The Grijalba Sandí family is one of the thousands of households in Costa Rica facing unemployment and extreme poverty. In this home, they survive on ¢75,000 (US$135) monthly.


The Grijalba Sandí family faces unemployment and extreme poverty with the support of Puente al Desarrollo. Jorge Castillo / La Nacion

They do so with money from the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social (IMAS) – the government agency that operates the duty-free shops at the country’s airports.

With that money, besides groceries, they must also pay water and electricity. As well as buy their 18-month-old baby’s diapers and formula.

The economic situations of Celia Sandí’s family, in the Bella Vista barrio (neighborhood) Jericho, in Desamparados, worsened when her husband, William Grijalba, 57, was fired as a supermarket driver.

Since then, the family depends entirely on the State for their needs. They are also committed to caring for Celia’s father, a senior who has no pension.

“We buy the basics: rice and beans. A bag of rice is worth ¢1,135 and for five people nothing lasts. A soup is worth ¢300, so they are little things that you buy as you can, because there are many things that you cannot … we can hardly buy meat,” said the 37-year-old woman.

Despite the harsh reality of this household, located on the high mountain of Desamparados, Celia does not lose faith in being able to move forward.

For almost two years they have been in the Puente al Desarrollo program and from there, their family began to change their mentality and now struggle to change their situation.

Her children, Wilhelm, 17, and Yalenchka, 14, study at the San Juan del Sur Technical College, both with on the ‘Avancemos’ scholarships that give them ¢30,000 per month to pay for transport, books, and educational materials.

William Grijalba (left), Celia Sandí (center), Yajaira Tames of IMAS (gray), Ezequiel (child) and Yalenchka (blue) participate in a follow-up of the IMAS social Woker.  Jorge Castillo / La Nacion

“I go to high school to be able to enter the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), that is my goal, to study and be a criminologist to be able to help my family at some point,” says Celia.

She also studies Computing at the National Learning Institute (INA), while her baby, Ezequiel, stays in the Care Network.

The 37-year-old woman affirms that the great economic difficulties that her family is experiencing do not erase the plans and dreams they have to get out of poverty.

“I have big goals, some long term, but I have them. I have not given up, ( … there are still options  … I  have a mission and a vision of life to get ahead,” said Celia.

The IMAS social worker Yajaira Tames, explained she expects the family to stop receiving money transfers by March, but they would keep the other aid (school, child care) so that their economic situation will not worsen.

“Once they conclude with the Puente al Desarrollo process, they can continue with other benefits as long as they stay in a line of extreme or basic poverty,” said Tames.

That moment does not torment this family. They hope to be prepared to face their future.

“I am not afraid because I have the ability … I have the tools to face the world. Let’s say, I know that I can continue with the support of the Red de Cuido (child care), I will not have the money, but the ability to find a good job to get ahead, then no … I’m not afraid, I feel very sure of what we have done in recent years,” said Celia Sandí.