Project 4: A Seat at the Table

This design piece, titled A Seat at the Table, is a picnic table designed to facilitate community interactions as a reflection of the beautiful community interactions we had in Costa Rica. Sharing stories, knowledge, and food with the people of El Cocal and my classmates became a big part of what I loved the most about being in Costa Rica.

My approach to the design of A Seat at the Table was to create seating that is as simplistic as possible, a direct reflection of the design styles in El Cocal. The intricate, hand-painted patterns found in the piece reference a painting style found in Costa Rica, La Caretta Tipica, which has a rich history in the decoration of prized possessions, specifically Ox Carts in the turn of the 20th century. La Caretta Tipica is the perfect expression of the colour, nature, and beauty found in Costa Rica and is also a perfect homage to the experiences that shaped this piece. Finally, in lieu of our reason for being in Costa Rica, to assist the community of El Cocal in developing a waste management system, all of the wood and nails used in the making of this piece are entirely reused materials.

The people of El Cocal reminded me that happiness is not a reflection of the things you own, the money you have, or the amount of success others perceive you to have – we can find happiness in each other and in an appreciation of what you are already so lucky to have. This piece is a reflection of this incredible learning experience and what I valued most from our trip; community.

c16f6873-2b0f-4b51-b972-8aef20602a9b 8e49814f-92e0-482d-885d-fd5b2e8db159 45f35b82-91f4-4700-8370-3e4149c52b16

Last Day All Together :(

Today was our last full day in Costa Rica. Some of us parted ways in La Fortuna while the rest of us made the jaunt out to San Jose for our flights tomorrow. Considering it was our last full day, we really did a lot.

We started our day with an Arenal Volcano tour, which was amazing! It was funny hearing all of us agree that we were “so over seeing monkeys!” since they’re everywhere in Costa Rica. Then we’d quickly change our attitude when we saw Toucans or cool frogs — I wanted this frog as a pet basically all of my life and I don’t know the name of what type of frog it is! It was really quite cool though.



We got to see another waterfall on the hike and go on a few cool bridges. Then we set out to go to a natural hot spring which was such an amazing experience. Some people even got their dead skin eaten by fish … ick! I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but my skin had still never felt more clear because of all of the steam.


Then we all went to eat lunch back in La Fortuna and say our goodbyes to the people staying in Costa Rica that we would be parting ways with. It was actually kind of a happy moment even though the trip was sadly ending, we all had so many memories to share!

Finally, after we split off, the rest of us (10 students left!) got on the bus to go to San Jose. I think a lot of us slept for most of the ride, then slept immediately again at the San Jose hostel. We were going to need all the sleep we could get for our flights tomorrow. There was some bad sushi in between each of those sleepy times though — I’d like more Casados instead, please! What a crazy, amazing day!

Day Two: Interviews in El Cocal


DAY TWO: Community Interviews


After our first visit in El Cocal yesterday, the class was eager to dive into interviewing El Cocal’s community members. Our interest in the stories and perspectives of the community members was immediately heightened after finally seeing El Cocal when we had only heard about or researched it in the upcoming weeks to our arrival in Costa Rica. Immediately after our first arrival in Cocal, it was clear to me that this was a community filled with friendly faces, a breathtaking landscape and a lot to offer from its environment. Despite all of the positive aspects El Cocal has to offer, the problems with rubbish taking over the landscape as a result of the lack of waste management are undeniably affecting all of the community members as talk of solutions loom but nothing seems to change.



Upon seeing waste management problems first hand, GVI was quick to organize interviews between our class and the community members for Day Two – today. Our group spoke to community members of all different perspectives. Age, country of origin, time spent living in El Cocal, profession, and location within El Cocal were some of the major factors that changed the realities of each community member we interviewed. Our first interviewee, Claudia, is a mother of six and has been in Cocal for 3 years. Claudia sells fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from a neighbouring town to community members near her house in the central part of El Cocal. Our second interviewee, Cristobalina, is an older community member from Costa Rica who has been in Cocal for 16 years. Cristobalina works at GVIs community center with the children in the community and lives on the opposite end of Cocal (furthest from the boat service) and often lives alone because her son is out working. Finally, we talked to another woman also named Claudia, a middle-aged mother who owns a convenience store in the central part of the town. She has lived in Cocal just over 10 years and came from Nicaragua.



While perspectives often changed from interview to interview, their hopes for the future of the community were very much the same. Our first interviewee Claudia, for example, felt that Cocal often received a bad reputation as being unsafe and felt more tourists should view Cocal as beautiful. On the other hand, our second interviewee, Cristobalina, felt Cocal was unsafe at night and that the rumours of gang violence were most-definitely true. However, Claudia is living more central, is younger, and has a larger family than Cristobalina. In regards to waste management, Cristobalina and Claudia hire someone in some way to assist them in moving their garbage off Cocal via boats whereas Claudia from our third interview is close enough to the docks that she can move her garbage herself for a cheaper cost. Regardless, all of our interviewees felt the community would benefit from a waste collection service and that everyone in the community would have to be informed. They were all also concerned about the upkeep of these services with the lack of community involvement and how little the government and municipality would be willing to step in to help.


Each family and individual in the community experiences a different reality. Regardless, they all agree that El Cocal needs to implement a waste management system. Managing the waste could boost morale, encourage tourism, and create a safer environment for their children. However, the challenges the community has faced in the past with lack of involvement from community members and government officials is still a major barrier that needs to be addressed. Overall, I am beyond thankful to each of these wonderful, nice women for taking time out of their day to talk to us and discuss their opinions and ideas to improve their community.