"I'm just starting to live": Two men who migrated to Costa Rica share their stories
When we talk about migration, we mostly think of the working-age population who seeks work or other opportunities. But, what about the elderly, children and young people? How do they experience migration? Two men of very different ages share their real-life stories of solidarity, sustainable development and migration.
“A century is nothing. I'm just starting to live.”
Candelario Téllez has white hair, tired hands, and an expressive face. The scorching sun of southern Nicaragua and the long years have left deep marks on his skin, but each tells a story and shares a life lesson.
He has always been entrepreneurial and a man of convictions. One day he decided to teach himself to read and write, despite never having attended school.
How did he accomplish this? He began to collect Los Cancioneros (a newspaper section that included the lyrics of the most popular songs from the early-to-mid-20th century). Gradually, he started to decipher them—until one day he managed to recognize all the lyrics entirely. This is how his passion for reading was born, and he's immensely proud of this. Unfortunately, he is not able to read now because he has gradually lost his eyesight.
Today, Candelario —nearly having lived for a century —is very proud of what he’s been able to achieve: from cleaning pastures to sowing the land, and crafting the “best cheese in all Nicaragua" (as he likes to call it), to deciding to seek a better life at an age when many people in his circumstance would have given up.
He recalls feeling fear and uncertainty as he crossed the border. His wife had recently passed, he felt ill, and he lacked access to healthcare services within his native country.
Candelario decided to migrate to fulfil his late wife’s dying wish: for him to find her distant relative. She feared he would find himself alone over time as his health weakened, and she hoped her family could care for him.
He arrived in Upala, a border canton in Costa Rica, with nothing. But today he has plenty: a family that warmly welcomed him, enough food to eat, access to healthcare services, a community that appreciates him and most importantly: his residence card.
Candelario believes that what is in the past stays in the past and that one must always look ahead. However, as he thinks of his daughters, whom he has lost contact with more than 60 years ago, his eyes fill with tears. He recalls that they suddenly left for El Salvador one day. He hasn’t seen them since. He tried to look for them but had no luck. He did not have the resources or the tools to figure out their whereabouts. He misses his daughters a great deal and hopes Gladys, Cristina, Naya and Bernarda are still alive and well.
“My biggest dream is that my daughters are well, even if I never get to know where they are. I also want to regain or at least improve my eyesight, at least a bit, to continue reading,” he said with a mix of nostalgia and hope.
“The grandpa”, as many in the town like to call him, hopes to continue with his medical checks-ups to overcome his ailments and live for many more years.
“I am a rebel, an idealist, and I believe in my own culture.”
Juan Carlos arrived in the country with his eight brothers and his mother. His mother brought the family to seek a better life, with more access to food, work and education for her children.
In a blink of an eye, he found himself as a 10-year-old boy sitting in a classroom at a school in Costa Rica. This experience just seemed normal to him, something ordinary. He had no idea what borders were. In fact, he has never felt foreign nor different. He grew up integrated into his Upala community.
From a very early age, the community inspired in him an interest in development, environmental protection and local politics.
Presently, Juan Carlos is a young adult who considers himself rebellious and idealistic. He aspires to dedicate his life to building a more independent community that cares about protecting its rivers and provides opportunities to those most in need. He feels that he is just beginning to live, and his mission is crystal clear to him.
He believes in solidarity among communities, and that each community should support those also aiming to create their paths. Juan Carlos participates in community development projects, which he combines with his studies and his work as a day labourer. He says that once he passes his math course, he will be able to move on to university.
Unlike many other Central Americans, he does not want to go to up North. What he really wants is to get to know South America and soak up its culture and history. He wants to understand the social movements that fight for equality and learn from them. He wants to return and apply what he’s learned to build a stronger, more independent community, committed to solidarity.
“I work hard for my community; I help people understand the problems and find solutions on their own. I will always support the people of Upala so that they can bring out their own best and develop their abilities”, concluded Juan Carlos with conviction.
Working together to serve the people
The Mayor of Upala, Aura Yamileth López, is also the daughter of migrants and she understands the challenges and needs well, as well as the enormous benefits of the integration of migrants to her canton.
“They come here because they need it, not necessarily because they want to. Migrants are human beings like you and me, who need our solidarity. They are also willing to contribute to building a better community for everyone.”
The Mayor explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a strong socio-economic impact in the region and that recovery must consider the migrant population as an engine of development. “We have found great support in the UN, through its agencies IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), as they greatly promote production, social support and several projects that aid migrants, but also impact and benefit the entire community as a whole", she stressed.
From assistance with procedures and guidance for migratory processes, socio-economic support for those most in need, to the prevention of human trafficking and human smuggling, the UN through IOM has supported national authorities and the community efforts to manage migration issues regularly.
IOM has prioritized working with local governments in Costa Rica, including the Municipal Centre for Migrants. During the last year, this centre assisted nearly 2,700 people—of which 90% had Nicaraguan nationality—in the management of procedures, and it has also provided employment support and immigration process assistance. IOM has also worked alongside public institutions at the local level to train them on issues like human smuggling and trafficking, as well as the management of intrafamily violence and tools for the proper integration of migrants into the community.
The IOM Representative stressed that no matter the age of the person who migrates, IOM will always be there to support them and ensure the strengthening of social cohesion, the socio-economic development of migrants and their host communities to achieve a peace culture, and solidarity.
“We work alongside local governments and the State on behalf of Candelario, Juan Carlos and thousands of migrants who have had to leave their countries; [together] we are promoting safe, orderly, regular and dignified migration, which benefits all people and recipient countries too. You can count on the IOM around the world to leave no one behind”, said Francisco Furlani, IOM official in Costa Rica.
A study by the International Labour Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development confirms that in Costa Rica, about one in 10 people is a migrant. The research also indicates that migrants contribute 11.9% of the added value produced in the country, a higher percentage than the one they represent within the total population.
Produced by UN Costa Rica. Written by Danilo Mora Díaz, Communications Officer at UN Costa Rica, translation by Carolina Lorenzo-López, Development Coordination Office. To learn more, visit: https://costarica.un.org/.