa Rica Exo StudyThey agreed to assist the CPF to develop an exchange program for youth. Susan then approached the EBCI Cooperative Extension Office staff, Kathy Dugan, Sarah McClellan-Welch and Tammara Cole Tally to help implement the program.

An intern from EARTH assisted with the initial process. Travelers and chaperones were recruited and trained and the first team departed for Costa Rica in the summer of 2005. Thanks to the continued support of the CPF, 128 students from the EBCI and western North Carolina counties, plus 36 chaperones, have since experienced this adventure, with over 2,500 volunteers hours served by students and chaperones.

Through donations and fundraisers, teams provided school supplies & toys, rubber boots, computers and the renovation of a school bathroom to the schools of the Cabecar and Maleku Tribes, and most recently installed solar panels at the Cabecar School.

The Costa Rica Eco-Study Tour has led to many initiatives far beyond an international travel experience. The 2006 team launched the EBCI recycling education initiative, which involved a partnership with the EBCI Recycling Program, Cherokee Youth Council, and the EBCI Cooperative Extension Office.

All of the participants are grateful to the CPF and the EBCI Cooperative Extension Office for their vision, time, funding, and service.

Want to learn more about the program? Click here to listen to the Speaking of Travel interview with Tammy Jackson, the Costa Rica Eco-Study Tour coordinator. She helps bring the trip together and reaps the rewards of witnessing the impact this trip has on these students.

Sign up for the 2016 Tour

Applications for high school students ages 15 through 17 are available now. The submission deadline is September 30, 2015. For more information or to get an application please contact Tammy Jackson, tour coordinator at 828-359-6834 or email

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