Thursday, 25 of August of 2016

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It Takes a Village to Create a Bazar – Mon. August 1, 2016

BazarCrowdAfter our five days of school supply distribution were completed, we turned our attention to holding the Gran Bazar. This is a large outdoor sale, similar to what we might call a garage sale in the U.S. It allows us to give families access to very affordable items while generating funding for FOC efforts such as scholarships and the school supply project.

 

Pastora Mariela of Vida Abundate chuch where the sale was held, gives instructions to shoppers and volunteers.

Pastora Mariela of Vida Abundate chuch where the sale was held, gives instructions to shoppers and volunteers.

The bazar was scheduled for just three hours, but it takes hundreds of hours of preparation. Donations gathered throughout the previous months, were sorted and individually priced by volunteers. The goods ranged from gently used clothing, shoes and household items, to new items that are often purchased at clearance sales and given to Friends of Cozumel.

 

Families lined up nearly an hour in advance of the bazar, ignoring the blazing sun. Once the gates opened, people streamed in, hurrying to grab the items they needed most. More than 350 attended this bazar, many using 20-peso coupons (about $1.15 US) received during the school supply distribution.

Antonia found footwear for the many children in her household.

Antonia found footwear for the many children in her household.

 

Here’s just a taste of what a Gran Bazar is like. MOV05143

 

Thanks to all the donors and volunteers who helped make this a very successful event. It takes a village. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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The Next Generation – Mon. August 1, 2016

Local and visiting volunteers work together.

Local and visiting volunteers work together.

After our final day of school supply distribution, we’ve met our goal of helping 500 students. Increasing our reach by more than 30% in one year wouldn’t have been possible without the help of people like Cinthia, Alex, Blanca, Jefte, Sami, Nuria and Perla. These young adults are FOC scholarship recipients, and the next generation of community leaders.

 

A bit of history: When we first began, FOC was simply a few family members and friends who created small community service projects on their own. The scope of our work grew year by year and generated interest in volunteerism from other island visitors. We soon realized that having visitors and local residents working side-by-side was a win-win situation. Not only were we more productive using knowledge only “locals” could provide, involvement of residents helped develop personal leadership skills that would benefit the community as well.

 

Blanca

Blanca

Alex (left)

Alex (left)

Perla (right)

Perla (right)

 

 

 

 

 

Now a cadre of young leaders are helping with Friends of Cozumel’s work—and thinking of new ways to help the community, too.

 

Cinthia1

Cinthia (left)

Jefte

Jefte

Perla, Jefte and Sami are doing well in their high school courses. Blanca has graduated—the first in her family to do so. Nuria has completed her schooling on the island and is now in medical school on the mainland. Alex has graduated from high school, but continues to take intensive English classes. He is also training for increased responsibility at his job in a large hotel. And 16-year old Cinthia who has several scholarships for academic success, loves school. She is first in her family to continue her education and looks forward to the three additional years of education needed to become an accountant.

 

“Me encanta,” she said. “I love it.”

 

Nura (left)

Nuria (left)

The FOC scholarship recipients were invited to help with school supply distribution—a good opportunity for English practice with other volunteers.

 

“It’s beautiful to help so many people,” said Cinthia in English. “The experience was a 10.”

 

Sami (right)

Sami (right)

Having this group help out made the five-day distribution process go smoothly. It’s not hard to imagine them as the next generation of leaders. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Game-changers — Sat., July 30, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.30.28 PMAfter day 3 of school supply distribution, 338 children have new backpacks, learning materials and shoes for school. Receiving support for their education will likely be a game-changer for them.

 

GlassesInventoryBut there are others who are receiving only one important item from Friends of Cozumel’s distribution. And that item may be life-changing for them as well. They didn’t have to meet any qualifications. They simply had to wait in line to be fitted with a pair of simple magnifier eyeglasses—the inexpensive kind you can find in most discount stores.

 

GlassesTestThe first day of our distribution, only 18 people ventured into the room where volunteers had samples of various print sizes and an inventory of glasses from +1.00 to +3.50. People were tested to see if they needed reading glasses and which strength worked best for them. Once word got out that these people could now see print clearly with the help of new reading glasses, a line formed outside the door. Nearly 100 people needing help with their vision have showed up so far on our subsequent days of distribution.

 

One man in is early 40’s said he had never worn glasses before. He was all smiles as he discovered he could now read things that had always been a blur to him.

 

“Muchisimas gracias,” he said. “Now I will be able to read my Bible.”

 

The glasses were all donated—many of them purchased at a discount store where you can find all sorts of things for a dollar. Just a dollar for a life-changing act of charity. Kind of a bargain, don’t you think? Keep those acts of kindness coming, Friends of Cozumel supporters. We’ll do our best to connect with people in need of game-changing support. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Backpacks Filled with Pencils, Paper and Opportunity — Fri. July 29, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.03.58 PMDay two of school supply distribution brought more long lines of families needing help to send their children to school. It’s easy to see why school supplies are cost-prohibitive for some families. Purchasing just one set of the materials required by schools could easily cost $500 pesos—more than a typical week’s salary for a laborer.

 

Pastora Mariela (right) helped identify families in need and check them in..

Pastora Mariela (right) helped identify families in need and check them in.

Volunteers packaged the supplies needed by each grade level.

Volunteers packaged the supplies needed by each grade level.

