Volunteers Come and Go….

The following is an article written by Samantha Orive as she completes her tour of duty as a volunteer at Playa Viva.  

2015-01-17 07.00.50Mornings in the quiet town of Juluchuca Guerrero start with a morning concerto starring the local roosters. Although rehearsals go on all throughout the day, it seems that the five am showing not only has the most beautiful voices, but there is a feeling of encouragement that manages to clear the mind and allows you to find energy for the long day ahead.

A much ruder awakening awaits you in the back of a pick up truck. A feeling of recklessness hits your stomach (not unlike a double scotch would) when you are going 80 km/hr and that sexy morning chill always comes on too strong, raising goosebumps in your arms and adventurous intentions in your thoughts.  A sense of well being spreads though out your body, it is not yet seven am and you are drunk on circumstance and high on life.

You come to doubt if Van Gogh’s starry night should actually be considered a masterpiece once you look at the canvass over you. The stars not only seem to perfectly describe their chosen constellation names, but to sit you on their comforting knees and whisper their tales in your ears. Orion The Hunter looks bright enough to jump out from the sky and continue his hunt on earth, followed closely by his loyal dogs. We all paint clumsy brushstrokes in our minds, never truly capturing the mysterious beauty of the sky.

2015-02-11 11.21.21Volunteers come and go, looking for something, someone, running from something, or maybe someone. And while you are digging trenches, weeding the relentless verdolagas, or planting row upon row of lettuce, you forget why you are here or maybe even who you are. Dirt finds its way under your nails, it changes the hue of your eyes and when it reaches your heart you conclude the questions are invalid and the answers are futile. Dirt is the absolute here.

Hunger. There is a deep hunger to learn, know, experience and share; but there is a more literal hunger that strikes exactly at eight thirty am. Stomachs rumble keeping tune with the sea and images of plump fresh handmade tortillas, dozens of eggs drowned in salsa verde, and those evil cups of coffee that seduce the strongest of wills with promises of productivity and stability come to mind. There is an instant gratification after meals at Playa Viva that turn into future life dilemmas, for how on earth will I go back to store bought tortillas?

A hammock is not merely a handy set of strings to rest, but a way of living. Within it lies enough entertainment for every evening. The trees like to divert you playing shadows with the sun, the characters in your book grow impossibly difficult to walk away off, and conversations with friends brim with candor and emotion. In the steady swaying of a hammock, a soundness anchors in the foundations of that little white house in Juluchuca.

2015-01-07 06.45.21The sun does not like goodbyes, it prefers a quick painful farewell at six forty two pm, and if you look away from the horizon you will miss it. The best comforting remedy is named Vicky, who is always more attractive when accompanied by just gathered limes and thick local salt. She may be cold hearted, but after a flirtatious conversation with her she will warm up your insides and you know you will fall deliciously in love with her every night.

The answers are there of course. The seeds will sprout in record time, the muscles will ache with pleasure, the children will laugh in bare feet, the skin will darken, the women will launder by the river, the men will sing their melancholic tunes, the smiles will grow more genuine, and at the end of the day it will not only be the sun saying a painful goodbye.

 

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Extra Layer of Protection

applying sealant to Juluchuca kindergartenFollowing up on a story from March of 2014, when a group of guests and parents of the local kindergarten joined together to paint the school, one of the outcomes from that “painting party” was that the paint needed to be re-applied almost yearly. The reason why was that the roof was leaking and thus the paint was peeling almost annually. When this story was recounted back at Playa Viva by the painting party, other guests staying at Playa Viva took it upon themselves to donate the funds to pay for sealant for the leaky roof. These funds provided by Playa Viva guests along with a funds raised by the kindergarten parents was sufficient to pay for the sealant and even give a small fee to the volunteers who applied the sealant. Here is one of a few photos forwarded by one of the kindergarten teachers to show that the work was finally done just in advance of the coming rainy season.  Thank you to our guests for the original painting party as well as for those guests providing additional funds to seal the roof. This extra layer of protection will hopefully allow the paint to last longer and next year’s “painting party” will have to take its talents to a new school or community center.

