Sunday, 25 of June of 2017

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



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


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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.


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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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 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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You are making a difference!


backtoschool ad

Time flies in the summer time and public school here in Cozumel begins in one more week.  The stores are pushing  their annual “Back to School” sales as parents are scouring the sale bins to stretch their money and buy the supplies their children need.

I went through Bodega Aurrera today which is owned by Walmart to calculate what the cost is to a local family to send their children to school. A friend gave me a copy of the required supply list given to their son who is entering 4th grade. This is a list of those items and their costs in pesos.  (For your reference, the current exchange rate is approximately 15.5 pesos to $1 US.  The reason I’m showing a price range on the notebooks is that while there is a “discounted” brand of notebook available for $6 pesos each – some schools/teachers won’t allow the cheaper brand to be used and families are forced to provide the more expensive notebook.

  • $ 269 – Backpack (average price)
  • $ 24-120 – 4 notebooks – different colors in large square (not lines)
  • $ 15 – 100 sheets white paper
  • $ 22 – 1 box 12 crayons
  • $ 5 – one letter-size folder with name of child
  • $ 23 – Geometry set with angles, compass, ruler
  • $ 74 – Dictionary
  • $ 13 – Scissors
  • $ 10 – 5 pencils
  • $ 10 – Pencil Sharpener
  • $   7 – Eraser
  • $ 10 – Bottle of glue/Glue Stick
  • $ 17 – Dry erase marker
  • $   5 – Roll of toilet paper

$504-600 – Total

 If the child is in junior high or high school, you have to add the following items to their list (and include most from the prior list)

  • $ 13 – 3 black pens
  • $ 13 – 3 blue pens
  • $ 13 – 3 red pens
  • $   8 – bi-color pencil
  • $200 – Scientific calculator (Casio brand priced)
  • $ 41 – Colored pencils
  • $ 15 – Bic White Out
  • $ 22 – 2 highlighters
  • $ 30 – 3 pocket folders
  • $ 355 – Additional Cost
  • $ 859 – 955 Total including items above

 Consider these factors:

  • Most families that we’ve been helping average 3 children. Some may have 5 or 6.
  • Minimum wage is in the area of $75 pesos per day (about $5 Usd)


 If you had only one child in high school – you’re potentially looking at over two week’s wages to buy the school supplies – if you have more than one child, the burden to man of these families is huge. Sometimes, this results in some children not being sent to school above primary (elementary).



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Counting Backpacks, Leaders and Smiles

The 2015 summer mission efforts are coming to an end. Volunteers are returning to the reality of their other lives, and FOC island residents are sweeping up the remains of the storm of activity. Here are just some of the effects of the volunteer vortex. (click on photos to enlarge)


Local volunteer Sami (right) has been developing leadership skills through FOC work for several years.

Local volunteer Nuria has been helping FOC with translation and other projects for many years.

Local volunteer Nuria has been helping FOC with translation and other projects for many years.

School Supply Distribution

“We finished up distribution on Thursday night and ended up with some very happy families,” said Larry, an FOC leadership team member and keeper of the inventory record. “There were higher numbers than we originally thought possible.” 

 • 415 Backpacks and school supply packets were distributed to students in kindergarten thru university. We exceeded our 350 student goal by 19 %.

• 300 pairs of tennis or black shoes were given to these school students.

“These are amazing numbers and could only be done with all the donors who help us buy, collect and haul the supplies here to Cozumel,” Larry said. “We haven’t yet established our goal for next year, but we did pretty much deplete our existing stock of school supplies here in Cozumel.  I hope folks will watch for those weekly deals in U.S. stores and grab some bargains for us.”

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

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

Local volunteers help price items and control the crowds at the Gran Bazar.

Local volunteers help price items and control the crowds at the Gran Bazar.

Support to Families

• More than 300 family members of all ages benefited from clothing, shoes and household goods from the Gran Bazar.

• 238 pairs of reading glasses were distributed—with the greatest need to replenish the 1.0-1.75 strengths.

• 15 youth and adults participated in the Learn To Snorkel program.

• 15 special needs youth with disabilities participated in aqua therapy.

• 200+ family members of various ages learned to sew or make crafts at the free workshops that were open to the public.

“Thanks to all the volunteers for this beautiful work that was done,” said Pastora Mariela (as translated from her Facebook page). “It was very fun for the families and their children.”