Community leaders such as church pastors recommend names of families with financial need to Friends of Cozumel. After being checked in on the list of selected families, students picked our their “mochila” or backpack, choosing from a variety of action characters, sparkling Barbie and animal themes, to the more basic ones favored by older students. Then volunteers packed the mochila with the specific supplies required for the student’s grade level: pens, pencils, erasers, markers, glue, scissors, spiral bound notebooks, loose leaf paper, two-pocket folders, ruler, protractor, calculator and Spanish/English dictionary.

 

The backpack is almost bigger than she is, but she loved it.

The backpack is almost bigger than she is, but she loved it.

The students were proud of their new backpacks and each said thank you in their own way—sometimes a shy smile, or a whispered “gracias.”

 

“Here’s what I’m excited about,” said Larry, one of the Friends of Cozumel leaders. “In the past, about 65% of what we distributed went to children in the primary grades. But now 65% is going to students in secondary and higher grades. More kids are continuing their education. That’s exactly what we hoped to see happen.”

 

This backpack is filled with materials required by her school.

This backpack is filled with materials required by her school.

In the past, Mexican law required parents to send their children to school only until grade six. But in 2012, regulations were changed, making education compulsory through high school. Some say the requirement is rarely enforced on the island and many children drop out of school for financial reasons.

 

If you’d like to help, now is the time to find sales on school supplies, especially in U.S. stores. Bring donations to the island yourself for a wonderful tropical experience, or find someone else who might be visiting Cozumel for a vacation. FOC volunteers will be happy to help you connect with a drop-off point.

 

The team of FOC and local volunteers worked with more than 100 students on day 2 of distribution.

The team of FOC and local volunteers worked with more than 100 students on day 2 of distribution.

Friends of Cozumel hopes to support the education of around 500 children this year and so far, we’ve served 233 children in two of our five days of distribution. Thanks to our generous donors, each child received a backpack of opportunity, ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Where They Go & Where They’ve Been — Thurs. July 28, 2016

In the movie Forest Gump, the main character says “Momma always says you can tell an awful lot about a person by their shoes: where they go, where they’ve been…”

 

Each child's foot was measured for a pair of school shoes.

Each child was measured for a pair of school shoes.

Consider the shoes of the children we’ve met in the last couple of days. Many have only well worn flip-flops or hand-me-down sandals that may be two sizes too big—or too small. Their shoes show they’ve been playing in the streets, helping out at home, or maybe on a rare trip to the beach. But it’s a safe bet that this footwear hasn’t been worn in school where students are required to have a pair of athletic shoes.

 

Unfortunately, the cost of required shoes and learning supplies is enough to keep many children from attending school. Prices are significant to families with limited resources and many simply have to make the choice between food and nonessential items.

 

 

Families waited patiently to have their name checked by local volunteer Nuria.

Families waited patiently to be checked in by local volunteer Nuria.

ShoeNuriIleneFit

Nuria (left) translates for Ilene (right) to make sure the fit is just right.

That’s where Friends of Cozumel volunteers and donors are helping out. Distribution of donated new and gently used athletic shoes began yesterday and will continue for several days.

 

Our goal is to fit shoes on each and every individual on the list of qualified families in need. Last year we were able to help more than 300 children. This year, the number of children on the list is nearly 500, so donations of shoes are always needed.

 

Alex was pleased with his "cafe and plata" colored shoes.

Alex loves his “cafe and plata” colored shoes.

Brittanny from Texas is a first-time volunteer. She delighted in working with the children—even when a precocious middle-school student named Alex corrected her pronunciation of the Spanish words for “stand up” and “is it too tight?”

 

In the end, we could tell an awful lot about these young people who held tightly to their new shoes. They smiled proudly; many said “muchas gracias” while others ventured a try at English with a shy “thank you.” And we learned a little more about where they’ll be going: to school and towards opportunity. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

 

ShoeFitRita

Rita (right) is a returning FOC volunteer.

ShoeDeeLisaGirl

Deanne (left) and Lisa (right) are also returning volunteers.

ShoeSmile1

She couldn’t have been happier with her new shoes.


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Ready, Set, Sweat (and smile). — Wed. July 26, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.12.41 PMIt’s hot and humid here in Cozumel, but that hasn’t dampened the volunteers’ enthusiasm for Friends of Cozumel’s summer mission work. The group gathered for recently an orientation meeting and activities will kick off later today.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.14.23 PMThis summer’s work will have three priorities:

     • Distribute donated school supplies and shoes, providing children from families of limited resources the materials they need to attend school.

     • Distribute donated reading glasses.

     • Conduct a Gran Bazar to give families access to affordable clothing and household items while raising funds to support FOC projects.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 3.15.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.29.18 PMAbout 25 Friends of Cozumel volunteers will join 10 local volunteers to carry out these priorities. Stay tuned for updates on how our work is going. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Reflections of Winter Mission 2016 – March 19, 2016

Whew!  The “official” dates this year were February 24 thru March 4.   It’s now March 19th and there are still lingering items to finish.

  • Two tables that were constructed still need coats of varnish to protect them
  • Two therapy games for the CAM school need final pictures and painting
  • Final installation of the water purification systems needs to be completed
  • Clothing not sold in the latest bazar requires sorting, repricing and storing

There are other assorted “to dos” on our list but these are the primary ones that stick out in my mind at the time of this writing.   Even though some work remains, a HUGE amount was completed and all who participated felt very pleased with what was accomplished.  Just to highlight a few of them. . .

