My husband and I just returned from a three week trip to the Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico. We have been there many times before, but this was our first time staying at Hacienda Chichen, which borders the famous ruins of Chichén Itzá. It is a beautiful place and is committed to sustainable/eco tourism. It was on the hotel’s website that I noticed the Mayan Foundation in Laakeech, which is a volunteer organization to help local Mayan children and women with nutrition programs and schooling. It has a new health clinic, preschool and boarding school in Xcalacoop for children whose parents work on the tourist coast of the Riviera Maya. There are about 65 children who sleep and eat at the school and go to a village school during the day, and their parents return for them every Friday to be with them on the weekends.
I soon found a link to Pack for a Purpose on the Hacienda’s website, which was connected to the Mayan Foundation. On it were suggestions for donations to bring to the school in Xcalacoop. I quickly began assembling vitamins, clothes, school supplies and whatever was on the list as most needed. Whole Foods in our town of Bend, Oregon, very generously donated a bag of vitamins and were very happy to help out. I scoured thrift stores and picked out the best quality dresses, shirts, pants, baseball caps (a huge hit) and games I could find. I also found many small items to purchase at Costco, like large packs of playing cards, pencils, notebooks, underwear, socks (not needed as most of the kids wore sandals or no shoes at all) and barrettes for the girls.
I put all the donations in a large duffel bag, and 45 pounds later we were off to the Cancun airport. The customs agent stopped us to inquire what the rice looking objects were in our bag (vitamins), and I just smiled, opened the duffel bag and spoke of the school we were giving donations to. She grinned and let us through with no problem.
We hosted a dinner for the kids one night while we were there, as on the volunteer web site, they spoke of helping with a special meal. The head cook at the Hacienda drove us to Xcalacoop where we were greeted by dozens of smiling, affectionate and excited children. They were so happy to have us there. They held my hand, kissed me and carried my bag from place to place.
My heart flung so wide open that it felt like it was almost breaking. The children proudly showed me their school vegetable garden, walked me into their dormitory, which was covered in hammocks, and giggled and laughed with us. They loved having their pictures taken. We sat down in the dining room and ate a delicious meal together. Afterwards, the director lined all the children up, opened the duffel bag of donations and began passing out the things we had brought. I wish we had been able to bring more, but everyone got something. The baseball caps were a HUGE hit.
We left the school after many hours with hugs, kisses and muchas gracias from all of them. They surrounded our car to wave goodbye, and I found my heart breaking a little again. I will return to volunteer there as soon as I can, as this small effort on our part to bring donations meant the world to them. If the truth be known, WE received the biggest gift, which was to be part of their lives for this short time. Thank you to Pack For a Purpose and Hacienda Chichen for all the work they are doing to help local children and families. It is a gift to be an ambassador, and I am very grateful for having had this opportunity. I encourage others to try it. It will change your life.