Editor’s Note: We get so many requests from visitors and residents alike about how they can volunteer to help the people and the animals of the Yucatan. Whether it is from a sense of guilt for all the wealth that we live with in the countries north of the border and elsewhere, or just because we so appreciate the Yucatan culture and want to do our part to keep it alive and well, almost everyone who comes here ends up doing something to give back. We once had a project where we interviewed expats all along the Riviera Maya… eight cities in all. In every single one of them, the expats were involved in local dog shelters, spay and neuter clinics and some sort of projects to help children of lesser means. We encourage everyone to look around them and see where they can help. And then to approach this work with a humble spirit that recognizes that while you might be sharing something of your financial or physical wealth, the people in the Yucatan that you are working with are sharing with you a unique wealth of their own.
This is the oldest expat-operated, educational support program in Yucatan. Beginning in 2002, the mission of the Progreso Apoyo program has been to keep children in public school when their families are unable to afford uniforms (including shoes), backpacks and school supplies. All of the students have a sponsor who sends a specific amount to cover their expenses. Sponsors receive photos and thank you letters from their sponsored children. The program also accepts one-time monetary gifts, which go into the general find. This money is used when any child exceeds his or her apoyo limit. Students must maintain an 80% grade average to remain in this program. For more information, contact: kbmorgan_99 [at] yahoo [dot] com and be sure to read our Yucatan Living article about the Progreso Apoyo Project.
Cholul’s “educaTE Yucatan”
This educational support program is much like the one in Progreso, except that it also has a very well-managed breakfast program associated with it. This program was started by a visitor to the Yucatan who was inspired by the Three Cups of Tea story. She, in turn, inspired a number of local women in Cholul to help out the school children in their neighborhood. To read the story, learn more about this program and how you can help, please visit the our article on educaTE Yucatan.
This educational support program is patterned after the Progreso Apoyo program. In fact, the founders of these programs consult regularly with each other. Telchac Education Program also helps to provide books, uniforms and shoes for the children in and around Telchac, which is located on the Yucatan Gulf Coast. Telchac Education does not forget the needs of teachers, who also receive teaching materials and aids. To learn more about this program and how you can help, you can visit the Telchac Education website.
International Women’s Club
The I.W.C. was founded in 1984 by a few English speaking women and has now grown to include more than a dozen nationalities, including Yucatecas. English is the official language of this club, whose members are united in Friendship, Community Service and Self-Improvement. Community Service projects include providing higher education support and mentoring for several young ladies. The I.W.C. also contributes funds to other groups and organizations, such as food banks and children’s shelters. Funding for these programs comes from designated fundraisers, including trips, monthly raffles, individual sponsorship and special events such as the I.W.C. rummage sale, bingo nights, member art show and newsletter advertising. If you are interested in becoming a member of the International Women’s Club of Merida, please visit the I.W.C. website for contact information.
In 2011, volunteers and contributors helped to open three new Proyecto Itzaes libraries, sent seven first-generation students to the University, brought school supplies to six villages, taught hundreds of children computer skills and changed many lives on the Yucatan Peninsula. Proyecto Itzaes has a variety of programs but they all begin with literacy. Proyecto Itzaes is on Facebook, on Twitter as @MayaHelp12, and they have a website where you can learn more about what you can do to help. It is worthy of note that @MayaHelp12 has the capability of reaching 200,000 people, with Re-Tweets, over a period of only three days.
Save the Children
This international organization has projects in four towns in Yucatan and provides services for more than 5,300 children. They are always on the lookout for volunteers. The mission of Save the Children is to achieve immediate and long-lasting change in the lives of the children they assist. Their vision is a world where each child has the right to survival, protection, development and protection. If you would like to help, contact Save the Children Yucatán, Calle 25 No. 198A x 16 y 18, Colonia García Ginerés, Mérida. Phone: (999) 920-55-33. On the Web: www.savethechildrenyucatan.com. On Facebook: Save the Children en Yucatán. On Twitter: @MIDsavechildren. You can also make a tax-deductible monthly donation on your credit card or deposit a donation into HSBC account number 4042165936.
Hacienda Chichen’s Mayan Community Support
Hacienda Chichen and Yucatan Adventure have joined together to create and support programs to aid the Mayan children, families and communities near Chichen Itza. To learn more about what they do and how you can help, visit the Yucatan Adventure website’s section on volunteering.
Brazos Abiertos (Open Arms)
It is the goal of Brazos Abiertos to decrease the spread of HIV and sexually-transmitted diseases in Yucatan and to improve access to healthcare. They are also committed to improving the overall quality of life for individuals already infected with HIV. In order to meet these goals, Brazos Abiertos Yucatan has established a peer-on-peer education program called TEAMM, in which American high school and college students facilitate HIV/AIDS workshops in Yucatecan villages, and then return to Mexico a second time to train local teenagers to teach the workshops themselves. Free medical and health information is part of this program, as is free HIV testing. Data is collected to better understand the true impact of this disease in the Yucatan. If you would like to donate to this worthy cause, or if you would like to participate in the TEAMM program, please visit the Brazos Abiertos website for more information on the many ways you can participate.
