Monday, 28 of July of 2014

Honoring Mothers — May 2013

Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing Friends of Cozumel volunteers and donors who are mothers and grandmothers. Mother’s Day is also a time to recognize “It takes a village” to care for family members of all ages. We’d also like to honor all the aunts and special friends who are not mothers including our sisters, Phyllis and Lori, who share their love and support with their nieces/nephews as well as Cozumel children. Later today we’ll be joining Vida Abundante Church for a special Mother’s Day celebration. ~ Karen and Larry

Remembrances of Mother’s Day in Cozumel . . .

We visited Margarita (mother at left), her husband and their four children just before they went to a school Mother’s Day program. Margarita’s family lives in one room apartment with a patio. The children receive backpacks with school supplies and a pair of athletic shoes as part of our School Project. Shirley Larsen, a Friends of Cozumel mission volunteer from California, helped them start container gardening in February. Margarita was excited to receive a couple of additional plants for Mother’s Day as well as a baked pastry to share with the family.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers grew cherry tomato plants, Spanish oregano and various ornamental potted plants to give as Mother’s Day gifts to six families. April’s labor of love each year is to put together personal gifts of hygiene, beauty products, make-up samples and other goodies in decorative bags to give to a dozen mothers and grandmothers of families FOC supports. Many of them are mothers caring for children with disabilities and/or single mothers supporting their family. It is a special treat for these moms because most of them don’t have the funds to be able to buy nice soap, shampoo, toothpaste, body lotion, etc.

It was so fun to see the pride that the younger children in Jose’s family had when they arrived home from school and raced to give their mother a gift they made in class. Lili is mother of four children (back center holding photo); Francesca is mother of four (at right) and Antonia (seated in center) is their grandmother.

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Happy Mother’s Day / Feliz Dia de Madre – May 2013

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! In Mexico, they celebrate Mother’s Day on May 10th regardless of which day of the week it lands. I’ve been playing keyboard with the Vida Abundante Church and we had a group that was practicing some songs to sing in honor of Mother’s Day. (I assumed they would be sung during this week’s church service) Last week, Pastor Salomon told us “We’ll practice one more time next Thursday evening and we will be ready”. I inquired as to what time we would meet to practice and he said “alas once” (11 p.m.). I asked him why we might be practicing so late in the evening and he explained that way the songs would be fresh when we went out to sing them beginning at midnight? WHAT???? I thought that he was simply joking with me and I asked if this was a joke….he then explained that it’s tradition to go out and serenade the mothers beginning at midnight and that our plan would be to go to every mother’s house from our church until all had been visited. I asked how long that would take and he thought perhaps 4-5 hours.

By this time, I was certain they were kidding me and asked again if this was truly what we planned to do. The group thought it was rather funny that I didn’t believe him but he soon convinced me that was the plan so this past Thursday evening we met at the church at 11:00 pm to go through the songs and then at midnight our small caravan of 14+ singers, a guitarist and myself with my portable keyboard headed out in our three cars and two mopeds.

The first home we went to was ready for us and after singing the songs, treated us to drinks and delicious empanadas. I certainly hoped that we wouldn’t be eating like this at every home we visited (thankfully, that wasn’t the case). But, we continued to visit and serenade mothers until we had visited everyone. Surprisingly, we were finished shortly after 3:00 a.m. and I was able to get three hours of sleep after arriving home. Oh…..we did come across other groups doing the same exact thing so I knew it wasn’t just us and no one was pulling a “fast one” on me.

I went to a florist Friday to purchase some flowers and you’ve never seen such chaos! They couldn’t make bouquets fast enough! It seemed that everyone was buying flowers for Mother’s Day. That’s one of the things you learn about the culture here in Mexico – the family is “numero uno”. I think that’s one of things we respect here, just how much they value the family unit and the respect that is given to the mother, who frequently serves as the head of the household.

So, if you’re not doing anything at midnight on May 9th next year, come join us for an evening of singing! ~Larry

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Garden Project Continues GROWING — May 2013

A key focus for Friends of Cozumel is to engage in projects that have “sustainability”. We’ve all heard the phrase “Buy a man a fish and feed him for a day – teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” We’re all about teaching people to fish. The garden project we initiated with six families in February fits beautifully with this concept.

Antonia’s latest harvest . . . fully grown carrots. The entire family is very proud of the produce they’ve been able to grow since the raised bed garden was constructed three months ago.

