June 10, 2010
Visitors in Santa ElenaVisitors in Santa Elena
This week I accompanied two of my former international students to Santa Elena. A few years ago, they participated in a trilateral mobility project that deeply impacted them both. After returning to the USA, Marisa pursued her degree and this fall she hopes to continue with a Masters in Community Development. Marisa’s small daughter Jayden was also with us on our trek through the hot, humid countryside.
I am impressed that this young woman thinks it is important to show her child a completely different world. I’m also impressed that Celine has chosen to spend ten days in Yucatan with a mother and daughter rather than lying on the beach at an all inclusive resort.
Celine and Marisa said they were touched by the sincere welcome they received at Abel and Rosa’s home. Jayden was fascinated with all the baby animals she was allowed to pet. “Can we take a chick home?” “No, he wouldn’t be happy in Portland,” said Mommy. Celine and I joked that besides… he had no visa!
Abel took us to see his aunt and uncle, Doña Maria and Don Felix. Their simple home has been featured in a Discovery network documentary… you see, Don Felix is a shaman. He spoke to us at length about his life. Well into adulthood, he could not speak Spanish; nor could he read or write. Then a school was built in Santa Elena and parents as well as children were urged to attend. He said, “I was so happy to learn this new way of speaking and I was excited to to be able to read what others write. I also wanted them to read what I have to say.” We looked at his plants; Doña Maria spoke of her ten children…
As we were leaving the company of Abel and his extended family, Celine asked how long I thought this way of life could continue. I posed that question to Abel. He said, “We want to live here where our roots are deep. But we have to be able to make a living. If we have to move away from our home, we will lose our way of life. Without the tie to the earth, we will not be the same.”
We pondered this on our drive back to the city. Exhausted by her long day in the sun, Jayden was snoring softly with her head on Mommy’s lap. Marisa stroked her daughter’s soft brown hair.
We all agreed, if the villagers cannot keep their lifestyle, we will all lose.
Many believe that creating employment in the communities is the best solution. Economic sustainability will allow the people to stay in their homes and keep their “ties to the earth.” Whenever we can, it is important to support these initiatives. If you’d like more information about how you can assist with the Santa Elena Sustainable Development Project, leave a comment or contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author : Valerie Pickles
Sorry I missed you in St ELena Glad you got to meet Don Felix he just loves to talk and meet new people and knows all about the healing herbs.. a wealth of information.
I loved my trip home to see grandchildren etc but after only one week I am so happy to be back here in St ELena hope to see you soon Joanna
Author : Loretta
I love reading about the folks in Santa Elena. Since visiting there with you, I feel an attachment and applaud your continued involvement. Love, Loretta
Thanks Valerie and Loretta for your continuing support of the project.
May 31, 2010
A Santa Elena UpdateElizabeth shows Maria her new design
I am very pleased to report that the Santa Elena Sustainable Community Development Project is moving along well.
Last week, Abel and his wife Rosa came to Merida from Santa Elena and brought me samples of the twenty products that a group of women from the village want to make during the summer months. Their goal is to produce twenty pieces of each item. This way they’ll have a stock on hand when the winter tourism high season gets underway in late November. (The pictures show some of the items)
Sounds like a plan! But of course, they do not have the funds to buy the materials they need. Along with a group of my friends who are great supporters of the Santa Elena community, I will be applying for a grant from a local organization and I hope to procure half the necessary funds. It is my hope that generous individuals will donate the rest. If you are interested in learning how you can help this very special project, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
And why do I call this a “special” project?
I think it is deserving of this description because the people of Santa Elena have not only got their project off the ground, they have made life changes to do so. In the small towns, the population is used to simply “making do.” Entrepreneurship is a virtually unknown concept. Two years ago when Abel and his extended family decided to give this new idea a try, they had no idea of what they were starting. Abel said to me the other day,
“The first important thing is to be interested in what you’re going to do. I never really appreciated my surroundings and I never imagined that people from Merida and other countries would want to come here. But once I started to read books about Santa Elena’s past, I had a change in my thinking. My area is very important and I’m proud to live here.”