Jerry (left) and Byron constructed shelves for Vida Abundante.

Jerry (left) and Byron constructed shelves for Vida Abundante.

Local volunteer Victor (center) helped lead craft projects.

Local volunteer Luis (center) helped lead craft projects.


• 100+ youth and adults enjoyed craft projects and refreshments as part of Bible School at Vida Abundante Church.

• 6 volunteers and 2 pastors provided a prison ministry program

• 7 youth and 7 mothers from Casa Oracion (a church in the jungle area) did a cultural exchange and dance performance with 7 FOC volunteers

• Wood shelves, a closet and diaper changing station were constructed for Vida Abundante

“(The prison visit) was interesting and humbling and sad and joyous and it was a very, very special experience for all of us,” said Lisa, an FOC volunteer from Maryland.

Alex (right) and Karen keep the records organized for more than 400 sets of school supplies.

Keeping more than 400 sets of school supplies organized wouldn’t have been possible without local volunteers like Alex (right) and Karen.

Local volunteer Maria (left) helped identify families in need of school supplies..

Local volunteer Maria (left) helped identify families in need of school supplies.

Collaboration and Volunteerism

• Of the 27 FOC volunteers this summer, 10 were first-time visitors.

• 13 local Mexican volunteers developed leadership skills by helping to identify and communicate with families in need of school supplies. 17 local volunteers helped price items and/or worked at the Gran Bazar.

• 8 organizations collaborated with FOC. Thanks to Centro de Autismo, Casita Corazon, Casa de Oracion, Chrysalis, Diamond Wishes Children’s Charity, Manos y Voces, Operation Backpack Cozumel, and Vida Abundante.

“It’s wonderful to have so many local volunteers involved,” said Karen, an FOC leadership team member. “They’ve been very responsive and have really taken their roles seriously. Many of them have been recipients of help from Friends of Cozumel in the past and now they’re giving back to their community.”

And how many smiles and hugs were exchanged between happy volunteers and the families they served? Suffice it to say there were more than we could count. The volunteer vortex has officially ended, leaving many positive after-effects in its wake. Thanks for your support and encouragement. It is appreciated by all. Hasta la próxima. (until next time). ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

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Snorkeling Offers a Window into the Sea

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 3.29.04 PMWater is water, right? Except when it’s over your head and full of creatures you’re not used to seeing face-to-face. Then it can be a bit frightening.

Although Cozumel families live on a relatively small island, some rarely see the ocean, may not know how to swim and don’t own swimsuits. It takes time off work and resources for transportation to bring your family from the middle of the city to the beach.

A snorkeling class was held in the pool of FOC volunteers Mike and Hettie.

A snorkeling class was held last year in the pool of FOC volunteers Mike and Hettie.

About a year ago, Friends of Cozumel embarked on an educational effort to help families learn more about the sea that surrounds them. With the generous donation of masks, fins and snorkels from the National Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers, FOC volunteers were ready to begin. They first helped children practice in the pool, sometimes having to persuade reluctant first-timers to put their face in the water. It wasn’t long until enthusiasm overtook fear.

The next step was to venture into shallow stretches of shoreline for a real ocean experience at Sunset Beach. After the children’s initial hesitation subsided, they were excited to explore a world they may have only seen in photographs. The snorkeling masks gave them a clear view of colorful fish, anemone, sponges and a man-made reef offering a home to fish in the shallow depth.

The children’s delight has piqued the interest of parents, and now FOC has requests for entire families to experience snorkeling.

Yesterday was a great day at Sunset Beach where seven children from FOC-supported families and their parents practiced their snorkeling skills.

Como Snorkel (How to Snorkel). Thanks to NABS for donation of this equipment.

Como Snorkel (How to Snorkel). Thanks to NABS for donation of this equipment.

“Tanya was a little frightened at first,” said Gary, a volunteer from Nebraska who swam hand-in-hand with a new snorkeler. “But once she got the hang of it, she took off. I had to kick hard to keep up.”

“Me gusta mucho (I like it very much),” said Armando. “Hay hermosos peces en todas partes (There are beautiful fish everywhere).”

Larry (right) reviews safety information with the snorkelers.

Larry (right) reviews safety information with the snorkelers.

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Sunset Beach provided a nice shallow entry for the new snorkelers.

And the nachos and soft drinks afterwards weren’t bad either. Thanks to FOC supporters for opening a window to the sea for these local families. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

New snorkelers enjoy nachos after their time in the water.

New snorkelers enjoy nachos after their time in the water.


Volunteer Sami (left) helps a new snorkeler put on her fins.

Volunteer Sami (left) helps a new snorkeler put on her fins.



Holding the hand of a volunteer made snorkeling for the first time a bit less frightening.


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An Explosion of Activity–July 29, 2015

Pastora Mariele learns how to make applesauce.

Pastora Mariela learns how to make applesauce.

Shoes, eyeglasses, construction, cooking, craft projects, conversation, laughter, a pizza feast and jungle visit. Step out of the comfort zone, mix it all together and it ignites some unforgettable memories for Friends of Cozumel volunteers and the people they serve. (click on photos to enlarge)

Ellen (right) helped fit reading glasses donated by FOC supporters.

Ellen (right) helped fit reading glasses from FOC donors.

“The last two days of our Mexico mission trip were such an explosion of activity,” wrote Lisa from Maryland on her Facebook page. “We taught (Pastora) Mariela how to make egg bake and apple sauce so she can teach the mothers to make it for the babies. We went shoe shopping with our beautiful forever family and we had a blast! The smiles and joy was unbelievable! We had three awesome days of shoes and school supplies distribution. To know so many children will get a chance to succeed cannot be forgotten!”

The line for distribution of school supplies was long.

The line for distribution of school supplies was long.

Volunteers Hettie and Mike make friends during school supply distribution.

Volunteers Hettie and Mike make friends during school supply distribution.

After the third day of distribution, the number of children served has risen to 330. People in need showed up early, formed a line that went down the block and waited patiently despite the brutal heat. Adults were also offered magnifier reading glasses. Barefoot toddlers not yet ready for school were fitted with shoes as well.

“What a blessing,” said Ellen, a first-time FOC volunteer. “These people are so needy and so thankful.”

A grateful student brought a letter of thanks to the volunteers.

A grateful student brought a letter of thanks to the volunteers.

FOC works to identify the families most in need, working with pastors, two other Cozumel nonprofits and community leaders. School supplies and shoes are running low, but there is still one more day of distribution to go.

“We couldn’t do it without the help of so many local volunteers,” said Karen from the FOC leadership team.

As exhausting as the distribution process may be, the volunteers still have energy to explore beyond the tourist zone.

“We visited a church in the jungle where their young girls performed beautiful dances for us,” Lisa said. “It brought me to tears. Sometimes there is no language barrier. We had the privilege of talking with some of the women and found out that yes we are different but we have sooooo many of the same struggles.”


Deanne (center) and Dee (right) taught a lesson at the final vacation Bible school meeting.

One of those shared struggles is feeding growing children. At the closing session of vacation Bible school, FOC volunteers saw just how much hungry kids can consume. The CREW team provided a lesson to the 100 or so children and adults using pizza as a metaphor for building faith. Then of course pizzas were served—eight gigantic pies with 40 slices each. Those 320 slices were gone within minutes. 

Pizza--it's a metaphor.

Pizza–it’s a metaphor.


Active listening is good–especially where there’s pizza at the end.

“It brought so much joy to us to treat them to a pizza party,” said Dee from Delaware. “It’s crazy how something as simple as a pizza can be used to teach and bring so much happiness as the same time!”  ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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It’s a Vacation of Service—July 25, 2015

DistibuPrep1 DistribJulieScreen Shot 2015-07-26 at 8.10.19 AMEach day, one or more of the FOC volunteers can be heard to say “this is my best ___ (fill in the number) day ever.” Just yesterday, Lisa from Maryland said “this is my best eighth day ever.” Why? She spent her time making a difference.

“Today I got to do two things that were life-changing for sure—and the main reasons I wanted to make this trip,” she said. “I started the day being a part of the Friends of Cozumel school distribution. I was on the shoe team and over the next few days will be giving about 350 children of all ages shoes and sneakers so they can attend school.

“But it’s more than shoes and backpacks and supplies,” said Lisa. “It’s opportunity, it’s hope. Being a part of something that’s bigger than just my little life is humbling and to step back and really take it in will take a while but I know I made a difference today.

CasitaSwmGrp“The second part of my day was spent in a pool with some severely disabled children as part of a special organization called Casita Corazon. This obviously is personal to me. These children are precious and beautiful and God’s children. It is my heart that no child be left out or forgotten and today was a beautiful opportunity to give them a chance to have fun, experience new things and treat them as special as they are! I was humbled to have the privilege of spending time with these families. It was a wonderfully special day,” said Lisa.

Casita Corizon (Little House of the Heart) is a home-like setting where families can bring children with different abilities for physical and sensory therapy. Jorge is the head therapist of the organization that will soon become an official Mexican nonprofit.

“Beautiful day!!” said Jorge on his Facebook page. “In Therapy, thanks to Karen and her group of volunteers who supported us. Thank you for your time and dedication of heart. Thank you–the kids enjoyed it.”

Families of the children enjoyed watching from pool side. Most of the mothers preferred not to get CasitaJorgeinto the water since they don’t know how to swim and don’t have swimwear. But they participate in Casita Corazon’s work toward self-sufficiency by holding bake sales and local fund drives to help pay the utilities of the house.

The volunteers enjoyed it as much as the children. For many of us, this work is more like a vacation since it’s so different from our other lives. Pastora Mariela got it right with this post on her Facebook page.

“How beautiful to see families happy and the smile of children is priceless. God bless you so much for your valuable time by coming to the island for a vacation of service.”

~ Phyllis from Nebraska



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Day One of 2015 School Supply Distribution a Success—July 24, 2015

Nuria (right) helped check in families on FOC's list.

Nuria (right) helped check in families on FOC’s list.

It's great getting a pair of shoes that will allow you to go to school.

It’s great getting a pair of shoes that will allow you to go to school.

“Can you imagine being forced to make a decision to send your child to school or have them work to help support the family?” asked Dee from the CREW team. “Or what if you simply couldn’t afford the tuition, school supplies, and shoes for your children? Without them, your child can’t go. It is a far cry from our society. We receive free education for our children. They don’t!”

Several year ago, Friends of Cozumel set out to help families faced with this tough decision. Each year, the number of families helped has increased, thanks to our supporters. Throughout the year, school supplies are collected from generous donors. Once the challenge of getting supplies to Cozumel is overcome, every pencil, pen, eraser, scissors, glue stick, notebook and backpack is inventoried and put into customized packets to meet the requirements of each child’s school.

Inexpensive readers make a big difference to those who need glasses.

Inexpensive readers make a big difference to those who need glasses.

“Today was the first day of several working with Friends of Cozumel getting kids ready for school,” said Loke from Utah and Cozumel. “We fit and distributed shoes, backpacks school supplies and eye glasses. This was also a collaborative effort with Operation: Cozumel backpack project. The smiles on the faces and the patience as they stood in line was heartwarming. It was a very humbling experience.

Loke helped fit shoes.

Loke helped fit shoes.

This year, Friends of Cozumel expanded their list to include nearly 400 children who were recommended by church pastors or school teachers. Families were selected based on need and availability of materials. Scores of families not already on FOC’s long list also showed up today, asking us to help an estimated 100 additional children.

Although the sun was blazing and children had to wait in line to receive their materials, they were all smiles. Many made a point to say thank you—sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English. Accompanying parents were also very grateful for the help. Please know that your support is very much appreciated.

“The first day of distribution was a big success,” Ilene from Texas wrote on her Facebook page. “There were lots of beautiful families, all so excited and thankful to receive the wonderful donations that so many of you have bought and/or transported to Cozumel. There are so many families that would not be able to send their children to school without the generosity of those who have given. Byron and I are so thankful to be able to be here and participate! And we’re so glad to have our daughter, Christina and granddaughter, Maggie with us along with good friends from Volunteer Christian Builders, Jerry and Ellen.”


Three generations of volunteers--Maggie (left), Ilene (center) and Christina (right).

Three generations of volunteers–Maggie (left), Ilene (center) and Christina (right).

It was a challenging day for FOC volunteers, but they loved putting your donations into grateful hands, so keep ‘em coming. School supplies are now on sale in the U.S. and we’ll need a new inventory of materials for next year. Muchisimas gracias. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Ilene, Larry Jay and Christina made a good team.

Ilene, Larry Jay and Christina made a good team.


Diana (left) helped with registration.

Diana (left) helped with registration.


These smiles our school supply distribution was a success.

These smiles signal that our school supply distribution was a success.

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Preparation is Key–July 22, 2015

Dee paints faces at the Gran Bazar.

Dee and Mari Ellyn painted faces at the Gran Bazar.

When any storm approaches, preparation is a top priority. You need a plan when things get crazy, some extra water and food. It also helps to have support from those with a little experience to help everyone weather it out when things shift from normal to high intensity.

It’s the same situation in the Friends of Cozumel Volunteer Vortex. A frenzy of preparation has readied the volunteers for the community service activities coming up.

FOC volunteers have already handled a mountain of donated clothing, shoes and household items in a very successful Gran Bazar held at the Vida Abundante church. While parents shopped, their children enjoyed the attention of FOC volunteers.

“Dee and I got to paint the faces of the children who came while their parents shopped,” said Deanne from the CREW project, a nonprofit women’s ministry in Maryland. “Lisa got to give the children temporary tattoos and give them fancy hairdos, and Mari Ellyn blew bubbles with the children. I think a GREAT time was had by ALL! Mari Ellen thinks she’s found her new favorite workout—chasing bubbles!”

Craft project success at Vacation Bible School.

Craft project success at Vacation Bible School.

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Ilene helped children from Vida Abundante create crowns.

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Vacation Bible School included creating crowns of glory.

Volunteers have also prepared for vacation Bible school by promoting it to local residents and stockpiling the supplies needed for craft projects. The crafts and refreshments were a huge hit with the 80 or so participants who attended last night.

“It was such a pleasure to just show love to the children and to take a moment in our fun to let them know that Jesus loves them and invite them to Vacation Bible School which they call EBVD,” said Deanne.

Two building projects are in progress in preparation for use at Vida Abundante church. One project is construction of a canopy to shade events at the outdoor church, and the second is a creation of wood storage shelves for the church bodega.

Byron, Jerry and Gary work on bodega shelving.

Byron, Jerry and Gary work on bodega shelving.

Volunteers have also inventoried, sorted and compiled 401 packets of school supplies in preparation of the first day of distribution to families in need — an activity that typically tests the endurance of even the most experienced volunteers. Imagine trying to organize the eager children and their parents with just a handful of FOC volunteers. Thankfully we have translation help for many of our volunteers who don’t speak Spanish. Kudos to Karen, Larry and their bi-lingual daughter Diana who is working alongside the CREW team to translate.

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The CREW team, local volunteers and Diana, their translator (in red).

“Diana is such a beautiful gift to us,” said Dee of the CREW team. “We all agree that her presence coupled with her gifts and talents, has opened up the communications tremendously. We are TRULY grateful for her and give God praise for her sacrificial gift of being here.”

Dee’s comment echoed the sentiments of many who see the Friends of Cozumel volunteers at work. It’s often a sacrifice of time and resources—but it’s always done with a generous heart.

“It is impossible to convey the amount of hard work, sweat equity, donors, volunteers and content that it takes to make this happen,” said Lisa of the CREW group. “Standing in the middle of it today was overwhelming at times knowing that God put me right here right now to help. A great day so far!”

Lisa stands amidst the sorted donations that are ready for distribution.

Lisa stands amidst the sorted donations that are ready for distribution.

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Tropical Storm Advisory—July 16, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.45.17 PMALERT….
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a warning that the climate around the island of Cozumel is ripe for tropical disturbances. Increasing energy is anticipated leading to a tropical storm named Volunteer Vortex 2015.

Vortex movement is expected to begin in the next 24 hours. There is circling activity near the Friends Of Cozumel headquarters with forecast of increased speeds in the next week and continued formations through Aug. 1.

Twenty-seven personnel including island residents and visiting volunteers are being deployed. For 10 visitors arriving from northeast, Midwest and southern regions of the U.S., it will be their first time in the Vortex.

A statement issued by the National Weather Service says “It only takes one storm to change your life and your community.”

But all metaphors aside, that’s just what we intend to do: create a storm of volunteer activity that will create positive change in the community. We’ll do that through projects in three areas:
1. Education/Learning
2. General support of families in need
3. Ministries

One of our goals is to continually increase participation of local volunteers in these efforts. And who better to involve than local adult and teen volunteers from the families who actually benefit from FOC efforts? Watch the blog to see them in leadership roles, learning new skills in the coming days.

Our projects this summer will include a Gran Bazar on July 18, learning workshops, Bible school, and distribution of school supplies to what we think will be a record number of eager students. Seeing their beaming faces as they try on shoes and pick up their backpack of supplies is one of my all-time favorite volunteer moments. I’ll do my best to share some photos with you.