  • 41 teens and adults participated in the learn to sew workshops and made themselves zippered bags and skirts.
  • 24 teens and adults participated in the repurposing workshop, making useful items for their homes.
  • 17 teens and adults participated in the learn to snorkel program, many of them overcoming a fear of the ocean.
  • 11 water purification systems were built and are being put into use, saving families money that otherwise would be spent to purchase bottled water.
  • Ministry activities included prison baptisms, a special film showing, music, and many opportunities to share special messages.

Personally, I think the greatest part about these projects was that they weren’t about a group of people coming in and building something for others and then leaving.   Rather, we worked alongside the local people with them doing a lot of the work (and frequently learning from it).   They finished projects with pride as they had been directly involved in the process.   That made it even more worthwhile.

I could go on with more “highlights” but perhaps it’s easier if you sit back and enjoy the 12 minute video we put together sharing the activities of this year’s winter mission projects.   Just press HERE to see the video.  Enjoy!

 


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Why Choose Work Over Diving?–Sat. March 5, 2016

ServDay2sawBlueShirts ServDayGreenGuy ServDay2inPlantsIt wasn’t too hard of a choice: another day of world class diving or getting hot, sweaty and filthy doing a service project. Seventeen members of the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization gave up their underwater paradise to volunteer with Friends of Cozumel for a service day at Vida Abundante Church.

 

The backs of their paint-spattered shirts read “Scuba missions: two purposes, one trip.” Some of the shirts had seen more wear than others from Friends of Cozumel project work two years ago.

 

Bill (left) served as the WCSDO group leader.

Bill (left) served as the WCSDO group leader.

“We’ve traveled to other places such as Honduras, Bonaire, the Bahamas,” said Bill, the WCSDO group leader. “This established partnership with Friends of Cozumel is working well for us. The project work has been so organized—a real blessing.”

 

Members of the WCSDO come from all over the U.S., bringing an array of talents and a willingness to help others. The service day included repair and construction work at Vida Abundante Church. The church uses an open-air structure they’ve been adding to a little at a time.

 

Denny and Heather of Texas are committed volunteers.

Denny and Heather of Texas are committed volunteers.

“We came two years ago and wanted to return because we fell in love with this church,” said Heather who traveled from Texas with her husband Denny who also volunteered. “I love that the pastors go out into the community to help people meet their needs.”

 

Mary Jo from Colorado has seen changes in the church since her first visit two years ago. “I came back because there’s great continuity in seeing progress. That’s hard to do in short mission trips. It’s great to invest in the people here to take it to the next level.”

Emile, Mary Jo (center) and Jan didn't mind getting a bit dirty in their work.

Emile, Mary Jo (center) and Jan didn’t mind getting a bit dirty in their work.

 

The pastors, church member volunteers and WCSDO as well as FOC volunteers worked side by side. At the close of the service day they sat together and shared their thoughts.

Pastor Salomon (center) explains the goals of Vida Abundante.

Pastor Salomon (center) explains the goals of Vida Abundante.

 

“All of our efforts together have an impact on our community,” said Pastor Salomon through a translator. “You are all in our hearts. We are all on the same team.”

 

“It’s a powerful experience for this close-knit group,” said Bill from the WCSDO group. “They love to serve.”

 

~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Service Day photos of volunteer partners from FOC, WCSDO and VA Church.

ServDayBlueShirt ServDayByronBill ServDayKidsStamp  ServDayKristinSarahPlant2 ServDayOrient ServDayPLboot ServDaySandChair ServDay3CrewChairs


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You Get More Than You Give–Fri. March 4, 2016

 

 

Marian (right) helped with the sewing workshop.

Marian (right) helped with the sewing workshop.

Its only cost is your time, but first-timers and veterans agree: volunteering for Friends of Cozumel projects makes you feel good. Whether you’re here for just a few hours on a cruise shore stop or a longer visit , opportunities are available to meet island residents, share your skills and make a difference that you won’t soon forget.

 

Rick helped a proud participant complete a project.

Rick helped a proud participant complete a recycling project.

Rick and Darla from New York volunteered for half a day while their cruise ship stopped in Cozumel. Darla helped with sewing and Rick jumped into the recycling workshop at the senior center. Spanish wasn’t needed—just patience and good humor. They said this was the best shore excursion they’d ever been on—and it was free. “Thank you for sharing your passion with us,” wrote Darla after their departure. “We had a great time and certainly have a deep admiration for all the hard work you do.

 

Kristin (right), Larry and Loke pack donations for the Gran Bazar.

Kristin (right), Larry and Loke pack Bazar donations.

Kristin from North Carolina, a long-time Friends of Cozumel volunteer and donor, helped with the entire mission week including a Learn To Snorkel class. “It was incredibly moving to know that a child lives so close to the beach yet has not experienced life under the sea,” she said. “To watch their first time experience of fear of swimming turned to joy at seeing the colorful fish was priceless.”

 

Chris (upper right) and Ilene (left) help seniors learn to sew.

Chris (upper right) and Ilene (left) help seniors learn to sew.