With his new perspective, this native son is becoming quite an authority on everything about his town. His wife Rosa also had something important to say,
“My sisters in law, my friends and other women have always felt really frustrated because we couldn’t work outside the home and help pay for the things we need… school supplies for the children; medicine for my mother and father-in-law; money for the bus to go to Merida when we need to. Now that we make some money, we feel proud and we want our work to be the best. We are serious about what we do.”
Yes they are! The work Rosa showed me is really lovely. I feel quite sure it will be popular with the tourists and the international community of Merida.
I am very, very proud of my friends from Santa Elena.These glass cozies prevent condensation from getting your table tops wet and stained
Do you want to have more information? Send me an e-mail: email@example.com
If I may comment on the bags/purses. I once saw a purse that I could not buy for my daughter because it was made for someone of Mayan stature. The straps were just far too short to use it as a shoulder bag, yet too long to be a hand bag. If they want to sell to foreigners, be sure it would fit a taller woman. Thanks! I love this endeavour. Joanne
Reply from Joanna:
Thanks Joanne. We think we’ve taken that into account. Next time we see eachother, have a look at the strap lengths and let us know what you think.
Chix Food Bank
Many members of Yucatan’s international community are involved in Community Service projects. Sharon Helgason, a former registered nurse from Winnipeg, Canada sent the following update about a project she directs in the gulf port of Chicxulub
Chicxulub – La Virgen de Asuncion Chicxulub Food Bank
In the seaside village of Chicxulub there are about 6,000 people and the main industry is fishing. Of course, this work is at the mercy of the weather and between the hurricane and the norte seasons the port often is closed so there is no opportunity to go out fishing. The families have limited resources and the elderly people rely on their children to care for them and help them on a day-to-day basis.
Fondly known as the Chix Food Bank, we began operating in November 2005 when a group of individuals came together to respond to an identified need in Chicxulub.
The Food Bank is a non-profit organization of people from Canada, United States, Mexico and other countries who volunteer in the Chicxulub community with various programs within the project.
Many of these volunteers have permanent homes elsewhere and only spend the winters in Yucatan but their involvement continues when they leave each spring through “adoption” of a family. $75 will cover the cost of the food donations given to the families for the year- Some prefer to make a contribution to the fund for use in other aspects of the program.
All of these people are interested in “making a difference” in the lives of people here in Chicxulub Puerto. The
project began as a food bank providing staples once a month to needy families and has grown to resemble a giant umbrella under which there are many needs being met:
- Food for the needy (87 families)
- School supplies and backpacks (much donated by cruise ship passengers)
- Uniforms and shoes
- New born baby packages and vitamins
- Christmas hampers, including warm knitted items and blankets
- Exercise program at the local nursing home
- Classes in English and computer use
- Supporting the local elementary schools in various ways
- Vitamin program for children
- School Psychology Program
Items requested for donation:
- Andres Quintana Roo elementary school needs a previously owned digital camera
- Wool and/or knitters;
- Blankets for next winter;
- Hard drives for the computers
- Children’s vitamins, either pills or syrup
- Inexpensive children’s toys (ages 1- 12) for Christmas hampers
Are younterested in getting involved?
Photos and Text supplied by Sharon
May 13, 2010
Visiting Xcoox (where is and what is that?)Corn fields border Xcoox
Two cars carrying six hearty souls traveled today to Santa Elena. Despite the heat, we were determined to visit an archaeological site called Xcoox , which is pronounced more or less like: “Sh-sh-sh-coash”
The central plaza looked very overgrown but we could see there had been terraces, water cisterns and several large pyramids. Shards of unusual pottery littered the ground and many cylindrical ornamental stones and enormous metates were also lying about.
And yes, it was every bit as scorching as we figured it would be… Nonetheless we scaled some of the high mounds and from the top we could see the “Temple of the Magician” at Uxmal, which lies approximately ten kilometers away. It was easy to imagine that Xcoox had been an important city in its day.
