I’ve always admired Costa Rica Expeditions’  founder and CEO Michael Kaye’s visionary approach to tourism. Not least, he was one of the initiators of the entire adventure travel and ecotourism movement in Costa Rica , where he helped establish whitewater rafting after a career as a rafting guide in North America.
Since then he’s grown his San José -based business, founded in 1978, into a pioneering juggernaut in ecotourism, and one respected worldwide. Along the way, he’s pushed the envelope of responsible tourism. For example, CRE founded and supported The Park Guard Fund dedicated to the well being of Costa Rica’s national park guards; and the Tortuguero Foundation  , dedicated to generating funds to help the remote and neglected Tortuguero  region in the areas of health, education, and wilderness protection.
Viewing the company’s website, I found it apt that Michael opens with a quote he wrote for a 1981 brochure: "Our goal is to create unique travel experiences that transcend conventional sightseeing and travel. Our dream is to promote the type of tourism which is mutually beneficial and nourishing to both the visitor and the visited."
Why apt? Because in July 2010 Michael added to his list of creative and inspiring do-good efforts by initiating a program that lets guests at his Tortuga Lodge & Gardens , in Tortuguero, contribute directly to community welfare by teaching English to underprivileged children (most aged 9 to 12) from the nearby and impoverished hamlet of San Francisco.
Tourism has played a vital role in conservation and sustainable development in Costa Rica. Not least, it has fostered an incentive to protect precious natural resources at the community level. And it has helped foster renewed pride among indigenous peoples previously affected by a low sense of worth resulting from centuries of abuse and neglect by outsiders.
For kids in San Francisco, learning English is a passport to employment in tourism and to a future that may otherwise be denied. Guests, who at Tortuga Lodge (the finest ecolodge in the Tortuguero region) tend to be relatively affluent, have reportedly taken to the program enthusiastically.
Sometimes the kids are brought to the lodge aboard the lodge’s own speedboats. Sometimes guests are taken to San Francisco. Either way, CRE’s bilingual guides coordinate the hour-long sessions, which provide guests with a tremendous sense of contribution and fulfillment. Much of the sessions revolve around games that inspire children and around which they can learn English.
With his usual thoroughness, Kaye employed English as a Second Language (ELS) specialists to devise a curriculum, which always involves two guests interacting with four children.
Want to see the community you’ll be helping? Here’s a link to a panoramic video of San Francisco community .
For information about Tortuga Lodge’s ESL program, call 506-2257-0766 or 25216099 or e-mail ecotur [at] expeditions [dot] co [dot] cr
For further information about travel in Costa Rica, buy Moon Costa Rica 
If you're traveling only to San José and the Caribbean, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to the beaches of Nicoya, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to Arenal and/or Monteverde, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Arenal & Monteverde  pocket guide.
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker