Native Sarapiqueño Davis Azofeifa and Irish-Canadian Meghan Casey are the founders of Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat. They live on site with their three amazing children Lluvia, Aedan and Kiara who are an integral part of Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat.
Chilamate Rainforest eco Retreat was born out of the couples dream to work together on a project that would benefit the local community and also the critical section of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor where Davis and his family have traditionally lived. Chilamate is one of the richest parts of Costa Rica in terms of biological diversity yet one of the poorest areas in Costa Rica by economic standards, in most part because of the giant banana and pineapple plantations that dominate the region and the generally low paying and dangerous jobs they offer as well as the influx of struggling Nicaraguan migrant workers they attract.
Meghan and Davis began to see their dreams come true in 2006, when they stumbled across the 55 acres of Sarapiqui Riverfront and lowland tropical rain forest property that is now Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat. The original owners had refused to sell to anyone that was not from Sarapiqui or anyone who was not committed 100% to continuing to preserve the area and were thrilled to meet Meghan and Davis and made it very easy for them to purchase, even though they never had the money to do so! The couple wrote proposals and sought out supporters and over the next few years they managed to build what is now Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat (CRER).
From the beginning they sought out Rainforest Alliance and their Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism and Davis and a few helpers worked in harmony with the forest building the cabins, the common areas, Jungle House Lodge and connecting covered walkways that make up the Retreat. Davis, foreman, designer, plumber, electrician (amongst many other hats!) works hard to build ecologically and always recycling materials wherever possible. The couple also use solar power, capture rainwater, use natural lighting and air conditioning, and only use biodegradable environmentally friendly products, amongst other strategies for sustainable Tourism.
Thanks to their participation in the Costa Rican Bird Route they were able to benefit from two full audits from Rainforest Alliance where they were evaluated on their sustainability practices and also coached on ways to improve. They also received training through the Earth University and their program for small tourism projects called Promoting Sustainable Markets (PROMES) and through that participation they made networks with local sustainable businesses and farmers and were able to have a third full audit from Rainforest Alliance where they were awarded one of the highest qualifications in the country, in terms of sustainable practices.
A major part of their project is their work in the community. Even before the conception of Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat, they began giving free English classes in the community and they have since developed an Environmental Education program and provide different workshops in the community as well as technology classes. They only hire local labor and procure to purchase as much as possible all of the food and products that they use at the Retreat, from local producers and suppliers. The couple are also very active community members participating in local community development associations, the local Chamber of Commerce, local school boards and the steering committee of the San Juan la Selva Biological Corridor (part of the larger Mesoamerican Biological Corridor).
Meghan currently participates as the President of the Chilamate Elementary School Administrative Board (since 2011), the Costa Rican Coordinator for World Leadership School (since 2009) and Academic Experiences Abroad (since 2013), World Leadership Foundation Board Member (since 2012) and is an active member of the local women’s group (since 2006). She has also continued her studies, at the Peace University, where she has taken courses in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Social Change, Measuring Impact, Skills for Effective Negotiation, and Educating in the 21st Century, amongst others in a diploma program (Diploma in Social Innovation) that she finished in April 2014. Davis is the Costa Rican Ambassador for World Kayak, active in the Municipality and Chamber of Commerce, founding member of local community Organization Chilamate Activo, and founder of the non-profit local Saturday Soccer Camp and Sarapiqui River School which aims to keep at risk youth off the streets while giving them the basics in kayaking.
Through Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat and their work in the community their goal is to expand their conservation area and they firmly believe that is only possible if the local community perceives a real benefit from their project.
Thanks to their work with World Leadership School they consistently work with 6 local schools supporting in infrastructure projects and teacher training and have built 3 playgrounds, 3 basketball courts, a library room, and bathrooms, amongst many other smaller projects. They also coordinate home stays in three different communities which links local families to international visitors in a very powerful way.
Meghan and Davis have seen many conservation efforts fail because there is no local buy-in of the projects. They sincerely believe that the local community has to be involved and benefit from every aspect of their project to ensure that the rainforest conservation is sustainable and will expand in their very critical section of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.