Castaway Kids, Mexico

written by Lorenza Seldner

CastwayKids

Rebuilding and replacing the window in the house of a family deeply affected by hurricane.

Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium”; with one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on the planet, and sunsets named as the most beautiful view by the National Geographic, San Carlos, Mexico represents a paradisiacal dream of leisure for locals and foreigners…

But reality hits very differently for the most vulnerable part of the population: the poorest people in Guaymas (that’s the actual Town name) who live marginalized, struggling to put food on the table and, basically to make ends meet. People living under desperation, knowing that the future for their children is not promising, either falling in drug dealing activities or taking underpaid jobs due to lack of education and opportunities.

And amidst that hopeless cause came Castaway Kids; a non-profit organization dedicated to fight poverty through education. The organization is formed mostly, by senior citizens from Canada and USA, who decided to spend their retirement years in this beautiful, small place. Moved by the hardships of the locals, and have fallen in love with the culture and Country, decided to take upon in this heroic task.

Castaway supports the community in three different ways:
1) They sponsor low-income, high-achievement students to finish school. They have helped over 100 kids who were at risk.
2) They provide vocational training to adults and are building their first Community Education Center. Guaymas’s two main sources of employment are fishing and the maquiladoras” (factories) which are an excellent option for skilled adults; hence the importance of the center.
3) They supply essential assistance to the Guaymas Community such as disaster relief and aid to build community centers or reconstruct houses. (Guaymas people have been victims of several powerful hurricanes in the past, including “Jimena” which tore the town apart).

CastawayKids1

Castaway volunteers at work helping in disaster relief.

The organization raises money through several channels: the foremost is the donations made by the sponsors, in which one of the members (or a volunteer) takes one or more students and absorb all expenses related to their education: from tuition to shoes and even food and medical bills for the most desperate cases. This charity has a very high percentage of donations that go to cause - 98% - because all the work is done by volunteers. The second channel is through their Thrift Store which receives donations in kind from anyone in the community; their personnel classify and organize the goods received and put them for sale.

The last channel, and the most heart-warming one, is by hosting beach parties in which the stars are the same students they help. The parties have raffles, games, prizes, exquisite local food and the performances are made by these kids. These kids, whose lives are being changed, dance and sing for a group of people who, do not share their blood, color or even language, yet care for them more than anyone else ever has.

The easiest way would be to ignore them, to enjoy their last golden years… they surely deserve it after all. But Castaway Kids members feel different; they may have come down for the fun, but instead raised a beacon of hope, in this beautiful, struggling town.

Please help them make a difference.

 

For more info on Castaway Kids, donate or how to become a sponsor please check their webpage:

https://www.castawaykidsmx.org/ (all donations are tax-deductible)

Melel Xojobal, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Melel Xojobal (a phrase meaning ‘true light’ in the indigenous Mayan Tzotzil language) is an organization founded in 1997 to support the children of indigenous parents in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico.

Street view San Cristobal
Leon Petrosyan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59889759

San Cristóbal de las Casas (‘Jovel’, or ‘place in the clouds’ in the most widely-spoken indigenous languages in the region) is situated in the Central Highland region of Chiapas at 2,200 metres above sea level. The altitude and the surrounding mountainous terrain ensure a refreshingly cool, damp climate, a fact not lost on the thousands of North-American and European tourists who flock there each year, many of whom end up staying much longer than they originally intended. A visitor can’t help but be struck by the low-key, low-rise Spanish-colonial era style of the buildings lining the narrow streets, especially if they arrived via the heat and bustle of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital. The traditional feel of the historical centre, one of the most obvious expressions (to the visitor) of the region’s culture, led to the city being designated one of Mexico’s pueblos magicos (Magic Towns) in 2003. Regardless of any ‘official status’, the ‘magic’ of the place can very easily take hold of the casual visitor and turn them into a semi-permanent resident.

More than climate and architecture however, the most striking thing for a visitor will be the indigenous culture and population embedded in the city. Roughly a third of the town’s population is indigenous, mostly Tzotzil and Tzeltal, the two largest indigenous groups in Chiapas. To a casual observer the indigenous women and girls (men and boys dress less traditionally and thus stand out less) might give a sense of ownership, that they are guardians of the area’s unique culture. While this is true, the inescapable fact is that a huge number of indigenous children in the vicinity of San Cristobal (as well as in the rest of Chiapas, other states in Southern Mexico, and in Guatemala) suffer greatly from the effects of poverty, lack of education, discrimination and deprivation of basic rights. While the world focusses its attention (rightly) on warzones and the most acute global humanitarian crises, and (wrongly) on the issues of drug trafficking and associated gang warfare in Mexico, indigenous children in Southern regions continue to be last in line as the benefits of modernity are unevenly distributed amongst Mexicans. Melel Xojobal seeks to redress this situation locally by providing direct and inexpensive support to indigenous children and young people in the vicinity of San Cristobal de las Casas.

While starvation is virtually unheard of in this fertile region, childhood malnutrition is a persistent problem in the region, and its prevalence is much higher in indigenous groups. Along with a lack of early stimulation, early childhood malnutrition is the most important factor in the gaps in later educational attainment between indigenous children and other groups. Melel Xojobal runs a day-care centre for babies and children aged 0-4. They receive two nutritious meals daily and, in cases of severe or chronic deficiencies, medical nutritional support. There are also early stimulation activities and play facilities, as well as workshops to which parents (some still in their teens) are invited. The majority of staff in the day-care centre are volunteers, increasing further the proportion of donations spent directly on supporting children. The same building is used for the day-care centre and all of Melel Xojobals’s administrative activities.

San Cristobal childrenMany children aged 5-13 in the vicinity of San Cristobal work on the streets, with shoe-polishing and selling crafts as the two main areas of work. Melel Xojobal does not seek to take working children ‘off the streets’, but rather to provide them with educational activities and give support intended to prevent them dropping out of formal education, a persistent problem among indigenous families. Classes and workshops (directly funded by donations) in mathematics, Spanish and the children’s own indigenous languages are given in the areas where they typically work. These activities help cover gaps in the children’s education and help them develop the abilities and confidence to independently continue in formal education.

For teenagers aged 13-18, Melel Xojobal provides support by staging classes and workshops in the areas of education about basic rights, sex education, substance abuse and the right to self-determination. By taking part in these activities, the teenagers increase their chances of becoming self-determined adults with the ability to support themselves and their families and participate fully in the economic and political lives of their communities, their region and their country.

The support and activities provided by Melel Xojobal to the three different age-groups are intended to work holistically. Older children are often given the freedom to take part in the activities provided by Melel Xojobal and increase their school attendance (and also continue the economic activities that support their families) because younger siblings are at the day-care centre. Older teenagers increase their economic and political participation, which will in turn reduce the future need for large, inefficient foundations and social programmes.

Whether it’s toddlers who are both literally and figuratively ‘full of beans’, a twelve-year-old boy taking a break from shining shoes to attend a maths class, or a seventeen-year-old women speaking confidently at a press conference alongside a representative of the state government, Melel Xojobal hopes to remain a small, efficient organization that uses donations for the kind of direct assistance to children that has the most lasting effect on their well-being and prospects.

Donations to Melel Xojobal can be made directly through PayPal:

https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=tgoRdXkT9WfiTZIvFSxByzkL1ERjbJPqmt9pzayuIV2eK2fj1_2ifD-zOS5chnKVprl7q0&country.x=MX&locale.x=

Alternatively, through GlobalGiving:

https://www.globalgiving.org/search/?size=10&sortField=sortorder&keywords=melel+xojobal

They can be contacted through their website:

http://www.melelxojobal.org.mx