Other not very well known Mayan sites around Santa Elena include Noh Pat and Mul-Chiic. The best local interpretive guide is Abel, a native of the town. He is available to take tours to these and other places of interest.
Recently, Santa Elena was featured on the Yucatan Living website. Abel and his extended family were interviewed and photographed. An informative article was written about their traditional life style. http://www.yucatanliving.com/daily-life/yucatan-maya-family.htm
The author of the piece, Heather Rath and many of the people who commented on her reporting all agreed that the best way to help the villagers conserve their way of life is by purchasing their products. It’s so easy to do. Take a tour with Abel… buy some of his wife’s beautiful handwork… enjoy a swim and a meal at Valerie Pickle’s restaurant “The Pickled Onion” or you can stay the night there in one of her delightful bungalows. Santa Elena also has a small museum and other interesting little nooks and crannies that Abel can show you.
One gentleman who left a comment on the Yucatan Living site wondered why Abel and his family look so happy. I
believe it is because they have not replaced their connection to the earth with the concerns of modern society. Yes, it is nice to have comforts but this family’s enduring relationship with the countryside bestows a peace that many of us have lost.
If you do elect to stay overnight in Santa Elena, you’ll be blown away by the profusion of stars in the night sky and you can arrange to go birding very early with Abel.
So come on… dare the heat to get the better of you! A unique experience awaits and you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you are helping Abel to provide a way for him and his family to remain in their home and not be forced to move, out of economic necessity.
Photos: By Carlos Rosado
I’m loving your blog, and really looking forward to visiting Santa Elena in June!
May 7, 2010
Telchac Education ProjectTelchac Education provides young students with school supplies and uniforms
Today I would like to tell you about a community service project aimed at bettering education.
Judy Abbott and her husband Juan Manuel Mier y Teran love the beach. Their ocean front home, “Las Tunas” is a welcoming refuge from their busy lives as owners of “Yucatan Today”, the very popular tourism magazine and website. Almost every weekend, the couple heads for their oasis and over the years, have become very attached to residents of the adjacent town of Telchac.
Judy knew that many families did not have the resources to equip their sons and daughters with the necessary school supplies, uniforms and regulation footwear. She believed that this blow to their budding self esteem could be a contributing factor to their often poor performance at school.
In 2009, her plan was to provide 15 students from grade school and Jr. High with all the needed items for school start up. More sponsors responded and at the last minute someone signed up for six kids – yes, ONE sponsor with SIX kids, taking the total to 30 students in the first year. Not bad!
In early February 2010, Judy was approached by a local businessman from Villas Wyack in San Benito, Yucatan (a beach area in the Telchac Puerto jurisdiction) wanting to talk about a fund-raiser for Telchac Education and to make a long story short, three weeks later, at the hugely successful Jazz for the Children, $28,000 pesos were raised from ticket sales. Judy also received a donation from a Canadian lady for $2,990 US DOLLARS for scientific calculators AND USB sticks for the entire Jr. High – that’s 115 kids! Six new sponsors came on board and then the next Monday, Judy received another $10,000 pesos from “at the door” ticket sales! The total amount that will benefit the children of “Telchac Education” is $6,161 US dollars.
The $38,000 pesos from ticket sales will sponsor 8 grade school children, 6 Jr. high school children and 4 High School students – for a total of 18 children. Plus the 6 other kids that sponsors signed up for, makes 24 new kids, Add that to the 30 kids already in the program and it makes for 54 kids who will receive ALL their school supplies and uniforms.
Judy is currently selecting the new students! It is going to be a lot of work visiting each home, interviewing each candidate, but it will be fun work… satisfying work.
If you would like further information on how you can be a part of this project, contact Judy at:
April 30, 2010
Santa ElenaTheresa and Rosa looking over materials
Meanwhile, “Back at the ranch” , so to speak… Valerie Pickle’s restaurant, located in Santa Elena as well… is looking more beautiful than ever. A large bar-b-que has been built and will allow for new daily specials on the menu.
