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The recent earthquake that ravaged parts of central Mexico has cast fresh light on the importance of helping those in need. And while vacations are obviously a great way to get away from the everyday pressures of life, many travelers also find them to be even more rewarding when they incorporate an aspect of “voluntourism” — that is, a combination of leisure travel with volunteer and charitable work or donations.
For now, the best way to help residents of Mexico City is likely by making donations, via organizations including American Red Cross, Cruz Roja Mexicana (the Mexican Red Cross, which even has its own Amazon Wish List where donors can pay for much-needed items), UNICEF and Topos Mexico, a nonprofit rescue group staffed by volunteers that has been helping with disaster relief since the Mexico City earthquake of 1985.
Around Mexico, several hotel companies, tour operators and other organizations operate ongoing voluntourism programs — not related to the current post-earthquake situation — that provide aid to local populations and the environment. On the Caribbean coast, a nongovernmental organization called Centro Ecologico Akumal (Akumal Ecological Center) allows visitors to volunteer on research projects that monitor and preserve endangered plant and wildlife.
Among the community-minded hoteliers is Banyan Tree Mayakoba, which partners with several local nonprofit groups for its Meet for Good program. Designed to benefit the local Maya community, Meet for Good includes a variety of activities for guests, including “The Gum: A Mayan Legacy,” which teaches about the traditions behind creating chewing gum during a day trip to a working gum camp. At the camp, Maya families talk about their culture and provide hands-on gum-making experiences.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s offerings also include “Bee Part of the Melipona Community,” a workshop that aims to protect the Melipona bee, an endangered (and stingless) species, while providing insight into Maya traditions of bee keeping.
Also part of the Mayokoba complex is Rosewood Mayakoba, which recently began funding a bilingual school for children of employees and other local kids. The hotel invites guests to make donations of money or school supplies, and visitors can also donate time in the form of volunteer work on projects such as reading and computer classes.
On the Pacific coast, Solmar Foundation — which is affiliated with Solmar Hotels & Resorts — provides programs that help poverty-stricken mothers in the Baja California peninsula, as well as children and the elderly. Hotel guests can tour the facilities, help with cooking and donate cash or clothing.
Not far from Los Cabos is Tres Santos, a resort community where a hip new boutique property called Hotel San Cristobal makes it easy for visitors to participate in a variety of programs: Knockout Basura, teams up volunteers with a local boxing school to help clean the town, and Los Amigos de Baja builds infrastructure for a local orphanage.
Close to Puerto Vallarta and the resorts of the Riviera Nayarit is Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, which organizes volunteer activities where participants can teach work skills and career strategies to impoverished members of the local community.
International Volunteer Organizations For those looking for a more complete, extended volunteer experience, a number of international organizations offer multiple programs in Mexico.
New York City-based Projects Abroad, for example, organizes trips for people interested in activities ranging from HIV/AIDS work to teaching, conservation and animal care. International Volunteer HQ, meanwhile, provides opportunities for teaching English as well as supporting animal rights and Maya agriculture. And an organization called Love Volunteers offers programs including medical- and childcare-focused activities in Oaxaca that last a minimum of one week.
American Red Crosswww.redcross.org
Banyan Tree Mayakoba www.banyantree.com
Centro Ecologico Akumal www.ceakumal.org
Cruz Roja Mexicana www.cruzrojadonaciones.org
Huichol Center www.thehuicholcenter.org
Love Volunteers www.lovevolunteers.org
Projects Abroad www.projects-abroad.org
Rosewood Mayakoba www.rosewoodhotels.com
Solmar Foundation www.solmarfoundation.com
Topos Mexico www.topos.mx
Tres Santos www.tressantosbaja.com
Volunteer HQ www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-mexico