Oasis of San Juan de Dios
This organization offers individual attention to local people infected with AIDS or HIV, including providing them with shelter, rehabilitation, defense of human rights, prevention and teaching and funeral services. They also are involved with advocacy and local political issues regarding AIDS/HIV. If you would like to help, please contact Carlos Renan Mendez Benavides. You can e-mail: osanjuanyuc [at] hotmail [dot] com or stop by Calle 11 #101 x 22, Carretera a Chicxulub, Col. San Isidro, Conkal, Yucatan.
Albergue de Ancianos San Joaquin en Progreso, A.C.
This is a nursing home located between Progreso and Chicxulub. There are a number of expats who are regular volunteers at this nursing home, selflessly donating their time to visit with the elderly residents. Most of the volunteers speak English, although the residents speak Spanish or Mayan. Despite that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a language barrier as long as everyone is speaking from the heart. The albergue is also in need of food, clothing and cash to help pay the nursing home’s operating costs. You can donate via either PayPal or bank deposit and all addresses are on the site. If you are interested in volunteering, you can call (969) 935-1209, or just stop by the nursing home (between Progreso and Chicxulub, beside Prepa Mexico). If you would like to donate money, please donate via PayPal (donativos [at] alberguesanjoaquin [dot] org) or make a deposit at the La Torre, Merida branch of BANAMEX in the name of Albergue del Anciano en Progreso, A.C., Acct. Number: 7002 3673558, Code: 002910700236735582. (Bank deposits must be in pesos.) You can also visit the website of Albergue del Anciano en Progreso, A.C. for more information and updates. Since this nursing home is a registered non-profit, all donations are tax deductible.
La Virgen Asuncion Food Bank
If you are looking for Sharon Helgason and the Canadians (and other expats too), you have come to the right place. This food bank is also known simply as the Chicxulub Food Bank, but feeding those in need is only a part of what they do. Here, individuals and families in need receive everything from vitamins to clothes and shoes. Their services to families in need are explained so well on their website that we urge everyone to visit the website of the Chicxulub Food Bank to learn more about this beloved organization and what you can do to help. If you like, you can also call in Mexico (969) 934-0558 or e-mail shelgason [at] hotmail [dot] com.
The Food Bank of Merida, A.C.
A privately funded food bank, the Food Bank of Merida goes the second mile in community service by helping to support the food needs of over 9,000 individuals, including those in a number of nursing homes. Their address is Calle 11 #316, Fracc. I Santa Gertrudis Copo, Merida, Yucatan, C.P. 97305. Phone (with area code): (01-999) 913-8135 or 913-8130. The Director’s name is Maria Elizabeth Vázquez Adame and you can email her at direccion [at] bamac [dot] com [dot] mx
Chuburna Puerto Free English School
This is the 6th year of operation for the Chuburna Puerto Free English School. The director is Sunny Snow, who has organized and carried out more than a few projects in the Chuburna area. The Chuburna Puerto Free English School is thanking everyone who has made donations of school supplies for the students, who range in age from 8 to 58! The Chuburna Puerto Free English school also teaches cultural topics and holds a variety of events to give students a taste of what holidays in the USA and Canada are like. The school is happy to report that they are completely full and open enrollment will take place again next Fall. To contact the school, please go to www.Yolisto.com and send a PM (private message) to Nubinskis.
Merida Verde is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to work with people in the City of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, to improve the quality of life and preserve their environment. Merida Verde is a group of about 200 volunteers, both expats and local residents, who have volunteered for the following task forces: Climate Change, Composting, Dengue Fever Prevention, Organization of Earth Day, Recycling, Burning Garbage, dealing with plastic bags and PET bottles, Cycling instead of Driving, Green Buildings and Urban Tree Planting. If you would like to help, contact julieh [dot] hoover [at] gmail [dot] com
Artistas De La Playa
Artistas de la Playa is a group of approximately 40 artists who live in the beach communities along the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only is their work available for purchase, but the entire beach community benefits from their encouragement of artistic activities, especially among the children in the area. As you can imagine, Artistas de la Playa is always in need of a few supplies. The list includes yogurt containers with lids, string, beads, buttons, crayons, markers, pencils and erasers, recycled paper of all kinds, paper towels, tape, scissors for children, cardboard paper rolls, watercolors, acrylics, just about anything they can make art with, and any old tables and chairs you might have to donate. The group offers free art classes in both Chelem and Chuburna on a weekly basis. The classes are important to the children and they are important to the development of the fabric of life in the beach communities. Contact Ginnie LaRoi at (999) 144-4792 for more information or to make a donation.
