Costa Rican Friends were founded in 1951 by eleven Alabaman and Iowan Quaker families. They were fleeing the coming military-industrial complex in the United States. Specifically, some of the Friends had refused to register for the first peacetime draft and had been imprisoned. They were also drawn by the Costa Rican government’s invitation to immigrants and by the abolishment of its army. Travelling overland in trucks and oxcarts, led by Hubert Mendenhall, they settled in Monteverde in the northwest of the country. Friends established farms and built a cheese factory. Out of a concern to protect their watershed, they set aside large areas of the land. Those areas grew into the massive Cloud Forest Reserve. Nowadays the reserve is the focus of ecotourism, the main local business.
Monteverde Monthly Meeting numbers about 100 Friends. A small worship group in San Jose also gathers. In 1951 a Friends School was created to serve both Quaker and non-Quaker students. In 1983 the Centro de Amigos para la Paz, a peace center in San Jose, was founded. The CAP engages in a number of projects: conflict resolution programs with Alternatives to Violence; human rights investigations and observers for elections in Honduras; efforts to increase awareness about the struggle of the Palestinian people; the Casa Hostel Ridgeway for international travelers; the Finca la Bella, a community farming project, with Quaker Earthcare Witness; and the Monteverde Institute, an education and research center, with local people. Over the years Friends have intermarried with Spanish and Indian Costa Ricans, and there is a close relationship with the Catholic Church.
Costa Rican Friends practice various arts. Living in a remote place without theaters or cultural centers, they first provided their own entertainment. Family nights, moved around to various houses, took place, and later coffehouses were organized. Community plays and musicals were put on. Square-dancing on Saturday nights at the Meetinghouse, with the Guindon family as callers, has long been a tradition. Some Friends are painters or storytellers. Quaker artists and craftspeople offer their works in art galleries in downtown Monteverde. The Friends School teaches the arts. In the 1990’s Quakers helped create the Monteverde Music Festival, first featuring classical music and later expanding to many genres. And during the fundraising efforts for the 60th anniversary of the Friends School, Young Friends played in the canopy. Here is a link to Morning Melodies at the Children’s Eternal Rainforest: