Tag Archives: Volunteering

Helping the Environment and Sea Turtles – Easy as a Walk on the Beach

6 Nov
Akumal Sea Turtle Nest

Guillermo and a sea turtle nest

On the most recent Drop Me Anywhere trip to Mexico, I had the opportunity to walk the beach in Akumal with Guillermo, from Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA). No, we weren’t just walking for exercise, or to enjoy the beautiful view (which it was), we were inspecting the nests filled with sea turtle eggs which are scattered along the beach just waiting to hatch. Along the way, I learned about the great work CEA does, the disagreements amongst environmentalists about the best way to help the sea turtles, or even if they need help at all, and how regular people can get involved. We even saved one from a crab attack!

Who are they? CEA was formed in 1993 by the Akumal Yacht Club, whose shareholders put their four hectares of property on Akumal Bay into a trust to generate funds and provide infrastructure for environmental initiatives to protect Akumal’s coastal and marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Different than many other conservation organizations, CEA rents out some of its property to local businesses and, therefore, retains administrative control of the property, which also allows for donations made to CEA to go directly towards conservation.

What do they do? CEA’s mission is to produce and promote strategies for ecosystem management in Akumal, through research, education and policy, for sustainability in the Mexican Caribbean. These programs include:

–      Coastal Ecosystems Program – the objective is to promote the protection and conservation of the coastal ecosystems through ecosystem monitoring, information sharing and management. It consists of Reef Monitoring and Research, Bay Monitoring and Patrol, Management and Maintenance, and Outreach and Environmental Education.

Akumal Bay–      Sea Turtle Program – the objective is to protect the nesting female turtles and their hatchlings, raising awareness among visitors and residents on sea turtle biology and conservation measures. As Akumal means “Place of the Turtle,” this program is a huge focus of CEA. The sea turtle population is of vital importance to tourism, as many come to Akumal in order to snorkel with the sea turtles (in their natural habitat). It’s a delicate balance in which CEA works as a go between in order to ensure a fun and educational experience for tourists, as well as protecting the sea turtles from negative human behaviors which may endanger their future well-being. During nesting season, CEA staff and volunteers patrol the beaches of Akumal in search of nesting females and hatchlings. Their activities include protecting and tagging females, obtaining scientific data, in extreme cases, relocating eggs to more favorable locations, and hatchling releases. The data collected is used to determine how many nests were achieved, behavior, distribution and abundance. Their work includes taking tourists and visitors on these walks visitors to help teach them to respect nature and the life of sea turtles, to be more aware of other species, to learn to cohabitate with them and to help take care of their habitats.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles hatching

–      Water Quality Program – the objective in addressing the water quality issues in the region is to dramatically reduce the amount of waste water reaching the sea. CEA works in watershed research and protection, and promotes improved wastewater treatment technologies. This is important due to the area’s highly-porous limestone rock, which is riddled with many fractures, underground rivers and caves. These are interconnected and, in some cases, channel fresh water out to sea, much like an above-ground river might in a coastal region. This is a very fragile aquifer and the quality of its waters has a direct impact on the Caribbean Sea and the coral reef ecosystem.

–      Sustainable Development Program– the objective is to influence development and lessen its impact on the local environment. CEA works with local hotels, condominiums and businesses to apply best practices for resource management. Business can become certified in Akumal and then may be listed on CEA’s website.

–      Environmental Education Program – the objective is to raise awareness among locals and visitors about the fragility of our ecosystems. They provide ecology classes in schools, summer school courses and visitor information in addition to the sea turtle beach walks.

–      Communication Program – Providing outreach to tourists, locals and the tourism sector, the Communication Program helps accomplish CEA’s mission by disseminating their research findings and information in order to be able to influence public policy and to help preserve the coastal environment. Through their Communication Program CEA works with writers, photographers, filmmakers, graphic artists, and anyone who can help getting word out about their important organization and programs.

