This is our first official day of work although Larry and Karen started the preparation months ago. Our mission is to create specially designed items to help a family with children with disabilities, Vida Abundante—a church without a building, the NUAFA child care center, and CAM—a public school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Our projects range from constructing adaptive physical therapy aids of wood painted with marine varnish (to protect it from the incredibly humid climate) to creating communication tools to help nonprofit organizations’ outreach efforts.
We’re working in an airy bodega (garage) courtesy of Villas Diamond K. Ilene, co-host of this mission trip, says “It’s a blessing because without this space, we’d be soaked in seconds—or fighting sunburn.”
The idea for the mission trip formed a couple of years ago when Karen, another co-host of our group, took some island visitors to the CAM school to present a donation of child-sized walkers. They saw a child stand for the first time, using the new walker. Hours of conversations in the following months led
to the idea of creating bigger groups of volunteers so that more could be accomplished.
“I do this because even little things we do can be life changing for children, making their quality of life so much better,” says Ilene. “And they are always so appreciative.”
For example, we’ll make a specially designed table for a little boy who uses a child-sized wheelchair. The table will make it possible for him to do school work along with the other children at the CAM school and practice motor skills.
“The kinds of things we’re building are things they can’t get here,” says Karen. “There is nowhere to order physical therapy aids like parallel bars. There’s no way to get it here, so they do without.”
Doing without is a way of life for many families in Cozumel. But I’m always amazed to see how happy people are here. Perhaps it’s a very good thing to lack the element of consumerism that causes so many of us to want the newest, biggest, most expensive fill-in-the-blank we can buy.
Seeing that for myself every time I come to Cozumel sends a strong message that would make U.S. retailers cringe. Donating what I would normally spend on one non-essential item at the grocery or discount store has the potential to change the way of life for a family in Cozumel. Do I really need another pair of shoes? Shouldn’t we all be giving back to the communities where we spend time?
Karen explained to us that the whole idea around Friends of Cozumel is to provide resources and opportunities for children and families to become self-sustaining. “Our purpose is not to just provide donations,” says Karen. “If we provide all they need, they don’t learn to become self-sustaining. That’s our goal—to help families become self-sustaining.”
So far, so good. Our hopes and energy are high. The sawdust in my hair and grey primer under my fingernails just doesn’t matter.
“I’ve lived here a little more than five years and I see so many people in need,” says Sandy, a local volunteer who was also involved in nonprofit work when living in the U.S. “This is a way to give them a little bit of hope so they can go on from there.”
More to come.–Phyllis