Ilene, a long-time volunteer and  FOC organize visits several times a year from Texas. “Volunteering in Cozumel is like resetting my clock. It reminds me of just how blessed I am, no matter what circumstances I have been through. I have never met a group of people who appreciate more. Each year brings new and exciting opportunities to share our knowledge with people who are so eager to learn and to improve their situation.”

 

The CREW team (back row L to R) includes Dee, Anna, Sara and Deanne.

The CREW team (back row L to R) includes Dee, Anna, Sara and Deanne.

First time volunteer Anna from Delaware took part in the CREW team’s ministry activities at the prison. “It was an amazing day at the prison today—baptisms, worship, prayers with women and men. The beauty of it all was overwhelming.”

 

 

Larry helps with the senior center recycling workshop.

Larry helps with the senior center recycling workshop.

Larry, a Friends of Cozumel organizer and long-time volunteer from Iowa, now lives in Cozumel. “It was great to see 14 people being so receptive to our ideas at the senior center re-purposing workshop. The majority of the participants were women and many had an initial reluctance to use some of the tools, especially the cordless drills. But, with just a little encouragement they were ready and willing to learn to use them. Soon, they were changing bits and driving in screws as if they’d been doing it forever. The pride they exhibited when the projects were finished was fantastic. When I explained to one woman that we unfortunately were out of materials to make a certain project she told me ‘It’s Ok. You’ve given me the idea and now I can find my own materials and make it myself.’ That’s exactly what our goal was—to open their eyes to possibilities to re-purpose items for their home. Of course, they all wanted to know when the next workshop will be. We’ve learned that adults are just as eager to learn as the children.”

Seniors were proud of their recycling projects.

Seniors were proud of their recycling projects.

 

Larry speaks for many of us helping with FOC projects who feel you often get more than you give. “The beautiful thing about doing volunteer projects like this is that the reward always goes two ways,” he said. “Participants benefit with the finished product, whether it’s a material item, a new experience or learning something. And those who help gain a greater insight through volunteering.”

 

Hans (center) helped translate for several workshops.

Hans (center) helped translate for several workshops.

Ilene agrees. “We all get a reality check and realize just how blessed we are not only by what we have and where we live, but through the opportunities to share. Byron and I don’t have a lot of resources, but the little we have been able to share has been such an incredible blessing for us. I have never in my whole life received so many hugs and kisses from people I don’t know, and I love it!” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Water Everywhere, But Not to Drink—Wed. March 2, 2016

SnorkUnderwater

 

You’ll see water everywhere in Cozumel—in the surrounding crystal clear seas, in hotel pools or falling in sheets from the rainy season clouds. But having enough water for drinking and cooking is an essential challenge for families with limited resources.

WaterJug

Tap water cannot be safely consumed in Cozumel so most people purchase 5-gallon jugs for about a dollar’s worth of pesos. What seems like a reasonable cost to many of us may be beyond the reach of families with limited resources.

 

Friends of Cozumel organizers came up with a plan: find a way for families to make their own purified water on an ongoing basis–and then teach them how to do it.

Bryon, Keith and Larry prepared materials prior to the workshop.

Bryon, Keith and Larry prepared materials prior to the workshop.

 

Thanks to a donation of 15 filters by Roy of the Texas Baptist Men’s organization, Friends of Cozumel was able to purchase the other needed supplies needed for the purification system. Two workshops were offered to families during this mission week, allowing them to learn about the system and then create one for their own homes. 

 

The filtration system is relatively simple. One new, five-gallon plastic bucket sits atop a second. Tap water is poured into the top bucket that has a filter inside about the size of a softball. (Filters last about 12-18 months before replacement is needed.) The filtered water feeds into a hose that connects to a second bucket that has a spigot at the bottom. The finished, two-bucket stack sits atop a wood stand built by workshop participants.

WaterPastors

Pastors Salomon and Mariela are happy to have for affordable access to drinking water.

 

One of the larger families that received a purification system has been purchasing two large bottles of purified water daily. This amounts to a cost of approximately 150 pesos weekly or 600 pesos monthly. Minimum wage is just 70 pesos per day ($3.93 US with the current exchange rate), so their drinking water is costing more than two day’s wages. Having their own filtration system will be a significant savings for this family.

Blanca and friend learn about the 2-bucket system.

Blanca and friend learn about the 2-bucket system.

 

“It’s wonderful to be able to help a family in this way” said Larry, an FOC organizer and Cozumel resident. “We’ve known Miriam and her kids for a number of years. We love being able to help them stretch their household budget.”

 

If you’d like to help more families create their own home filtration systems, please designate your donation to the Clean Water project. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Change is a Process. Your T-Shirt Can Help—Tues. March 1, 2016

TshirtGraphic

 

Can a t-shirt change a life? Yes it can.

Think of it in this simplified way. Friends of Cozumel helps families in need become more self-sustaining by connecting those with resources to those who need them. Let’s say your resource is a new or gently used t-shirt that you’re willing to donate.

Karen, Sandy and Kristin prepare items to sell at the Gran Bazar.

Karen, Sandy and Kristin prepare Bazar items.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers prepare it to be sold at an outdoor Gran Bazar. The prices are super low, allowing people in need to acquire quality clothing, shoes and household goods they couldn’t otherwise afford. Shoppers pay a few pesos in exchange for your t-shirt. The proceeds then support FOC’s educational projects such as recycling, sewing and water purification workshops. New skills are learned and as a result, participating families become more self-sufficient.