Sea Turtle Nest

Sea turtle nest

How can you help? With office space and overhead provided by its property, CEA can dedicate funds from memberships, donations, and grants to cover expenses related to its specific conservation programs. Any donations are gratefully accepted. They also depend on volunteers, students and partnerships with many other organizations to carry out their work. If you’re planning a visit to Akumal, or the nearby cities of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum, you can arrange a visit to CEA to learn more about the sea turtles and environmental issues in the area. If you’re there at the right time of year, you may also be able to participate in a nighttime beach walk where you may run across a sea turtle and have the chance to assist in nesting, tagging, or collecting data. At other times of the year you might have the chance to walk the beach with A CEA employee or volunteer in the morning in order to check on the up to 170 nests which are laid throughout the season.*

During your next trip to this area, I’d highly recommend a stop at Centro Ecológico Akumal. Please contact them through their website listed below and ask about their educational programs or even a beach walk. It’s a great family activity (they may even be able to arrange assistance for accessibility issues) which will make a positive impact on you, your kids, and the environment.

Crab*Note – while walking with my guide Guillermo, we noticed some holes in a nest. Suddenly, Guillermo dropped to his knees and began digging. Once he’d dug a few inches down, a crab scurried out of the nest. We dug further and saw that the eggs were intact. If the crab had made it to the eggs, it would most likely have punctured at least one, which would then attract ants that would demolish the shells and make their way into the eggs and destroy the developing turtles inside.

To learn more about the great work that CEA does, or to learn how you can help by donating or volunteering, please visit their website: http://www.ceakumal.org/

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Literacy, Learning and Love

21 Oct

On the most recent Drop Me Anywhere trip I had the privilege of volunteering with an incredible organization. The Hekab Be Biblioteca is officially the library in Akumal, Mexico, unofficially, it’s a central location for the children of this town of about 1300 (according to a 2010 census) to learn, play and socialize.Reading at the Library

The history of the library is quite interesting; opened in 1994 by Brenda Dettering, an American woman married to a Mexican man and living in Akumal. Her idea was to open a library which, as part of the curriculum, offered locals an opportunity to learn English. This wasn’t an American coming in with the idea that everyone should speak English because she did. She was doing it because, due to Akumal’s proximity to the resort cities of Cancun and now, Playa del Carmen (twenty-years ago Playa was not the booming tourist destination it is now), a person who knows English as well as Spanish can double their earning potential. Brenda planned to begin teaching English to women, as this would provide the knowledge and skill for them to be independent and have more options for their future, and then expand the offering to anyone in the community who wished to participate. What she found was that a great deal of the population of Akumal could neither read nor write in Spanish, let alone in English. It was then that she adjusted her focus.

Michelangelo

Estefani painting in an art class where the children learned about Michelangelo

Currently, the Hekab Be Biblioteca serves  a total of about eighty kids in addition to any adults in the community who wish to come and check out books, which are offered in both English and Spanish, or participate in programs. The concentration of the library tends to be on the children for many reasons; it’s important to provide early intervention for literacy as children pick up languages much easier. Also, rural Kid playingpublic schools are overcrowded and severely in need of more resources and qualified staff members. In addition, many adults are working during the day and the library provides an after-school program as well as a playground to allow for a safe environment for the kids to just be kids. Finally, as most parents know, school has costs associated with it; parents must pay for supplies, uniforms and books. Some parents can’t afford these fees and the library can be the next best thing. The ultimate goal of the Hekab Be Biblioteca is “to offer classes in English, music, art, environmental education, and yoga, as well as homework help. To keep the children learning and excited about learning so they will do all they can to stay in school and have the opportunity for whatever future they desire to pursue.”

Anne

Anne and “her kids”

Anne Gabbert works at the Hekab Be Biblioteca. Officially she is the Director; unofficially she’s the teacher, librarian, fundraiser, psychologist, social worker, mom, bus driver, volunteer coordinator and mentor. After years visiting Akumal, in 2010, she arrived to stay and got a job teaching English at the local school. The following year, two parents told her about the library, and, in 2013, Anne began her job there. She also works a second job at a local reservations company in order to make ends meet. Anne arrives each afternoon and, at 2:30, she heads off in her personal SUV to drive around town and collect upwards of thirty-five children from their houses to deliver them to the library (it takes three to five trips as there are sometimes many more kids). At 5:15 she begins the process all over again to deliver the children back home, dropping each one directly at their house. And while some of the kids live in decent apartments, others live in wooden and tin structures which can only be described as shacks. The after-school program begins at 2:00 and some of the kids’ parents are able to bring their children there on their own. Anne would be the first to tell you that, while her salary is minimal, the rewards she gets from working at the library make her a rich woman. She is assisted at the library by Angel, Lety and Tere, three locals who help supervise the kids, but speak only Spanish.

