Alturas is a comprehensive, non-profit (501 C3), children's program. Our goal is to help children who have the lowest economic resources in the area of Lomas del Rio, Pavas, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Amy, the daughter of Bettye and Tracy Speake, grew up in Germantown United Methodist Church (GUMC) along with Pastor Tim Carpenter. God spoke to her on a trip to Costa Rica some 28 years ago when she saw the plight of many women and children living in the Lomas Del Rio, Pavas slums in San Jose, the capital city. Women and children are especially vulnerable in a male dominated society. These are the forgotten people living in an ugly part of a beautiful country. Crime, especially drug dealing, theft of all types, and gangs are the predominant means of economic support.
Amy’s ministry started with a few women from this area. She provided an evening meeting designed to both educate them as well as teach them some basic skills which they might use to make things to sell. All of this was done in a Christian setting woven around telling The Story and leading them to Christ. Today that part of her ministry has grown to over 500 women who Participate in one or more of Amy’s meetings during the month. Most have declared for Christ. For the last few years some 70-150 women have made a commitment to Christ each year. Some are relatives who live outside the area, but were invited to come and hear. They are learning that they have value and are loved. The church that Amy belongs to assists in leading this ministry. She periodically leads worship in special settings and has delivered the message at several funerals at the request of the family.
As her ministry with the women grew, she learned about their families and children. What she heard and saw disturbed her greatly. Families were often led by the mother who had little in the way of resources. The male of the household was typically involved in some form of criminal activity and was the role model for the male children. As a Christian and teacher, Amy could not stand by and watch this cycle repeat itself. So, some three years ago she started the Alturas Ministry to go along with her women’s program. Alturas means heights, and Amy intends to raise these children and their mothers (and hopefully families) to new heights. Thus began Amy’s Alturas school for half a day on Saturday mornings.
Even though many of these children attend school, the public schools are only a half day. Quality is not a word one would use to describe their education. Children from families who can afford tuition attend private school. While Costa Rica touts its high level of education, few children in these slums ever finish school. Without a decent education and the ability to speak English their job opportunities outside of crime are very limited. Due to the poor living conditions, environment, and parents with little or no education, the 31 children she started with three years ago were averaging 2-3 years behind grade level for their age. This gap only increases with age. After three years, only one child has left her program and that was because her mother was threatened and they had to move. Today, even with just a half day of school a week, those kids are close to grade level by Costa Rican measures, and they are learning some rudimentary English. They are also learning about the Bible and the message of love it brings.
The first class of 30 ranges in age from 8 to 14. They are mostly children of mothers attending the women’s group each week. Some are normal for their age while others have mental challenges. This range of ages makes teaching somewhat challenging. They attend public school five days a week for half a day. Alturas starts on Saturday morning after the two rented vans driven by teachers/assistants bring them to the school, a building owned by Christ For The Cities international and rented for the day by Alturas. This is in the slum area, and like everything else in that area, is behind bars. Just a way of life.
As the children play while everyone is arriving and getting into a school mode, the two helpers are cooking the usual Costa Rican breakfast of rice, beans, some fruit, and milk. After a blessing they settle and quietly eat the meal. For some, this may be the first in a day or even longer. Then there is a time of play which usually entails the boys kicking a small soccer ball—the national sport. Some girls may join in while others quietly talk or play. Then the class work begins. Often there are Bible stories with illustrated figures and a telling of the story. The white board is the center of it all. Signs posted in the room give the rules all children must abide by. There are others emphasizing self-worth and encouragement. Part of the lesson is about our worth and moral values such as respect for oneself and for others.
Lessons progress throughout the morning with personal help from Amy and her 4 teacher/helpers. After about two hours, break time comes with some fresh fruit and a starchy food. After more group learning and activities comes lunch. Most of the children only eat a third or so of their meal; the rest is taken home to share with their siblings.
Amy’s goal is to build connections with technical schools and English-speaking businesses such as call centers (there are a lot in Costa Rica), so that as these kids reach 18 they can find employment at living wages or move on to further training for job skills. Her dream is to build this to a 5-6 day a week program with each class being about uniform age so that they can better coordinate instruction content. Ideally she would like to keep them to age 18 so that she could have the best chance to get them to adult age with some employment skills and a good moral/spiritual value base.