Antonia is pictured here checking her compost container. She and her husband are patriarchs of “Jose’s family”, a multi-generational extended family of 10 children and 6 adults living together in a modest settlement several miles from town. They are now in their late 50′s. Antonia’s husband worked for years as a laborer clearing trees from jungle land for development, hand stripping the branches and carrying logs on his shoulders. He’s been out of work for months because he isn’t physically able to continue carrying heavy loads and machinery now replaces some manual labor.

Antonia mentioned she wanted to put in another garden “some day” if she could get her husband to help clear a place. Her success in selling cilantro, chili peppers, lettuce and flower starters to people who pass by their place has resulted in a huge change. Antonia is earning money for the first time in her life to buy tortillas and beans for the family to eat AND her husband is now working with her to expand their gardens. She told us it IS his work.

Lack of resources is a consistent challenge for them. We assumed that if/when they were ready to expand their garden, assistance would be needed with materials for garden beds, purchasing soil, seeds, etc. Yesterday we visited them and were completely blown away to discover in the past four weeks they tripled the size of their garden entirely on their own by adding two more raised beds.

They replicated the approximate size and depth of the initial garden bed by piling large stones and using other reclaimed materials to contain the soil without the need for cement. Antonia’s husband and other family members walked deep into the jungle to scrape good soil into buckets and mix it with organic materials, then hauled it all by hand back to their home area. They used earnings from selling produce to purchase more seeds in the market and she also dried seeds from chilis and vegetables to use for planting. The two new gardens are planted with radishes and cilantro with an incredible “order” of straight rows and staggered stages of growth to ensure a continuous harvest.

You can see and feel Antonia’s excitement as she discusses their garden. Several months ago when she first started selling a couple of things for a few pesos, she made it clear this was not a business . . . she was just “growing things”. Now she’s thinking ahead, making decisions and “investments” for her small home based business. For example, she’s decided to plant more cilantro because that’s what people want and she can sell it for 5 pesos (about 40 cents) per handful. She “invested” in buying small plastic bags to fill with dirt to start flowering plants to sell. She’s changed her mind and now would like a sign or two listing items for sell. And she has ideas for future expansion.

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Passion for Sewing and Serving Others – March 2013

Becky Gomez, FOC Mission Volunteer (Left back) and Elizbeth Martinez, local sewing instructor, with mending class participants

Many of us have hobbies or interests we enjoy but avid sewers, quilters and knitters seem to have this PASSION for their art that goes beyond a way to spend leisure time. They describe it as “Sewing is who I am . . . it doesn’t feel right if I’m not sewing everyday” or “Sewing is my personal ministry to serve others.”

We’re fortunate to have volunteers and donors who share their love of sewing in many different ways . . . sewing items for others, teaching/helping with sewing classes, donating equipment/fabric/supplies, maintaining equipment inventories, servicing sewing machines and organizing opportunities for local women to use donated sewing machines.

Volunteer sewers have tackled everything from making curtains, fitted sheets for a daycare, chair cushions for special needs children, vinyl covers to protect sound systems, sewing machine carriers, bean bags for educators, pencil pouches for school backpacks, and beautiful decorative banners for Vida Abundante Church (photos below).

Quilted Nativity for Vida Abundante by Becky Gomez

These + Aleluya banners by Jane Donahue

Pastors Salomon & Mariela, banner by Treva Mahan

Our focus on sewing began five years ago by teaching women job skills

Treva cleaning machines”

to support their families. Two volunteers, Ilene Kendrick and Treva Mahan, have championed this cause for years raising funds to help pay for a local instructor and purchase machines as well as bringing donated fabric, notions and yes, more sewing machines. It is comical to see their very “creative” solutions for bringing machines via cruiseship and plane. Donated machines help supplement those purchased locally and provide extras needed for women to check out to use at home.

Notions like zippers and special accessories are readily available in local stores, although most women we help in sewing classes can’t afford to buy what they need. Many are single mothers with extremely limited resources. If they work and are lucky enough to receive minimum wage (about $7US per day, NOT per hour), saving $ to buy fabric and notions is a huge challenge. The GREAT news is a small core group of women have enough sewing experience to start earning money doing alterations or they can save money making vs. buying their children’s school uniforms.

Special thanks to these donors . . .

