A couple of weeks ago I went to the ALG Silver 500 trip in Puerto Vallarta to represent my agency LTW Travel. The Silver Trip is a reward trip for travel agencies that have met a certain selling tier with certain suppliers within Apple Leisure Groups portfolio of brands (in this case Funjet Vacations, United Vacations, Southwest Vacations, and Blue Sky Tours).
While on this trip, we were given the opportunity to do a "Give Back" project where we were to go to a public school; for this project Netzahualcoyotl Community Elementary School, in Puerto Vallarta and help paint, clean, and organize. Before travel we were given a list of things that we could bring to donate to the school including backpacks, books, crayons/markers, scissors, games, puzzles etc. LTW Travel donated as much school supplies as could fit into a checked bag to the cause.
When we arrived to the Silver 500 trip hosted by Secrets Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa; we were able to drop off all of the supplies so that they could be transported to the school on the day that we were to help with the project.
The day of the project, I was very nervous. I had never done anything like this before (sad I know...we should ALL be giving back); and didn't really know what to expect. I pictured organizing carts of books in an air conditioned school quietly to tell the truth. I had never been to a school anywhere outside of the United States. Riding on the way to the school, I had the pleasure of being on the same bus as the President of Funjet Vacations. He let me know that he had done this sort of thing in numerous countries on his own personal vacations and how rewarding it was for him and his family. He also told me that he wanted to incorporate this type of thing into the suppliers travel portfolio to offer to clients if they were interested, which I think is pretty amazing.
When we arrived to the school I was shocked. The school was comprised of 4 portable-like small buildings surrounding an outdoor courtyard. Each small building was one classroom. Each classroom had a small ac unit, desks, chairs, a chalkboard and was full of kids.
The head of the project, an AmStar Representative (AmStar is the transportation company that we use in Mexico & The Caribbean), let us choose what we would help with. She called out tasks and had us raise our hands if we wanted to do that specific job.
She announced "painting" (no); "building shelves" (gosh no); "organizing the library" (that could be easy) so my friend who was traveling with me raised her hand quickly--and mine followed. It was already SUPER hot at 9AM, the sun was beating down in the courtyard, and organizing the library sounded easiest of all.
We walked over to the "library" and saw that we had chosen quite possibly--one of the hardest tasks. The library had 2 fans that were bent and busted. This was terrible because it was hot and there was no air conditioning in the room--no airflow whatsoever. Just standing HEAT.
There were random papers, electronics, and books EVERYWHERE. The library truly looked like an episode of the television show "Hoarders." You could tell that at one point that the library had been functional, and that somewhere along the line it began to be used as a storage space, and now was that way permanently.
We all started by making an assembly line and getting EVERYTHING out of the space--which took forever. We put the items into piles: children's books, teacher books, cassettes, VCR Tapes (yes); CD's, computer equipment etc. We found that large spiders had apparently inhabited this library--that was fun! *sarcasm*
After clearing and putting the items into piles, we went to work boxing up and bagging anything that was NOT a children's book or game; and throwing away random stuff (like "Windows 95 guides").
One of the AmStar representatives husbands fixed the fans in the library while we were cleaning up. Functional fans made such a big difference in there. While he worked on the fans, we swept and mopped inside of the library and wiped down shelves. The new shelving was brought in and drilled to the walls and we started putting in all of the books that could fit on the shelves and organizing them.
The library looked so cozy and nice after being redone. I was super excited for the kids.
Secrets Vallarta Bay provided lunch for the kids (and everyone at the site). It was an AMAZING lunch of sub sandwiches, Pringles, M&M's and Coca Cola. The kids were so happy--especially for the Pringles & M&M's--one kid jumped and screamed for joy!
During lunchtime we were told that we could go into the classrooms and eat with kids. A lot of people went to hang out with the smaller kids, but my friend who I was with suggested that we go sit in the older kids classroom. We sat with the most amazing 5th graders. I tried my broken Spanish with them and asked them how to say some things in Spanish, while they in exchange asked me how to say things in English.
They were typical kids, showing us the hottest new dance moves (the same as my kids do back home--crazy); asking to see pics of our families on our phones, and just clowning around. It was a wonderful time.
After lunch, we were all asked to stand behind the tables of supplies that we had brought. The kids thanked us for being there, and we thanked them for allowing us to come spend time with them.
The kids were hesitant to come and look at all that we had brought for them. It would be distributed among them later, but they didn't really seem like they wanted to be near it at first. We later learned that they were so hesitant to approach the table because they thought that we were there to sell them the things that we had brought. That broke my heart.
On the ride back to the resort I thought about how things were for those kids. They were so happy and grateful. I was told while there that because this was a public school that they would never really be taught English. Most parents who can afford it send their kids to private school--and only in private schools do they learn English. That severely can limit the jobs that the kids can have when they are older. I was also told that the same government runs the public and private schools there. When going to the bathroom, the kids had to bring a roll of toilet paper and bring soap with them, and then return it to the classroom. This is because the teachers/principal was supplying these essentials for the kids and they basically have to ration them off.
I will definitely be participating in more "Give Back" programs in the future. I thank ALG, my travel colleagues, my friend who traveled and did this with me, AM Resorts, AmStar, and ESPECIALLY the Principal, Teachers, & Students of Netzahualcoyotl Community Elementary School in Puerto Vallarta for the opportunity. It opened my eyes to so many things. I didn't "change the world" but I, and all of the others involved, helped out and made things a little bit easier for people. That is something that I will always feel great about, and now I want to do more.
I will let my current & future clients know more about volunteer tourism if requested. For now, I don't have a supplier that offers to set this up as part of a travel package, but HERE is a list of non-profits that you can help out with if desired in Mexico.