Fun and Games with History: The Battle of Santa Rosa at Camp
From early to mid-July students at most primary schools in Costa Rica have a two week-long break from classes, which is more or less equivalent to the length of time most schools shut in Europe and North America for the Christmas break. The wet season along the Pacific Coast typically lasts from May right through to the beginning of December and, according to one local I spoke to during my time there, this is as close as the country gets to experiencing a winter season…although temperatures rarely if ever fall below 20 degrees Celsius at night!
Two weeks may not seem like a terribly long time for kids not to have classes, but given the often different family structures that exist in many of Costa Rica’s poorer communities – in which both of a child’s parents may work for extra long hours each day working on local palm plantations for example – a two week gap between the structured social environment of school can leave local kids at a loose end with little to do other than ride their bikes up and down the narrow roads of their small towns and kick a football. We wanted to give the children attending Roncador and Damas elementary schools the chance to feel stimulated and enthused during this period. Our volunteer group wasn’t large enough to organise camps at both schools for the two weeks but we felt glad that we were able to entertain the kids as much as possible for one of their two free weeks.
A fascinating past
One of our staff members mentioned the idea of organising a history based activity as one of the camp’s opening activities on the first day. History is something that has interested me for quite a few years now and shortly before coming to Costa Rica I began to become interested in learning about the history of this small country with a population and land area very similar to Ireland’s (my home country).
Particularly striking was Costa Rica’s mid-19th century history during which a national hero emerged – a young man in his early twenties named Juan Santamaría – in the face of the threat posed by a North-American invader called William Walker who had arrived in Central America with mercenaries and had previously seized power in Nicaragua. He was driven out of the country in 1856 in the Battle of Santa Rosa which took place in the northern province of Guanacaste.
Another staff member told me that Costa Rican children learn of this historical event from a pretty young age – 6-7 years old it seems – and she was proven to be right when I mentioned the background story to the game we were about to play to the kids at the two camps. I couldn’t have been happier as the enthusiasm the kids showed for this game I came up with was manifest.
‘El malo’ defeated!
I attempted to represent the siege laid upon the hostel where Walker’s mercenaries were lodged before being forced to flee by getting the kids to throw small balls through the holes I made in a cardboard box to win points. Some of them referred to Walker as ‘el malo’ (the baddie) and lined up again and again in an attempt to become the hero by getting the ball through one of the holes the most times.
The kids also got to practise their reading skills by taking part in a short role play I put together on a piece of paper in which one of them would pretend to be the national hero and the other would be ‘el malo’. This worked fantastically well also as the kids were more than happy to put on the persona of a famous historical figure for the fun of it – be he good or bad – and I helped kids to pronounce some words that they stumbled over initially. For me, this activity was one of the events I’ll remember most about my time in Costa Rica!
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