How Lucky to Participate in Protecting a Life So Rare

Guest blog, submitted by Debbie Greenberg

Turtle at Sunrise
Photo by to Anna L. Hartmann

One week ago I was fortunate enough to accompany members of the La Tortuga Viva turtle sanctuary on one of their nightly patrols of the beach near Playa Viva and beyond. They search for sea turtle nests in order to protect the eggs from poachers and predators by moving them to their nursery for safekeeping until they hatch and are released.

It was very interesting to see first-hand the work done by these local volunteers and better understand the effort they make every night and early morning (one patrol is from 10 p.m. to about midnight and another begins at 4 a.m.) The stars over the ocean were incredible as we bounced along on the group’s one all-terrain vehicle.  Elias, head of Tortuga Viva and my guide for the night, explained how to look for turtle tracks and nests. We were unlucky, though: we found two nests, but unfortunately human poachers had beat us to them and the eggs were gone. We also saw 3 dead turtles at different points along the beach, most likely drowned at sea by the nets of fishing trawlers.

All was not lost, we were tremendously lucky because when we got back to the nursery enclosure at midnight a nest was hatching, and I actually got to see the baby turtles making their way up through the sand! Elias gently began moving sand aside and carefully collected handfuls of baby Olive Ridley turtles for release back to the ocean.

One week later, when we WWOOF volunteers arrived at Playa Viva for work at 6:30 a.m. we were told by the Playa Viva team that a turtle was on the beach right in front of the hotel. We ran pell-mell down to the sand, scrambling for our cameras, fearful of missing the sight; lucky for us the turtle wasn’t moving too fast, so we were able to watch as she lumbered back into the sea. It was a very big turtle (about 3-4 feet long) and it turns out we were really lucky because it was extremely rare Black turtle, called “Prieta” by the locals (chelonia agassizii).

The turtle sanctuary volunteers were on hand, waiting for her to go back to sea before protecting her eggs by securing them from predators in the sanctuary. It was so exciting to see the tracks she had made coming up the beach, the two false nests she had made (apparently a natural defense mechanism against predators) and her tracks going down. The volunteers who were there gently probed the sand with a long stick, trying to find the true nest, but were worried they might damage the eggs. One went back to town to fetch a couple of more veteran Tortuga Viva members while the other stayed here to mark the spot and guard the nest against possible interference. He explained that although they had been working on the patrol for a year, they had never found a Prieta nest before. Once senior patrol members Elias and Hector arrived, they knew right where to look, and began to dig. Hector is tall and has long arms, but he dug down until he was leaning almost completely into the hole before finding the eggs. He began to gently bring them up, two or three at a time; they were round and about the size of large golf balls. 81 eggs in all!

By this time they had an audience of all the WWOOF volunteers, a Playa Viva staff member who had brought down a shovel to help if necessary, and several Playa Viva guests. The eggs were placed in a couple of bags and taken to the turtle sanctuary, and we followed them watch the rest of the process of securing the eggs for incubation. Once the eggs were safely buried in their new, man-made nest 65 cm deep, we were given a ride back to Playa Viva.

The Black turtle is highly endangered; lucky for her to have concerned volunteers on hand to safeguard her eggs, and what luck for us to have witnessed a species so rare to be almost extinct.

A Little Bit Helps Make a HUGE Difference in Small Communities

This blog post submitted by Debbie Greenberg – Volunteer at Playa Viva

A day at the kindergarten (March 13, 2014).

The parents at the local kindergarten in Juluchuca, Mexico have been working to renew the facilities, seeking funds from different sources to re-build the gate and the fence, paint the classroom and fix the leaking roof.

P1030157 A few weeks ago, the kindergarten parents mentioned their need for paint and rollers to Playa Viva’s General Manager, Julia Garcia.  Julia mentioned the need to Playa Viva guests Charles and Linda who had asked Julia how they could donate to and participate in a community project while on vacation – voluntourism.  Julia told Linda and Charles about the kindergarten and both generously agreed to buy the paint and equipment for the project, as well as offered to help paint.

On Thursday, March 13, 2014, a group from Playa Viva including Charles,  Linda, Fernando and I (two WWOOF volunteers at Playa Viva) plus Miguel (the newest team member at Playa Viva) all went to the kindergarten in Juluchuca to paint! When we arrived a lot of the kindergarten parents were already scraping rough patches of old paint off the walls and completing other pre-painting preparations. Everyone pitched in wherever they could, or with whatever tool was at hand—if you found a free broom, you swept walls or window sills!
The “kinder” (“keen-dare”), as it’s called here, has one classroom for 3-year-olds and another that is divided between the 4- and 5-year-olds. The concrete walls separating the classrooms and administrative office go up to the roof, whereas the outer walls are solid concrete to about 4 ft. high —in other words, they are open air (see photos). There is a large roofed patio (mostly roofed—as the kinder is trying to raise money to complete the roofing for the patio) and a shaded play area with playground equipment. This particular Thursday the children were off school so it was a perfect day for the painting project to be completed.

After a bit, the work hit its stride and began to advance quickly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to sand down all the old paint, so there were patches where the wall or ceiling would peel (or crumble!) when you ran your roller over it, but little by little the ceilings became freshly white and the walls became sky blue. Teachers, parents, Playa Viva guests, Playa Viva staff and

P1030177

volunteers were all working together – diverse communities coming together to make one.

At about 12:30 some of the women told us it was time to come eat—they had brought us plates of chicken with mole colorado and rice, as a way of thanking us for our help. During lunch we chatted about the school with a couple of the moms of children and with one of the teachers. They explained how difficult it is for them to get  funds needed to repair the school due to the slow Mexican government bureaucracy. They commented about how unbelievably fast they had been able to obtain assistance via Playa Viva and guests Charles and Linda —they had mentioned the project to Julia, and in just a short time they had paint, rollers, and even some more hands to help with the project execution.

When we asked how long it had been since the rooms had been painted, we got a surprising reply: it had only been about a year! One of the teachers then explained that every year, during the rainy season (June-September) the classrooms leak, and the paint gets ruined. They had applied for government funding to have the roof waterproofed, and were informed that funding was on its way…however, the latest news was that only a portion of the requested funds would probably arrive and not until July – just as the rainy season starts! That would clearly be too little too late to save the nice new paint job.

The teacher further explained that they had been told they would receive $3,000 Mexican pesos (about $250 U.S. dollars) for the project. Based on this level of funding the waterproofing would not be sufficient. They would have to adjust their project so the initial funds approved would be used to cover the highest point of the roof with a 5-year waterproofing product, with rest of the roof only getting a 3-year waterproofing.

After the lunch,  we all went back to painting (more detail work now) and helping them begin to move the classroom furnishings back into place. At least 20 parents were on hand, along with the teachers and principal, who thanked us again and gave us a round of applause for our help. We applauded their effort and determination in return.

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When we got back to Playa Viva, the other guests asked us about our morning and we told them all about it, including the conversation we’d had with the teacher over lunch at the kindergarten regarding the waterproofing of the roof. Later that evening, Playa Viva guests Sarah and Jim spoke with Julia about their wish to graciously donate the funds necessary to waterproof the entire roof so that it can be completed before the rainy season starts. I am quite touched by Sarah and Jim’s generosity. Julia will be checking to ensure that the waterproofing project is appropriately budgeted and the funds donated are efficiently used.   Thank you all for giving to the local kinder.

NOTE from Playa Viva Owners: The painting of the kinder is a perfect example of Playa Viva’s core values of Creating Meaningful Community and Transformative Experiences.  From a Social Impact perspective, we see our role as providing a platform for voluntourism and opening doors between guests and donors who in turn provide resources for specific community identified needs.  It is important to us that the community self-identify needs. Furthermore, that the community beneficiaries donate their time (labor) as well as their own form of giving (sharing of food) with the donors and volunteers who came from outside. Finally, we loved hearing about the regenerative nature of voluntourism and charity that spread from Linda and Charles (painting) to Sarah and Jim (waterproofing).  The result, we hope, is a better educational environment for children, a stronger community and an true cross-cultural exchange. If you are interested in donating to the kinder roof waterproofing project or to the Playa Viva Regenerative Trust to the local community – please click on this link to donate via our fiscal sponsor – the Ocean Foundation via the Friends of La Tortuga Viva fund. Thank you all.

Urgent Care – Items Needed for Juluchuca Health Clinic

Teaming up with Pack for a Purpose, on-site volunteer and nurse from Denmark, Malene Jakobsen, has developed short list of critical items needed for the local health clinic. This just a list of supplies. We will also be raising funds to do some needed renovations in the coming weeks.

To see the list on Pack for a Purpose site – click here – and scroll down to “Project 2” or see list below:

Medical:
Blood pressure cuff – Digital, Examination gloves, Manual resuscitator, both child and adult size, Pen-torches / flashlights, Scissors, Spacers for asthmatic patients, Tweezers and Urine dipsticks

We will be updating this list from time to time. Regardless of whether you are a health professional, your assistance in obtaining any of the items on this list and donating them to the local health clinic would be most appreciated.  Keep in mind the limitations allowed by customs, any items that have an aggregate value of over $300 are subject to import duties upon your arrival into Mexico (above and beyond your personal items packed). If you have any questions about what to bring or how to declare with customs, please feel free to email us at info @ PlayaViva.com.

Thank you for your support.

Supply Chain 2.0 – Impact on Local Community

What does GIIRS certification mean to you? Don’t mean to be glib, but click on the link and do the research if you are not familiar with this social and environmental impact assessment system.  For Playa Viva, part of going through GIIRS certification was taking our “game up a notch” when it comes to measuring our impact on the local community, especially when it comes to our supply chain.

Last summer, Monica Oyarzun, lead a project that involved tracking our suppliers and documenting how our own supply chain meets the demands of the social impact investment community. See the slideshow below including photos of various partners in our supply chain including vendors of fruits and vegetables, meats and poultry, cheese and milk as well as various excursion providers.

In addition to the GIIRS process, we are now more closely tracking our impact on suppliers, starting with changes to our accounting system to more closely track expenditures by each vendor. While this adds overhead to our already hard working hospitality team, we hope to plug this data into methodology developed by the Overseas Development Institute to study our impact in our local community and be able to compare to other similar projects globally. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

Güelcome to ‘Julu York’

You definitely won’t spot the Statue of Liberty and you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of farm animals than the honking of horns and rumbles of the subway. Dusty dirt roads and towering palm trees fill in for Manhattan’s asphalt jungle and iconic skyscrapers. There are no world famous delis here, but the tacos at Doña Lupe’s aren’t bad. This is the city that definitely sleeps—mostly after 10pm and also usually a siesta in the late afternoon heat. Welcome to Julu York, population a few hundred give or take, and gateway to Playa Viva.

Juluchuca is no New York, so why all the comparisons? That’s the same question I asked when I first heard residents of this little town rechristening their pueblo with a moniker reminiscent of that most famous of cities. What in Juluchuca could possibly make someone think of New York? Sure, crossing the Juluchuca creek in the rainy season can be a little chancy, but it’s no East River. The truth is there’s not much in Julu York to remind you of New York, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of Juluchuca’s new name.

Julu York isn’t a PR stunt or even old-fashioned civic boosterism. It’s much more natural than that. Usually it’s just a joke over a beer:  rural Mexico’s take on modern sarcasm. Who could confuse Julu York with New York, the big city’s bright lights with the flickering bare bulb holding the countryside’s nighttime shadows at bay? But behind the laughter, I think there’s something more aspirational about Julu York.

It seems that even in the smallest specks on the map of Mexico citizens are eager to define their towns themselves. I don’t think anyone in Juluchuca believes Julu York will ever rival New York (and many probably wouldn’t want it to). I think with the new name, joke or not, people are trying to tell the world that there’s more to Juluchuca than meets the eye. The 20-second stretch of Highway 200 that crosses the town from one end to the other doesn’t do it justice.

For me, looking for comparisons between New York and Julu York was a good reminder of all the interesting things I’ve been able to see and do in Juluchuca. From a local farm that’s a solitary outpost of certified organic agriculture to a ceiba tree so big locals call it the ‘Avatar tree’ on the road up into the Sierra Madre mountains, there are a few surprises in Julu York, and the town can even hold its own with the big city. Take a trip up the sierra to eat a home-cooked meal with a local family and you can boast to all your foodie friends about a meal measured not in the great distances of food miles, but in the short steps of food meters—fresh, hyper-local food to rival the best farmer’s market in the biggest city.

So, why not trade in your Empire State of Mind for an outlook that’s a tad more provincial? You might be surprised what a one-tope town has to offer. Yeah, maybe it’s not as catchy or exciting as the New York of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, but give it time. After all, how long can it be before some enterprising chavo down in the town square pulls out his iPhone and autotunes an anthem that will really put Julu York on the map? Watch out world.