Batten down the hatches and take the necessary precautions. We expect a direct hit of this energy mass very soon. Stay tuned for more updates as the Volunteer Vortex continues. ~ Phyllis (still in Nebraska)

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Just Keep Sewing

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rosalia learns to use an electric sewing machine for the first time.

Rosalia learns to use an electric sewing machine for the first time.

Dory, from the movie Finding Nemo, was fond of saying “Just keep swimming.” It was her way of saying don’t give up—keep trying. That’s one of our unofficial mantras in Friends of Cozumel. We work hard to find ways to help families with limited resources keep trying to better their lives.

One way is to teach families to make the things they often don’t have the money to purchase. The second FOC sewing workshop took place recently, this time teaching women with limited sewing skills how to construct simple girls dresses and tops.

“I learned how to make these sun dresses while working with Volunteer Christian Builders,” said Ilene, an FOC leadership team member.

Ilene shows a finished sun dress.

Ilene shows a finished sun dress.

“We send them all over the world. But we wanted to teach women here how to make them for their own families.

“None of these women had ever used an electric sewing machine before and some of them were a bit frightened of it,” she said. “But they’re doing great.”

Ilene chose a pattern that doesn’t require a great deal of fabric. She also brought sturdy cotton fabric that had been donated by a fabric shop in Andrews, Texas that was going out of business.

A simple "pillow case" pattern was chosen to make sun dresses.

A simple “pillow case” pattern was chosen to make sun dresses.

Instruction was provided by Elena, a Cozumel resident who first took sewing classes from Friends of Cozumel five years ago. She continued sewing and learning—and now has a small, home-based business sewing for others. Although this was her first experience as an instructor, she’s a wonderful example of how learning a new skill contributes to long-term success. She urged the others to just keep sewing.

Elena (left) made an excellent instructor at the sewing workshop.

Elena (left) made an excellent instructor at the sewing workshop.

“I can make another dress,” said a workshop participant. “Next time I can do it myself.”       ~Phyllis from Nebraska

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Finding Out What’s Down There

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Armando (left) and Gary worked together to develop snorkeling skills.

Armando (left) and Gary worked together to develop snorkeling skills.

Using brand new snorkel gear, six children and young adults from three families got their very first look at what’s under all that water. This new education effort of Friends of Cozumel was tested in the pool of FOC supporters Mike and Hettie. Once participant skills are refined, they’ll be ready to try snorkeling in the ocean.

Susan (right) helps Alondra with her fins.

Susan (right) helps Lucia with her fins.

Being able to snorkel seems like an essential skill when living in a place surrounded by the sea, but many Cozumel residents don’t have access to the equipment or instruction. Thanks to the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, that problem has been addressed. NABS recently made a wonderful donation to FOC: 10 sets of masks, fins, snorkels and the additional funding to purchase safety vests from a local vendor. They also developed bi-lingual teaching materials on laminated cards. In addition, Cozumel Scuba Repair donated 12 super small masks to the FOC program so that even the youngest child will have an opportunity to see what’s under the water.

FOC volunteers helped participants put on their gear, gave an orientation and encouraged them in the pool.

Once everyone got comfortable, the pool turned into a mass of churning fins and shouts of joy.

Phyllis (left) helps Lupe get used to putting her face in the water

Phyllis (left) helps Lupe get used to putting her face in the water

Larry gave an orientation to snorkeling skills--all in Spanish. Bueno!

Larry (right) gave an orientation to snorkeling skills–all in Spanish. Bueno!

“Es hermoso,” said Tanya, aged 15. “Se siente maravilloso” (It’s beautiful. It feels marvelous.)

Neither of the two youngest participants had ever put their faces in the water. Karen, a member of the FOC leadership team, worked with nine-year-old Lucia.

“She had never had the opportunity to swim, but suddenly she was splashing across the pool,” Karen said. “You could just see her confidence grow. What a change.”

Armando, age 12, wore a big smile after his pool experience. He proved to be an expert at finding and picking up toys put on the pool bottom by the FOC volunteers.

“I’m able to see below the water,” he said. “And now I’ll be able to see below the sea. Thank you. Thank you.” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

Thanks to the Nat. Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers for donating snorkel equipment.

Thanks to the Nat. Assoc. of Black Scuba Divers for donating snorkel equipment.

Everyone had fun at the snorkeling class.

Everyone had fun at the snorkeling class.

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