The library has traditionally been open all day, however, due to a lack of staff that can be there and speak English, it’s currently open only in the afternoon (Anne is at her second job in the morning).

Recipe

Vegetable Soup Recipe from the Cooking/English class.

The Hekab Be Biblioteca is solely supported by donations. “What do these donations go to?” you ask. Well, cash donations go to day-to-day expenses including: bottled water for the children, electric and water bills, cleaning supplies, copies, food supplies for cooking classes, employee salaries, etc.

As far as non-monetary donations go, the need is quite extensive. They accept a variety of items including books (Spanish and English), as well as art, school and sports supplies. They also accept items to sell at their bazaar/yard sale which they hold three times per year, and are always happy to receive donations of gently used clothes, shoes, toys, etc. The kids’ clothes and shoes sell fast as they are quite expensive in Akumal and not very well made.

Anne also tells me, “We love to have visitors come and share their experiences, and also any type of handyman kind of work is appreciated. We had a plumber come and put in a new sink, we would love to have folks come and repaint, and just spending time with the children like you did is awesome.” Volunteers also help teach the children English (as I did a bit of one-on-one) or, if there are enough expats there for a six-week class, Anne organizes adult classes.

Kids in Hats

Volunteering at the library

I’ve included links to the Hekab Be Biblioteca website and Facebook below. Through these links, you can find out more about this incredible place and how you can help. I can tell you from personal experience, this place will change you. I had planned to spend a few hours here, I ended up spending part of each day for five days. And you can read more about my personal experience volunteering at the Hekab Be Biblioteca on Drop Me Anywhere beginning with “Child’s Play.

Hekab Be Biblioteca Website

Hekab Be Biblioteca Facebook Page

Celebrating Pride

17 Aug

I’ve always been a big supporter of equal rights. Not gay rights, not women’s rights, not African American or Latino or any other groups’ rights. Simply equal rights for all. On this last Drop Me Anywhere trip, I had the unique opportunity to support people who just want to be treated equally. I worked with ILoveLimerick.com and their film crew spending four hours running around Limerick, Ireland filming scenes for a promotional video announcing the 2014 Limerick Pride Festival.

FilmingHow did Limerick Pride come about? Well, it began with the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland in 1993 (unbelievably recent). But due to violence and the general non-acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer), there were no celebrations and it was generally not spoken about. Finally, in 2002, a weekend of events was held. It was small, but it was a beginning. In 2004, the first Pride Parade was held in Limerick with six people walking up O’Connell Street. Steadily it grew.

In 2007, the first Official Pride March was held and included Limerick Pride’s first float. Much different than the 2004 parade, this march also included the University of Limerick Students Union marching behind their banner, as well as an art exhibition. In 2008, Richard Lynch, Founder and Manager of ILoveLimerick.com joined the party and with him came mainstream involvement. By 2013, Limerick Pride had grown to a week-long event with an attendance of thousands.

I Love Limerick Richard Lynch

Richard Lynch, Celine, Madonna and Sheila

This year, Limerick Pride Week kicks off on August 24th with Pride in the Park, which will include a dog show, sports, kids’ entertainment and music, along with an official opening ceremony in the evening. It continues on Monday with HIV testing, and a presentation and discussion on hate crimes. Other events throughout the week include political debates, a wedding fair, sexual health, sexual empowerment and coming out workshops. But it’s not all serious business at Limerick Pride Week. There will be BINGO, a Mr. and Mrs. Gay Limerick contest, a “Twas the Night Before” party, Pridefest and, of course, the official Limerick Pride Parade, which takes place at 2:00pm on Saturday, August 30th. Limerick Pride Week has become so large that the events are too numerous to mention. Please click here for the full schedule.

Limerick Pride is a volunteer led, not for profit collective, working to promote positive visibility of LGBTQ people and their community in Limerick. The goal of the Limerick LGBTQ Pride Festival is to promote ‘EQUALITY, LOVE, DIVERSITY, CELEBRATION.’

