Posted by: thebluemusicblog | February 8, 2015



Honorary member of the San Jose YMCA

“Oh what a wonderful morning, oh, what a wonderful day!”  Xenia and Gloria (the Finance Manager) picked us up at the hotel Villa de Tournon (recommendable) to go to the YMCA Camp outside the city.


The evening before was a great dinner party at Xenia and Rudolfo Brendes’ home together with the National Board and staff. We spent the evening discussing Costa Rica, YMCA and the cooperation between YMCA and  the Cooperative Movement in Costa Rica. An evening like that is first of all a brilliant gesture of hospitality and friendship to a traveling salesman, how wonderful it is to leave hotels and restaurants and settle in a friend’s living room. This is such a good way to get to know people and share more than only a business level of conversation.


One of the Board members had served several terms at the Executive Committee of World YMCA, and we shared memories and observations from years back. Most of the guests were politically active and there had been an important election of President of one of the leading parties the same day, and the discussion went high over the results.


Xenia Brendes

Xenia’s husband, Rudolfo, is a leading figure in the Cooperative movement in Costa Rica and from his young days a Board member of the National YMCA. Because of Xenia’s present position, he had stepped down from the Board, but there is a great cooperation between the two movements, especially around a co-owned camp. The Cooperative movement is one of the  biggest organizations in the world, with close to 1 billion members, and I could immediately see a golden opportunity in exploring possibilities for closer cooperation.


Rudolfo Brendes

As I was telling them about our engagement in the Youth Unemployment crisis, Rudolfo became very interested, because this is a similarly important challenge for his movement. We agreed to have a meeting next day and he called the responsible for youth education issues in his office to meet us next day.


The camp is in the depths of the rainforest

On our way to the camp we share information about the new cohort of Change Agents and the Peace Boat, and before we know it, the gates open up at the camp and we are warmly welcomed by 20-25 young YMCA volunteers. We take part in some ice breakers together with the young people and then go inside to listen to a presentation about their work. The meeting room has a portrait of Olof Palme, the assassinated Swedish Prime Minister (1986) and one of my heroes in life and politics.  Rudolf met him several times, also here in Costa Rica.


The late Olof Palme

And here is it that I start humming on the melody of “Oh what a wonderful morning…” The presentation is full of inspiration and passion, very well prepared and five of them are giving inputs in Spanish and in English. It is a lecture on the core values and key issues of the YMCA, and I enjoy every single word of it. They tell me of their love for the YMCA, how their motivation is based in a deep wish to make a change in the lives of people in need, and especially how they work with poor children from the most challenging parts of the city. There is not much money in the YMCA system, so they make it clear to us that every penny for this important social work is coming out of the pockets of the volunteers themselves. They do not always feel so successful and cool compared with other YMCAs in the world, but they love the YMCA and they love what they do.


I am invited to talk about the World YMCA. I do not do that. I talk about them. How deeply impressed I am. “What is a cool YMCA?” I ask them. “You are a cool YMCA! I am not looking for pools and crowds of thousands and skyscraper YMCA buildings, I am looking for the passion, for the dream and the glowing solidarity with the poor and the outcast. What you have shared with us today, is exactly that, your passion, your dream and the burning flame inside you. Keep it burning, and the flame will burn till you die. This is what the YMCA does to us, it keeps us alive! As long as the passion is inside us, we live the language of love, and that keeps us alive. In addition to help others as well!”


A delicious lunch gave me further opportunities to talk with Fabian and Iori and Alfonso about their life in the YMCA. A great group of young leaders.


A meeting with Rudolf and his assistant and the Cooperative movement gave us a deeper insight in their activities with young people, their training schemes, webinars etc.


They are asking for training for their leaders in camp activities and methodology, and I tell them that that is an area where the YMCA has abundance of experience and loads of material. We will certainly look closer into opportunities for cooperation.


Then the programme moves on to a very poor part of San Jose where the YMCA has an excellent community centre. It was once established 29 years ago, and the World Alliance had played an active role in assisting Costa Rica to pay the last part of the property. Now the thank you came in the form of a beautiful drawing given to me by two of the kids participating in the activities of the centre.


This wall painting was made by a volunteer from the USA who had never seen a banana tree, and who  probably was also not very familiar with monkeys

A great view into the inside of Costa Rica YMCA. Again my heart is filled with pride and joy. I see the stars shining in the eyes of the young volunteers. Once again I understand that we are in the business of joy and hope, in the honorable business of children’s smiles and youth self esteem.


Tomorrow departure for Panama at 05.00. See you there.




  1. Saludos to my “tico’ Y friends! I visited Costa Rica (mid 1990’s) w/ a group of teens fr YMCA of San Francisco, CA. We enjoyed the wonderful hospitality, ‘Y’ spirit, the San Jose sites + camp you describe; and were warmly greeted by Ms. Xinia Brenes, her staff, & volunteers. !Pura Vida! Eileen

  2. p.s. Like Johan, I was very touched to see this photo of the late Olof Palme, Swedish social democrat Prime Minister, whose 1986 assassination was such a tragedy! When I visited ACJ Costa Rica, President Oscar Arias had recently rcvd the Nobel Peace Prize; I put those two men in the same category = hero!

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