Santa Elena is located about 100 kilometers south of Merida. A visit to the village makes for a wonderful day trip. If you are interested in knowing more about the project or want to take the tour, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you in touch with Abel.
March 27, 2010
Last week, Jan Brown made a comment on this page,
“It would be compelling to know more about this family’s interpersonal negotiation around the development of their business.”
A good question deserves a good answer. I wish I had a short concise one but bear with me…
Initially Abel and his family thought that our group from Merida would organize the project, provide seed money and tell them what they should do. But from the start we felt the ideas and energy had to come from the participants themselves. We reasoned that if this wasn’t the case, they would never feel any ownership. It would be just another job.
I am reminded of our first meeting in May 2008…
Abel and several of the women from his family and a scattered number of other villagers talked with us at the “Pickled Onion”. (Valerie Pickle’s great little restaurant in Santa Elena) When we asked what they envisioned for themselves as a business, we were met with blank stares. We threw a few ideas out and each one was met with enthusiasm. But no one had the foggiest notion of how to go about starting. They certainly did not look to one another for answers.
The two most readily understood suggestions were interpretive tours and handcrafts. So we went with those and we’re still with them! We asked Abel to look for a site where he could develop a tour and we asked the ladies to assemble a sampling of what they could make. A few weeks later, we returned to Santa Elena to find that Abel had mapped out a route. Rosa and the other women had crafted some bits of embroidery. A good start we thought…
In the next few months, certain individuals shone. Elizabeth was one of them. This young woman is a little person. Not quite four feet tall, she cannot reach up high enough to perform many traditional household chores… But is she ever a whiz’ at any craft you can imagine! In no time, she was showing the others how to improve their pieces. My heart soared when I heard one of them call her “Teacher.” Rosa was proclaimed the “treasurer”. Shy sixteen year old, Limberth has shown aptitude for pottery and woodwork. Abel now has a collection of books on the area’s wildlife, plants and archaeological sites and is considered to be quite an authority. After nearly two years this Santa Elena family sees themselves in roles other than the ones they’ve held for years.
This year’s modest successes have encouraged them to try on new “hats”. They’ve asked where they can find new designs and another young man would like to learn how to manage email enquiries. This project is definitely “walking before running” but they seem pleased with this.
The group no longer assumes that they have to limit themselves or each other. And the little kids are watching…
March 20. 2010
The church in Santa Elena is built a-top a Mayan pyramid
Walk The Mayan Way
Today my friends, Cottting White and Beth Knepp accompanied me to Santa Elena. Abel and the ladies had lots to say about their visit to Merida last week. The general consensus being that given the chance, it would take them less than five minutes to get ready for a return trip.
Abel spoke about his fledgling interpretive tour business. “Before I began showing the tourists our area, I’d never thought about being in business for myself. But I am happy because even with just a few groups this winter, I earned enough money to make a difference.”
“Walk The Mayan Way” is what he calls his guided tour along a Sacbé (an ancient path that was once part of the vast pre-Columbian system of roads) While walking the Mayan way, Abel explains about native plants and birds and he takes the visitors to an un-excavated archaeological site that is located close by. The visit to his family’s compound is not to be missed. A swim and lunch at Valerie Pickles ever-popular restaurant, “The Pickled Onion” is the final activity of the tour. For reservations, you can contact Abel directly 045 997 101 0121. Or if you prefer, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me with your questions: email@example.com
Rosa, Elizabeth and the other ladies expressed their pride at having also contributed to the family ‘s resources by selling their handwork. They are working on some new products – placemats with matching napkins, and other practical, easy-to-carry-home souvenirs.
Limberth, another family member is industriously making cork trivets. As well, Cotting is teaching him to make clay pots and about tin-smithing.
Ah… the grandparent’s turkeys and bananas continue to sell well.
Driving home to Merida, Beth, Cotting and I discussed ideas for a fund raiser to provide money to buy more materials and equipment. More info on that next week!
March 14, 2010
Joanna and friends in Santa Elena
It Takes A Village
One of Yucatan’s most endangered conditions is the rural way of life. Overworked soil, insufficient infrastructure, unpredictable rainfall and general malaise all contribute to the moribund mindset.
