Saving Costa Rica's Isolated Tribes

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CWN.org - TALAMANCA, Costa Rica - Thousands of tribal people live in the jungles of Costa Rica. Most remain on isolated reservations, cut off from healthcare and education for their children.And when sickness comes, the situation can quickly turn desperate.

The life of this indigenous baby is in danger. Too weak to survive the five days of jungle trails and dangerous river crossings to reach the nearest town. This baby's life hangs by a cord-and a daring helicopter rescue.

Not far from here another child risks his life crossing a dangerous river on this makeshift bridge. The river crossings are more than a safety issue.

UNICEFf's Seija Toro has studied the health of indigenous children.

"Under (age) five mortality, for instance, is much higher," she explained.  "It's almost double compared to the rest of the country." he need of these indigenous children caught the attention of a growing Christian community in San Jose. And Vida Abundante Church soon launched a "Bridges for Life" campaign.

"It was very interesting because people from our church knocked on doors that then began to open, and as the result of many efforts we began to see resources coming in, financial resources which were so important for an expensive project like this. Technical resources like engineers, architects," the church's pastor, Meguel Sanchez, said.

The church found support in the government and private sectors. Working together, the church-initiated coalition began to build secure foot bridges. The sites were so remote that construction materials had to be airlifted by helicopter. The U.S. military loaned two of its blackhawks for the project.

"The Army and the U.S. are here to help the movement of material to the area of Talamanca, which is approximately 160,000 pounds of material," Sgt. David Bustamante said.

The Chirolitos river in the rainy season becomes an uncrossable torrent. Some people who have tried to cross it have lost their lives. That's why the structure behind me is really a bridge of life.

This vehicle bridge cost around $160,000. The San Jose congregation covered the costs of land surveys, bridge design, and project supervision. But for Costa Rican Christians, it's more than just a bridge.

"What benefits will this bring to the area? Many, but I believe the spiritual benefits will be greater," Sanchez said. "Today it becomes simpler for us to reach many more remote areas where we can present the salvation message, where we'll tell the people of this indigenous area that there's hope for them."

This new bridge opens up access to eight villages and 3,500 indigenous families.

Now, thanks to the initiative of a Costa Rican congregation, these indigenous children have access to better health care and education, and their families to a better life.

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