Project Costa Rica: Costa Rica's Journey to a Peaceful Society

Quakers relocate in search of religious freedom

by April Stanley


John and Sue Trostle, active members of the
 Quaker community, have lived and worked in
Monteverde since the early 1970s.

Upon her return from Costa Rica, my Great Aunt Evelyn told me about a community of American Quakers in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Coming from a lineage of Quakers, I was anxious to visit this area and learn what motivated them to move to Costa Rica.

Quakerism is a Protestant religion that emphasizes living a simple life, treating all people with respect and equality and living a life in peace. Quakers, also known as "Friends," are known for being pacifists and for being service minded.

Quakers around the United States were deeply disturbed when, after World War II, their country was on its way to becoming the most militarized country in the world. Heavy direct and hidden taxes for war preparations made it impossible to live without supporting the war effort and benefiting from a war economy. The Quaker community in Fairhope was especially progressive and was prepared to change its lives in order to live according to its spiritual beliefs. A few of the Fairhope families began to seriously entertain the idea of relocating to another country.

While I was in Monteverde I spoke with John and Sue Trostle, Quakers who had lived in Monteverde since the early 1970s. They informed me of another incident that motivated some members of this community to relocate.

A few Quakers in Fairhope had refused to register for the military draft because it conflicted with their religious beliefs. Because of their refusal, they were arrested in October 1949.

Despite having committed no previous crimes, Wilford Guindon, Howard Rockwell, Leonard Rockwell and Marvin Rockwell were sentenced to serve one year and one day in the federal prison in Tallahassee. The men served four months before being released on parole and returning to Alabama.

This incident, along with disgust over extreme militarization in the United States, led several families to conclude that a different environment would better enable them to live according to the ideals of their religion. The Quakers were ready to raise their families in an atmosphere which was more conducive to their spiritual beliefs, even if it meant leaving their home and community. They were interested in Costa Rica because its army was abolished in 1948, and it had a history of democracy and political stability.

In 1950, a few members of the community visited Costa Rica in their search for a new home. They enjoyed the relaxed and friendly atmosphere and were delighted to discover that in the absence of an army, this country was full of pacifists, and policies toward conflict were focused on neutrality.

After returning to Fairhope and further considering their options, they officially decided to relocate to Costa Rica. A few of the men returned to Costa Rica and searched for land to settle before the others made the move. In May 1951, they purchased 3,000 acres of land in the province of Puntarenas.

In Fairhope, the families prepared to migrate and begin the long journey. After traveling for many weeks and through several countries, the cars and jeeps began to arrive in Monteverde.

There were many struggles at first. The undeveloped area had no paved roads, making for a difficult journey through extremely rough mountain terrain. Upon arrival, the initial group of 36 needed to quickly establish shelter and find drinking water.

During the settling, the families worked together to build houses, establish the Monteverde Friends School and maintain a dairy farm and build a cheese factory.

Though tucked away in the secluded hills of Monteverde, the Friends did not want to live secluded from Costa Rican society. In order to integrate into their new society the Quakers learned Spanish. Today, the Monteverde Friends School caters to Costa Rican and North American students who are taught in both English and Spanish.

In recent years, the Quaker population of Monteverde has dwindled, but its impact in education and local economy remains. The Quakers have contributed to the economy by establishing the dairy farm and the cheese factory.

The Monteverde Friends School provides education to many native Costa Rican students. Students of this school are taught valuable peace-keeping techniques at a young age. One technique involves students using the "Peace Table."

This table provides an area for two students in conflict to remove themselves from the situation and talk out their problem.

Jean Stuckey, Friends School librarian, said the children successfully reach an agreement on their own using this method. This is just one way the peaceful ideal is passed along to the children. Stuckey also showed me the Friends Library, which is kept unlocked 24 hours a day. Each member of the community is allowed access to the materials based on trust. She said they have had books taken, but "providing access to a library for people who wouldn't otherwise have it outweighs the small number of missing books."