 

 

Sandy and Rita stack crates of Bazar items.

Sandy and Rita stack crates of Bazar items.

Local volunteer Elena (right) taught workshop participants to make tote bags.

Elena (right) learned to sew and now helps teach.

Elena is just one example of someone who has benefited from this process. She attended a workshop, learned a skill and began her own home-based business. Now she is the teacher at sewing workshops rather than the student. She also volunteers to help with FOC projects such as the Gran Bazars held two or three times a year.

 

Gran Bazar before shoppers arrive.

Gran Bazar before shoppers arrive.

Gran Bazar after shoppers arrive.

Gran Bazar after shoppers arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week’s Gran Bazar was a bit different than usual. A mountain of donations were prepared and hauled to Vida Abundante Church. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Then the clouds gathered and the rain came, keeping many shoppers away.

 

Luckily, FOC organizers who live on the island had a back-up plan in place. The promotional notices prepared by Karen and Larry already included a rain date. Part 2 of the Gran Bazar took place the following Monday. Shoppers showed up; t-shirts and many, many other items were sold.

 

Families with limited resources love to shop the Gran Bazar.

Families with limited resources love to shop the Gran Bazar.

The process is continuing to work. That donated t-shirt has a new life, helping a family in more ways than one. If you’d like to contribute new or gently used clothing, shoes or household items and bring them to the island on your next visit, please contact us.  ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

This smile says it all. Thanks for your help.

This smile says it all. Thanks for your help.

 

 

 


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It’s Awesome Down There–Monday, Feb. 29, 2016

Salomon and Mariela learned to snorkel with FOC volunteers.

Salomon and Mariela learned to snorkel with FOC volunteers.

Larry (right) translates as Heather (left) explains equipment use.

Larry (right) translates as Heather (left) explains equipment use.

It’s hard to imagine living near Cozumel’s clear blue water and never seeing the rainbow of fish and coral that live beneath the surface. After all, the island economy depends on the visitors who come specifically for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing. But many Cozumel residents don’t know how to swim or lack the equipment and opportunity to learn how to enjoy the sea that surrounds their home.

Seven adults worked with experienced volunteers yesterday to practice snorkeling at Sunset Beach. The lack of swimsuits didn’t bother them. Even those with a fear of the water gave it a try.

Heather and Denny from the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization were among the Friends of Cozumel volunteers who provided an orientation to the equipment, discussed techniques and then partnered one-on-one with the snorkelers.

Karen (right) worked with first-time snorkeler Rosa.

Karen (right) worked with first-time snorkeler Rosa.

Ever since the donations of snorkeling equipment from the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and Cozumel Scuba Repair in early 2015, Friends of Cozumel has been providing Learn To Snorkel opportunities. This ongoing educational effort has delighted both adults and children who would otherwise never see the sea life that draws so many visitors to their island.

Gabi (left) was assisted by Luis. "He was a good teacher," she said.

Gabi (left) was assisted by Luis. “He was a good teacher,” she said.

“It’s incredible,” said Gabi. “I was afraid at first, but now I’m not.” (translated)

Rosa agreed. “I was a little afraid because I didn’t know if I could do it,” she said. “It was pretty easy. It was the first time my feet left the ocean floor because I don’t know how to swim. I saw beautiful fish—my first time to see fish below the water instead of from the surface.” (translated)

Pastor Salomon of Vida Abundante Church summarized the sentiments of the entire group. “How do you say ‘Awesome’ in English?” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

Apprehension turned to smiles after the snorkeling experience.

Apprehension turned to smiles after the FOC snorkeling experience.


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Treasures Wait to be Discovered–Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016

Gary explains that found objects like this bread tray can be re-purposed.

Gary explains that items like this discarded bread tray can be re-purposed.

 

Girls like power tools, too.

Girls like power tools, too.

I found myself pulling items out of someone else’s trash container the other day thinking “Hey—who threw this away? We could make this into something else.”

Putting together a repurposing workshop for Cozumel residents has turned me from a typical recycler to treasure hunter.

The workshop goal was to help low income families learn to create solutions to their needs on a very limited budget. Volunteers encouraged about a dozen young men and women participants to look around, see what’s available and then imagine how to repurpose those items.

The FOC volunteers provide tools and a pile of disassembled pallet pieces, stalks from bamboo and palm trees, rusted nails, pipe conduit holders, pieces of mirror, zip ties, nearly empty cans

2 boys share tools and advice on the mirror project.

Both tools and advice were shared.

of stain—stuff you might find in the trash. Then they showed an example of how to turn those things into something not easily purchased by families in need.

FOC's Kristin is reflected in a completed mirror.

FOC’s Kristin is reflected in a completed mirror.

After some basic instructions, the construction frenzy began. There were teen girls who had never before used an electric drill, a young mother who showed her daughter how to wield a hammer, and the teen guys who patiently shared a handsaw with each other.

Each team ended up with something they were proud to take home to their families—a bamboo-framed mirror for the bathroom, complete with towel hooks and a drinking cup holder. Voila! The trash was turned into an artistic yet functional home furnishing.

Perla is happy to have a place to store her family's toothbrushes.

Perla is happy to have a place to store her family’s toothbrushes.

