For several years, people in the Pavas district of Costa Rica were experiencing an increase in crime and in youth marijuana use. But after a coalition was formed, thanks to the training and assistance from CADCA, local citizens developed a planning process and began implementing evidence-based prevention strategies.
CADCA began working in the Central American country in 2013 to help concerned citizens in Pavas form a community coalition. Located within the greater metropolitan area of the capital city of San Jose, Pavas is the largest and most populated district in Costa Rica.
To help reduce crime in the town, one of the first strategies the coalition implemented was to increase police patrols in key problem areas. A group of coalition members, led by a coalition member who is also a local dentist, approached the Ministry of Justice voicing their concerns. In response, the Ministry assigned 25 police officers to patrol hot spots in Pavas.
“This was a major accomplishment for the coalition and it also shows that the politicians are responding to the requests of their citizens and are concerned about the community as well,” explained Dr. Eduardo Hernandez, Vice President of CADCA’s International Programs.
The Pavas coalition has also implemented several strategies to address youth marijuana and alcohol use. For example, they increased the number of recreational and sporting activities for youth and launched initiatives to educate young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. These strategies helped build the coalition’s capacity and leveraged resources for eventual community change.
Little by little, the Pavas Coalition is changing attitudes and perceptions among both youth and adults and is making notable changes to the entire community. In fact, other communities within the greater San Jose metropolitan area caught wind of the work in Pavas and as a result, officials in neighboring Alajuelita and Desamparados asked CADCA for assistance in forming coalitions in their districts.
The Mayor of Alajuelita met with Dr. Hernandez and Laura Calzada, the INL Program Management Assistant at the US Embassy in San Jose, in late 2014 and expressed interest in the work that CADCA was doing in Pavas and in bringing the project to his community.
As a result, CADCA recently began working in Alajuelita and Desamparados. Both communities are facing a number of problems related to poverty and drug use. Alajuelita has the lowest HDI (human development index) of all the cantons in Costa Rica and high truancy rates. Desamparados, on the other hand, is plagued by drug-related violence, including gangs fighting for control of territory. In fact, it is currently the second canton in the nation in terms of homicides, having doubled the number of homicides in the past year.
Hernandez knows it’s a big job, but also believes in the power of the community coalition approach, which has proven time and time again to work in any part of the world.
“The coalitions in Costa Rica have truly grasped the concept of community-level prevention and are already having a powerful impact on local communities,” Dr. Hernandez said. “The success we’ve seen in Costa Rica so far is a testament to the great partners we have in that country. The INL office at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose has been extremely supportive and helpful in our efforts to train and build coalitions in the country.”
CADCA currently works with countries on five continents, helping them form community coalitions to address their local substance abuse problems. Since 2005, CADCA has helped build over 130 community anti-drug coalitions in 22 countries. CADCA’s demand reduction activities in Costa Rica are supported by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Law Enforcement and Narcotics.