Limerick Pride Promo Video Crew

Limerick Pride 2014 Promo Video Crew

You can find out more information about Limerick Pride and Pride Week at http://limerickpride.ie/

To learn more about ILoveLimeric.com please go to their website at http://www.ilovelimerick.ie/

Corresponding Drop Me Anywhere story of the filming at http://dropmeanywhere.com/2014/07/29/limerick-is-a-drag/

Limerick Pride Week 2014 will be celebrated August 24-August 31.

All photos copyright of Dolf Patijn 2014

Dignity, It’s What’s for Dinner

6 Jun Song Lyrics

 

When you think of a “soup kitchen” what comes to mind? A bunch of sad looking people carrying trays while making their way down a line while workers in net caps spoon ladles of food onto plastic plates? That’s exactly what Josie McCarthy disliked about them. Well, that and the name “soup kitchen.” “It’s their (the customers’) food too,” she says. “And they haven’t served soup since the 1940’s.”

On the last Drop Me Anywhere trip I had the honor of volunteering at The Dining Room, a restaurant serving those in a current state of poverty. Part of FOOD for Lane County’s Family Dinner Program, The Dining Room is a unique venue which serves the homeless population, or simply those having severe financial difficulty, in a respectful, restaurant-like atmosphere.

Josie McCarthy is the Program Manager of the Family Dinner Program and the catalyst for The Dining Room. FOOD for Lane County ran your typical soup kitchen out of a school in Eugene, Oregon until 2004 when they moved to their current location. While they had a new location, they were still struggling to serve the population they had hoped. In 2005, Josie was brought in to try to make it work. She fought for five years to turn the program from a soup kitchen to a restaurant model. The Dining Room began serving food in a restaurant atmosphere in 2010.

When guests arrive, they are given a reservation. When seats become available, they are invited in, five at a time, wherever they like and are immediately offered water, milk, juice or coffee. They are then offered a full meal with a main course and healthy side dishes. During their meal, a volunteer comes through with a dessert tray offering a variety of cakes and pies.

The Dining Room serves a variety of guests from families with young children to elderly people, including a 90 year-old woman with mental illness who lives on the streets and has been a customer for 9 years. The staff and volunteers really get to know their guests; Josie mentions that this woman has beautiful handwriting, but the woman has also expressed her embarrassment for where her life has ended up.

There are also quite a few success stories; guests love to come in and share their successes with the staff and volunteers, who love to hear them. Josie tells me of one woman, a widow in her late-fifties, who had lost her housing and was living in her car in the wintertime. She had a full-time job at a fast food restaurant but, as housing can be quite expensive in Eugene, she found herself homeless. She was working to save enough money for first and last month’s rent. She came to eat at The Dining Room and, when she returned to her car, she realized she had locked herself out. She returned to The Dining Room in distress as she couldn’t get into her “home.” The staff chipped in to hire a locksmith to gain access to her car. A few months later she came in and said, “Do you remember me?” Of course they did. She went on to tell them that she had found an apartment and wanted to let them how grateful she was for their help.

The food The Dining Room serves is provided through FOOD for Lane County. To improve the atmosphere, expired flowers are provided by Market of Choice and Trader Joe’s, and artwork painted by customers decorates the walls. As many of the homeless have dogs, The Dining Room provides crates outside and food for their guests’ canine companions.

IMG_1209

The Dining Room has 367 volunteers of which 25 per-day work to serve meals to those having financial challenges. Between them, they work 800 volunteer hours per month. The Dining Room is open Monday through Thursday from 1:00pm-4:00pm. During these hours they serve up to 300 people per day.

When asked what people can do if they want to help, Josie says that people should advocate for a restaurant model food site. No more soup kitchens. Her goal, she says, is “educating people that these people are their neighbors.” The only extra resources the restaurant model uses over the traditional soup kitchens is a few more volunteers. Oh, they could also use some silverware, paper towels, salt and pepper and hot sauce.

The first word that came to my mind during my day volunteering there was “dignity.” Often people feel that treating people less fortunate with less respect will encourage them to change their situation. Most of these people would like nothing more than to change their situation, but mental or physical health challenges, abusive home lives, loss of a job or simply bad decisions have landed them in an unfortunate situation. Besides the food, the respect provided by The Dining Room helps their guests in their fight to change their circumstances. As one customer put it, “The main ingredient in their food is kindness.”

To find out more about The Dining Room, go to their website at FOOD for Lane County Family Dinner Program. You can also find out more about FOOD For Lane County through this website.

Song Lyrics

 

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