Another workshop held simultaneously at the same location, taught participants to sew a simple skirt out of donated or recycled fabric. Friends of Cozumel provided several sewing machines, the needed supplies, and patient instructors who led nearly 20 beginning seamstresses through the steps.

Vida Abundante Church provided space for both workshops.

Vida Abundante Church provided space for both workshops.

Of course participants from the two workshops were happy to have a new skirt or new bathroom mirror. But the real value was learning how to envision making something out of nothing. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

SewVA4skirtsSewVApinkIlene


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Donation Drop Offs Appreciated–Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016

Thanks to the George Family who dropped off donations during their brief visit to Cozumel.

Thanks to the George family and so many others who drop off donations during visits to Cozumel.

Donors have been so dedicated with their support of Friends of Cozumel’s school supply effort and our partnership with Operation Cozumel Backpack/Shoes.

We’re grateful for generous souls like the George family and dozens of others who take time during brief cruise stops to bring a backpack of supplies to a drop-off point. They bring many of the specific supplies Cozumel schools require students to bring. See the list here.

But sometimes, donors include a few special items that don’t fit the standard list of learning materials. What happens to those extra notebooks, crayons and craft items? They certainly don’t go to waste—and they are very much appreciated by the young students served at the CAM (Centro de Atencion Multiple ) School. This school for children with mental or physical disabilities has more flexibility in using supplies that don’t meet the criterion of other public schools. Green ink pens? No problem. Pencil sharpeners that play a tune? The CAM School students love them.

The CAM School serves children with disabilities.

The CAM School serves children with disabilities.

“We’re so fortunate to be able to send our kids to school with no worries on how we will pay for their education and supplies,” said Natalie George who visited Cozumel in February with her family. “It’s fun to involve our girls, a six year old and 17 year old. And it’s rewarding to be able to help in a way that’s so valuable and appreciated.”

CAM School Administrators review the donations with Karen (left).

CAM administrators review donations with Karen (left).

Friends of Cozumel volunteers got to see that appreciation first hand when they visited the CAM School to deliver crates of school supply donations. They met students and teachers who were thrilled with the surprise of fresh supplies of construction paper, composition books, glue-sticks, pencils, erasers and backpacks.

Like CAM Laboral, the CAM School for younger students doesn’t receive government funding for any school supplies or teaching materials. Families are asked to provide what’s needed—everything from writing paper to toilet paper. According to the school director, only 10 of the 73 families served have been able to make contributions that ranged $20 to $100 pesos (about $1.20 to $5.50 US).

CAM teachers identified the children from families with the greatest need to receive the most recent Friends of Cozumel donations. The students were all smiles. One offered up an English word of thanks. “Wow,” she said when she saw her brightly colored backpack. The teachers were also pleased when each received an identical, high quality executive pen—all contributed by an anonymous donor.

"Wow," she said.

Her reaction? “Wow.”

Before the FOC volunteers departed, they took a look at classrooms they helped renovate in 2008. The rooms were clean, organized and well-used.

Students and teachers at CAM appreciate the support of donors.

Students and teachers at CAM truly appreciate the support of donors.

Thank you to the hundreds of donors who make it possible for the CAM School to continue its work. If you’ll be visiting Cozumel in the future and could accommodate a few donations in your luggage, please contact us. If you bring then, we’ll put them into the hands of children in need. Muchas gracias. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

 

 

 


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Never Too Old to Learn—Friday, Feb. 26, 2016

FOC volunteers helped participants learn to use a sewing machine.

FOC volunteers helped participants learn to use a sewing machine.

Imagine using an electric sewing machine for the first time—at age 60 or 70 or better. Vitalia, Ramona, Celia, Elsy, Brillante, Maria Esther and their friends couldn’t have been more pleased. Twenty-three women participated in the Friends of Cozumel sewing workshop held in a local senior center. They were happy to wait their turn to share the sewing machines.

“I wasn’t afraid,” said Maria Esther, a Cozumel resident. “My teacher was very good, very patient, so I learned how to do it. I wish we could always have a machine here.”

She went on to explain that clothing is expensive for her in Cozumel. “I am very fat, so it’s not easy to find my size,” she joked. “Now I think I could make something myself.”

Workshop participants showed no hesitation to learn a new skill.

Workshop participants showed no hesitation to learn a new skill.

The sewing workshop at the Centro de Adulto Mayores is a new partnership for Friends of Cozumel. The volunteers found participants to be enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity—giving kisses of thanks as they finished their projects. Today’s class was on how to make a zippered bag while the next class will teach how to make a skirt.

A simple zippered bag was a good project for those just learning to use a sewing machine.

A simple zippered bag was a good project for those just learning to use a sewing machine.

“I was impressed by how eager they were,” said Rita, a new FOC volunteer from Texas. “They had so little previous knowledge, but caught on quickly.”

Maria Esther described a woman who has been coming to the senior center, but not participating in the activities. “For eight years, she doesn’t do anything or get involved. But today she did the sewing. Today she made something for the first time.”

The participants clearly enjoyed themselves—almost as much as the FOC volunteers.

We were as proud as she was of her work.

We were as proud as she was of her work.

“The coolest thing was when a woman told me she planned to put her most prized possession in the bag she made,” said Ilene, one of FOC’s volunteer instructors. “It was her Bible.”

Additional sewing workshops will be held in other locations during the mission week activities, thanks to our great volunteers and donations of fabric and supplies. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska


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Volunteers Visit Lab School, See Unfilled Needs–Thurs. Feb. 25, 2016

CAM Laboral School has a new facility for students ages 14-22.

