My wife Janese and I are the International Coordinators for the IVHQ volunteer program in Mexico. We are in charge of coordinating placement for the volunteers and provide housing and meals to the visiting volunteers.
What inspired you to join IVHQ?
We had been teaching Spanish in Mérida for the past 18 years. Our language school provided an open channel for college and high school students to participate in community service activities while visiting the Yucatán but we were looking to expand our community involvement and become a more active force with a positive social impact. With that in mind, we constructed the Family First Cultural Center and committed to reach low income and Mayan communities in Mexico. IVHQ became our perfect match. We forged a partnership with IVHQ at just the right moment to synchronize our efforts in developing meaningful programs in the areas of Teaching English, Working with Children, Helping Individuals with special needs, Animal Care/Animal Rights and Environmental Research.
What do you enjoy most in your role?
The most fulfilling aspects of the volunteer program are the results seen when the children smile and learn new things, when a volunteer reports a wonderful moment in their placement, and when they learn something new which made them feel encouraged to change things and work toward a better future for all. In addition, sharing cultural aspects of the Yucatan - from Maya history to typical Yucatecan cuisine - is always at the top on my personal favorites.
What is your favorite story of an IVHQ volunteer's experience in Mexico?
There are already too many stories to have to pick my very favorite. So, I'll just mention a couple. One of the placements that has caught the attention of many volunteers is CRIA. CRIA works with teenagers who have been victims of violence, and it's a placement that can accommodate for IVHQ volunteers "Working with Children" as well as "Teaching English." Soccer games with the CRIA kids have become a weekly activity in which volunteers from all project categories like to participate. Stories on all the situations during the games, where the kids really feel the importance of that moment of team work are great. The IVHQ volunteers are then learning from the CRIA kids and pushed to the limit to feel part of that team. The shouting cries of "Pass the ball!" "This way!" "Shoot!" - along with the eventual "Stop taking pictures and play!" have given us all a good laugh.
Another most moving story is that of Mike and Sarah, who volunteered this past summer on our Special Needs project at Pastoral del Amor. During lunch time, Mike was struggling with feeding "Alex" as due to Alex's impediment, he is not able to open his mouth. After both of them tried for several minutes unsuccessful, another of the special needs children came to their aid and showed them the appropriate way to help Alex. As they lifted up their eyes, Mike and Sarah came to realize that all those kids with impediments to eat were being helped by other mates in a big display of family love. They both lived a moment in which family love sees no boarders nor limits nor disabilities.
What should every volunteer considering volunteering in Mexico know?
It is important for the volunteers to know that Mexico is a very large country with a lot to offer in terms of cultural diversity, history and natural sight seeing. We are located in Yucatán and the city of Mérida can challenge cities like Vancouver or Zurich in terms of safety, making Merida one of the safest places to visit in the world today. Traveling within the Yucatán Peninsula is very safe and easy. The quaint port town of Progreso is 30 minutes to the North. The city of Campeche is 1.2 hours to the West And, Cancun is a 3.5 hours bus ride to the East. These are coastal cities with unique beauty to offer their visitors.
You need to understand that Yucatán is an amazing area of Mexico where the Mayan culture flourished and evolved into who we are today. Mayan people did not disappear or vanish - Yucatán is the home to almost one million people whose first language is the Mayan language. Our cultural roots keep the Mayan culture very much alive today.
Visiting the archeological sites, the natural reserves, and our many magical towns and cities can keep you busy for many weeks. Travelers should expect hot weather and humidity, but be ready to fall in love with this area of Mexico as you will want to return to see more of it yet.
What tips/insights do you have for first-time volunteers abroad?
Come with an open mind to try and to experience new things, keep your heart open to new friends, and come prepared for hot weather and warm people. Learn the language and try to communicate with the locals. Mayan adventures are still to be discovered.