Protección de Perros y Gatos de Progreso
This is the protective animal welfare organization for the area in and around Progreso. Anybody and everybody is welcome to join this group but they should know that all business meetings are conducted entirely en español. Donations toward the building fund can be made in USD or pesos only (no Canadian funds… sorry!) and should be payable to: Protección de Perros y Gatos A.C. and mailed to P.O. Box 30, Progreso, 97320, Yucatán, México. This is a hardworking, community-minded group that also contributes support to other animal rescue organizations. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities here… attend a session (details below) to find out what you can do to help.
Location: Flamingo’s Restaurant on the Malecon in Progreso
Dates and Time: All Last Mondays, 8:00 PM
Admission: Free but BYOD (buy your own dinner)
This is probably the most visible of all the animal welfare groups in Yucatan on the internet, which is a testament to the involvement of the local expatriates who have taken it under their wing and publicized it so much. Evolución is not only an animal shelter, but is also one of the driving forces behind the annual spay/neuter clinic, along with Planned Pethood, AFAD and Y.A.P.A. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at Evolución. You can adopt a dog, foster a dog, or even go in and walk a dog. To learn more about this organization and how you can help, please visit the Evolucion A.C. website.
Y.A.P.A. (Yucatan Ayuda para Animales) of Merida
This is an English-speaking group whose mission is to function as a support and resource group to aid the several Merida animal rescue and care centers. They are currently helping AFAD and Evolución. YAPA assists at spay/neuter clinics, helps promote education about animal care and carries out general volunteer services. Visit the YAPA website to learn more about how you can help.
AFAD (Albergue Franciscano del Animal Desprotegido, A.C.)
AFAD has animal rescue and adoption programs, and works hard to promote a culture of respect for animals through continuing education and health campaigns among the local population of Merida. AFAD needs volunteers to help clean cages and dog runs, as well as walking and feeding dogs, on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 AM until 2:00 PM. They also need volunteer rescuers and volunteers to help potential adoptive families through the adoption process. Visit the AFAD website to learn more about how you can help and to contact them.
Pet Bird Sanctuary
If anyone needs a forever home for a pet bird, any breed or size, there is a very kind expat couple, Sunny and Hank, who will take them in. They have indoor parrots and outside aviaries. They also have a relationship with the state’s wildlife vet for exotic birds. As you can well imagine, they will also be happy to take any used bird cages off your hands. To contact them, go to Yolisto and send a PM (private message) to Nubinskis. If you are not a Yolisto member, now is the time to join the conversation at www.yolisto.com.
UNASSE, founded in 1987, stands for Unidad de Atencion Psicologica, Sexologica y Educativa. That’s a mouthful! It means a place for psychological, sexual and educational attention. No, the letters don’t match the name and we are not sure why. Ni modo. This is a place in Merida that provides services to women and their children who might be in danger because of domestic violence. They give legal support, health care and psychological treatment to those who request it and everything is free. They accept both volunteers and donations. We investigated and they indicated that it’s fine if the volunteer only speaks English but they must know that most people there speak only Spanish.
Offices: Calle 47 No. 487 por 54 y 56 (Santa Ana), Merida
Impulsur: Hands United to Support the South of Merida
ImpulSur is a project supported by the Fundación Plan Estratégico de Yucatán, A.C., through Grupo de Impulsion del Sur (GIS), an organization that supports the efforts and creativity of women living in the south of Merida. This area includes the colonias of Emiliano Zapata Sur I, II, III, San Antonio Xluch and others. We investigated and they indicated that it’s fine if the volunteer only speaks English but they must know that most people there speak only Spanish.
Offices: Calle 21 Ave. Colón N. 197-A por 18 y 16 Col. García Ginerés , Merida
Telo: (999) 925- 2277 Website:
Santa in Chelem
Yes, Santa does come to the beach in Yucatan… and he brings toys for over 800 children who might not otherwise know the joy of receiving a present. This project is funded by bingo nights and generous donations from Santa’s elves who have retired to the beach on the Yucatan Gulf Coast. If you would like to see pictures of Christmases past, visit the Chelem Christmas Dreams blog, where you will also find ways to become part of this most worthy project. You can also contact them via email at chelemchristmasdreams [at] gmail [dot] com
These are the volunteer opportunities that we are aware of in the Merida and Progreso areas. We would like to expand this list as much as possible, and would like to include other areas on the Peninsula. If you know of any worthy and legitimate organizations that accept volunteers, we would love to hear about them. Please either leave a comment on this article or email us at info [at] yucatanliving [dot] com with your information. Thank you!!