CAM Laboral School has a new facility for students ages 14-22.

Sandy and Ilene were greeted with hugs. Other FOC volunteers received big smiles, handshakes and enthusiastic greetings from students at the CAM Laboral School.

Friends of Cozumel began support of the CAM (Centro de Atencion Multiple ) School long ago. The school provides education and related services for children with mental, physical and behavioral disabilities. Now CAM Laboral, the learning program for young adults ages 14 to 22, has a new, separate facility that FOC volunteers recently visited.

Students practice motor skills while decorating cookies.

Students practice motor skills while decorating cookies.

Three school workshops in cooking, computation and crafts extend the students’ education beyond the traditional classroom to learn basic hands-on and life skills. The classrooms buzz with energy from engaged students and instructors who clearly care about their learning.

For all the progress being made in these students’ education, it’s hard to overlook the potential for even more. A fourth workshop in carpentry has the tools and space to work, but the classroom door is kept closed and locked. There is no funding for an instructor to lead it.

While the government built an attractive facility to educate these students, no funds are provided for even the most basic supplies such as paper or cleaning supplies. Families are asked to pay the school’s expenses, but according to the school director only 11 of the 51 students’ families have been able to contribute financially.

The cooking class awaits donations of flour in order to bake. The computer lab needs headphones to allow visually impaired students to interact online. A shiny new outdoor drinking fountain is unused since purifying filters cannot be purchased. Many students have been absent from classes ever since the school bus broke down. There simply are no funds for repair.

CamLabCompuRotaryLogoRita

FOC Rita (left) watches a student work on a computer donated through a Rotary partnership.

Despite ongoing needs, CAM Laboral instructors continue to make a difference with the help of outside support. A Friends of Cozumel connection helped develop a partnership of local and U.S. Rotary clubs, creating donations of desks, computers and air conditioning.

Although students have to share equipment, they're happy to have an opportunity to learn computer use.

Although students have to share equipment, they’re happy to have an opportunity to learn computer use.

“It’s rare for students to have computers or Internet access in their homes, so this lab gives them good experience,” said CAM Laboral Director Nayeli Vazquez. “But we still need braille keyboards for visually impaired students and some tablets to give experience with more types of technology.”

In the cooking workshop, students were busy decorating cookies—some by sight, others only by feel. Six empty seats were those of students who lacked transportation to get to school.

“We teach baking—when we have the supplies,” said Linda, the cooking instructor. “They also learn to make things useful at home like sandwiches, pasta, churros and Jello. Decorating cookies like this improves motor skills.”

Linda identified donation needs as flour, sugar, butter, oil, vanilla, pasta, tuna, cake decorating ingredients, and a sturdy table to hold an oven.

FOC volunteer Sandy (left) visited the craft workshop.

FOC volunteer Sandy (left) visited the craft workshop.

Next door, the craft workshop was in progress. Students proudly showed their work to volunteers. When supplies are available, students are sometimes allowed to make extras to be sold. Needs include craft supplies and simple storage shelving.

“We like to encourage visitors to interact, help instructors, or even teach a class,” said Vazquez. “The students are capable of so many things. Sometimes when their parents visit classes, they’re surprised to see how much they’re learned.”

Do you want to help continue the learning? Read more about the needs of CAM Laboral on the Wish List.


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Mission Week Begins–Wed. Feb. 24, 2016

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A phenomenon fondly known as The Volunteer Vortex is occurring in Cozumel once again. Twenty-some volunteers arriving from Texas, North Carolina, Nebraska, Delaware, Maryland and Switzerland will work with resident volunteers for Friends of Cozumel’s 2016 winter mission work. They’ll also join other visiting groups such as the World Wide Christian Scuba Divers Organization during the week of community service projects. But, as things often do in this humid environment, the week of planned activities has swollen just a bit, giving 12 days of opportunity for involvement.

The mission work focus includes faith-based projects as well as efforts towards sustainability: up-cycling and sewing workshops as well as a workshop in water purification systems that families can make and a Gran Bazar.

Byron, Keith and Larry prepare materials in the wood shop for the water purification project.

Byron, Keith and Larry prepare materials in the wood shop for the water purification project.

Ray and Gary create a protype shelf as an example for the recycling workshop.

Ray and Gary create a prototype shelf as an example for the recycling workshop.

While some volunteers have been in planning mode for several weeks, others recently set to work gathering supplies and scavenging the community recycling center for items that could be re-purposed. We’ve learned that everything from fabric and plastic items to wood and broken mirrors can have multiple uses. Nothing is discarded until it is literally used up.

We’d love to hear your ideas and feedback on our work. Follow our activities here and on Facebook as the projects unfold. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Look out! Kristin uses a machete to fashion a mirror frame out of bamboo.

Look out! Kristin uses a machete to fashion a mirror frame out of bamboo.

Many of the Feb. 2016 FOC Volunteers gathered for a meeting to review upcoming projects.

Many of the Feb. 2016 FOC Volunteers gathered for a meeting to review upcoming projects. (click on photos to enlarge–we may not look this cool and collected again for some time)

 


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FIFTH GRADERS RECEIVE COMPUTER TABLETS TO LEARN TECHNOLOGY – October 11, 2015


The state government of Quintana Roo announced in August that 27,000 tablets would be distributed to fifth-graders throughout the state, that includes the island of Cozumel. This is a great opportunity to put technology in the hands of public school students, many from families who cannot afford to purchase tablets or computers.