For a couple of years now, I have been involved with a group of villagers from Santa Elena. They have no stable income but this large extended family raises fowl and fruit trees. They barter their birds and bananas for staples they can’t do without. But unfortunately, this doesn’t provide pesos for school books, medicine and more items they desperately need.
Abel is the forty-something head of the household. He, his wife Rosa and their four children, (I’m not sure how many sisters) and their families, plus his aging parents all reside in the multiple thatched-roofed houses on the property. They work as a true cooperative, sharing resources and chores.
They have latched upon an entrepreneurial means of earning more income. Abel leads interpretive tours along an overgrown Mayan road where un-restored ruins can be explored. Rosa and the ladies make handcrafts for sale. This winter they have enjoyed modest success which has them motivated to do even better during the next high tourist season.
My role in all this is that of consultant and marketer. (A fancy way to say I give advice, make contacts and sell their handwork to people I know) My friend Beth and some members of our local international women’s club support me. It’s a true chain of people helping people…
Beth and I figured a celebration was in order… When we found out that most of the women had NEVER been to Merida (they live just 100 kilometers away) we decided a day excursion was in order. The local bus brought our friends to Merida. The two of us and a group international students met them and together we all toured the historic city center. Our extremely diverse sizes, ages, nationalities, colors and languages (between us we spoke nine!) caused one of the hammock sellers in the Plaza Grande to ask me, “What kind of group IS this?”
The Santa Elena contingent was totally awed by all they saw but the Peon Contreras Theater was more than they could comprehend. “What is this place?” Rosa asked. “It’s a theater,” I responded. She didn’t look as though she got it… We went inside and a kind woman from the ticket sales outlet took us up the majestic staircase and into one of the balconies. As Abel and the ladies stared at the Porfiriano décor, the melodious strains produced by a rehearsing cellist nearly hypnotized us all. It was like a private concert. Once outside again, Rosa said, “I didn’t understand what you meant when you said the word theater. But I do now. A theater is a palace of music.”
Lunch and a trip to a few stores to compare their wares with other artisans completed their excursion to the big city. As the bus rolled away, I reflected on the day…
What kind of group are we?
Hilary Clinton was once asked about sustainable growth for the developing world and she said, “It takes a village.” How well I can understand her sentiment. It does take a village and a palace of music is the sugar that sweetens it all.
| Anabelle Garcia-Burkett
Bravo! What a wonderful story, simply inconceivable to most that people that are self sustainable really don’t have much use for the urban areas. But, oh, I would have loved to see their expressions of awe and amazement. I look forward to more…..
Bravo! What a wonderful story, simply inconceivable to most that people that are self sustainable really don’t have much use for the urban areas. But, oh, I would have loved to see their expressions of awe and amazement. I look forward to more….. firstname.lastname@example.org
| Jo Nunez
I think that this story will be retold many times in the nine different languages. Sounds like your excursion turned into one of those unforgettable experiences for everyone involved. It is a very inspiring report.
I think that this story will be retold many times in the nine different languages. Sounds like your excursion turned into one of those unforgettable experiences for everyone involved. It is a very inspiring report. email@example.com
Lovely! Joanna to read about the Santa Elena Project. To think I had the privelege of meeting that warm welcoming family and touring their compound when in Merida for the XV Ann.celebrations of the IWC in November ’09!
Lovely! Joanna to read about the Santa Elena Project. To think I had the privelege of meeting that warm welcoming family and touring their compound when in Merida for the XV Ann.celebrations of the IWC in November ’09! Thank you for orchestrating such a wonderful day for Edith Sands and me. It was a highlight of my ten days in the Yucatan. It was especially interesting to read about the trip to Merida for some of the womanfolk. It must indeed have seemed like another world to them! It is a great endeavour. Good on you! Margery firstname.lastname@example.org
| Benjamin Ramirez
Congrats on your new blog. Very interesting story. Keep writing moving pieces, Benjamin