The tablets are a generic brand but have Windows, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Students are increasingly required to learn these programs and turn in homework that has been completed using these programs. Their homework requires a way to copy the files from the tablets to a USB drive. Some teachers are requesting fifth grade students obtain USB drives as well as an “OTG” cable to connect the thumb drives to the tablet. The term “OTG” stands for “On The Go”. These cables are frequently used to share music, files, or devices (ie. flash drives, mice, keyboards, game controllers) with cell phones and tablets.

We were recently approached for help by a local family to whom we provide school supplies. They didn’t understand the teacher’s request for an OTG cable, how to find it, how much it would cost to purchase the required cable in addition to a USB drive. We gave Rosalita (in the photo) a small flash drive as well as a cable that we acquired in a cell phone store. The computer stores and retail stores we checked did not have these cables so we ordered some additional ones via Amazon as they now deliver to Cozumel.

Rosalita is thrilled to be able to take the tablet home with her and show her family. She can access her learning materials that are saved on the tablet so she doesn’t have to tote books. However, it creates a new set of challenges for families. Many parents do not have experience using technology nor do they have a way to learn about the technology. Many families with limited resources do not have internet access at home so they have to go to a public park with free wifi or other location. Providing fifth grade students with tablets is a wonderful learning opportunity, but if families can not find or afford to buy the cables and/or USB drives required for assignments, it is frustrating and a huge barrier to learning.

This example increases the need we anticipate for USB drives next year. Previously Friends of Cozumel provided USB drives for prepa (high school) and university students. However, learning and using technology is not just focused on the tablet project for fifth grade or in high school. More and more families are sharing with us that secundaria (middle school) students are assigned to do investigation via the internet one or two times a week. The frequency of technology based homework for prepa (high school) students is normally three times per week to access the internet and often a weekly individual or group project. It appears we should try to have USB drives available for secundaria (middle school) as well as upper primaria (elementary) students. We’re collaborating with Chrysalis to purchase a quantity of USB drives at a very reasonable price but we also welcome donations of USB drives of any storage size.

The focus on technology has created another critical community need . . . finding solutions for students to have free access to computers and the internet for their homework. ~ Larry in Cozumel


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Snorkeling on Land? October 6, 2015

mask fittingA youth group meets every Saturday afternoon at Vida Abundante Church for 1 ½ hours. Their activities include Bible lessons, crafts or community service projects. Friends of Cozumel volunteers planned a “Learn to Snorkel” program for teens. Ten teens were signed up and we headed to Sunset Beach to teach the youth how use snorkel equipment, safety precautions and practice snorkeling in the ocean. To our dismay, the water was quite rough and we quickly decided that it was not a good day to try this activity.

Mariela's teamAfter arriving back at the church where the younger children were enjoying some singing, Pastor Mariela asked if we could provide an introduction to snorkeling for all the children, ages 3-15. We spent the next 45 minutes explaining the proper fitting and use of equipment. Each of the children tried to find masks that fit their face, practiced breathing through a snorkel, put on and inflated snorkel vests.

Salomon's teamNo, we weren’t able to enjoy the beauty of the underwater world. However, they all had great fun and it was a first time experience for most of them. The children now know how to identify a properly fitted mask, breathe through their mouth into a snorkel, and how to clear any unwanted water from the snorkel by blowing hard in the mouthpiece.

Larry's teamHopefully next time they’ll have a chance to experience snorkeling in water! We’ll reschedule an ocean outing for the teens. The younger kids were so enthusiastic about learning that we hope to borrow the use of a shallow swimming pool so they can safely learn to snorkel.

Many thanks to the National Association of Black Scuba Divers for providing the initial equipment and training aids to get this project off the ground. Divers coming to the island who want to give back to the community are welcome to borrow the equipment and volunteer to teach snorkeling to local children and families.group photo ~~Larry in Cozumel


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School Supply Distribution Update–September 23, 2015

backtoschool adHUGE THANKS to everyone who contributed school supply donations and shoes this past year. The total of children receiving backpacks and supplies for the 2015-16 school year has risen to 425; surpassing our goal of helping 350 by 20+%.

We see a number of families who receive school supplies in our daily living here on the island. Although we may not remember all their names, they always make a point to greet us in the supermarkets or on the street and share their appreciation.

School began approximately 4 weeks ago. We continue to receive requests to help families who left for the summer and have returned as well as those who have relocated to the island. For example, this weekend we delivered two more backpacks for a senior couple living in the jungle caring for two children abandoned by their mother in another part of Mexico. One of the youth has learning disabilities and will attend CAM, a school dedicated to educating children with a variety of special needs. The other will begin school this week in a small one-room elementary school near their rural home.

Donations are distributed in various ways to ensure they benefit children with the greatest need. The students in this photo were identified by Carla Manzanero, Director of Centro de Autismo (Autism Center). We collaborate with community leaders like Carla, teachers, pastors, several mothers and a grandmother who know families’ economic, home situations or the learning abilities of each student. Carla personally delivered the backpacks to the schools of the students she helped identify so their teachers were included in the process. ~~Karen in Cozumel


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