  • Becky Gomez, Lincoln NE, donated her Baby Lock machine with embroidery capability; zippers, thread, patterns for sewing boxers class and more
  • Lynn Hedrick, Cozumel, donated sewing kits for participants in mending, sewing and crafts classes held Feb. 2013
  • Paul at Sew Creative, Lincoln NE, provided a serger, a HUGE supply of serger thread and more. This serger was donated to Elizabeth Martinez, local sewing instructor, so she could further develop her expertise and then teach serger skills to advanced level sewers
  • Sue Feiler, Cozumel, donated a new serger used by Friends of Cozumel for projects to benefit the community and for advanced sewing classes
  • Treva Mahan, Paris TX, scouts garage sales and contacts sewing clubs year-round. She acquired, transported and donated multiple machines 2010-2013 to develop a pool of loaner machines and this past year made 20+ bags to protect all the machines
  • Many, many island visitors and their friends “back home” who have donated fabric and notions to support sewing classes

See more sewing related photos and posts by scrolling down this page to . . .
Are We Done?
Sewing a Godsend–A volunteer’s perspective

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Gardens Grow Food, Pride and Family Involvement – March 2013

The entire family is engaged and proud of their new garden

April and I just returned from visiting Jose’s, an extended family of 10 children and 6 adults who live several miles outside town in a collection of very modest concrete block and wood pole structures.  When you pull up to their place, the kids come running out to greet you.  They are ALWAYS excited to have visitors and as soon as we receive their hugs they say “Come see the garden!” 

Everyone in the family is proud of their new raised garden bed, including the men who enhanced it after installation during the Friends of Cozumel mission project week last month.  The men cut and stripped wood poles from young trees in the jungle then anchored the poles in concrete on top of the blocks to create a canopy of palm fronds providing partial shade for the young plants.   The garden is beautiful, thriving with healthy plants and has a truly amazing “order” in stark contrast to the chaos of this family’s daily life and living conditions. 

Antonia and one of her granddaughters were proud to show off the garden

Cilantro, lettuce and carrots are growing in neat rows with space allocated for subsequent plantings.  Antonia, the gardener and family matriarch shown in the photo with a grand daughter, provides a tour pointing out squash seeds drying in the sun to be planted in a couple of weeks.  She clearly has a vision and “plan” for next steps.  In the years I have known her, I’ve never seen her so positive and confident.

It is gratifying to see Antonia’s enthusiasm for making natural organic fertilizer (compost).  She is practicing what she learned in an educational workshop taught by Adrian Medina as part of our garden mission project.  Adrian is a local compost expert, biologist and dive instructor.  Antonia has three compost areas:  one enclosed in a bag given to each family at the compost workshop that she is monitoring the desired heat temperature and is nearly ready to spread on her garden; a second active compost container where the family puts all organic left over food matter; and a third container storing leaves and other natural plant materials to add to the food matter. 

We had to laugh because when Antonia showed us the compost container for food matter, there were a couple of non-organic garbage items the kids probably put there.  She immediately called everyone together to re-explain that only organic food items go in that container and the rest is “garbage” to be thrown away.  She is teaching the children and holding them accountable for knowing what goes into the compost and what is not organic.  One difference we noticed representing a significant change in the family’s outdoor living area is the ground around the raised garden bed is raked clean of clutter.   

Luisito, Ivonne and baby Maria Paula will benefit from fresh food.

Who benefits from garden efforts?  The entire family, especially the children like Luisito, Ivonne and baby Maria Paula pictured here.  Antonia continues to sell flower clippings and various types of chili peppers.  Although the garden bed plants are not yet mature, she plans to use some to feed the family and sell others.

Antonia’s husband works as an “albanil” . . . a cement laborer, when he can find work.  He is starting to help her sell cuttings of flowers and chili peppers by taking them to neighbors and into town.  I asked Antonia what she does with the money she earns.  She said “Compro mis fijolitos y tortillas para la familia” (Translation:  I buy my beans and tortillas for the family.)  For the first time in her life, she is earning $ and helping put food on the table.  She feels good about herself, is involving the kids in pumping/carrying water from the well to water the garden and she has a common project to do with her husband that benefits the whole family. 

Many of us who are involved as volunteers with Friends of Cozumel took a break after our February mission projects.  Check back often.  We are now resuming frequent posts about mission efforts.  We’ve been so blessed with cruiseship visitors and spring break vacationers bringing donations to benefit the community.  THANKS to everyone!  ~ Karen   

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Are We Done?

How can you tell if you’re done when there’s so much left to do? That’s the question for Friends of Cozumel volunteers. Some say it’s when you absolutely must return home to your ‘real’ work. Others say it’s when you run out of time and energy. But perhaps there is no such thing as being done as long as the need remains.

The project list could go on and on, but the rewards continue, too. We’ve received lots of smiles and blessings. And it’s great when you can see you’ve made a dent in solving a problem.

When we tally up the numbers, it’s clear we had an impact. These stats provide the details, but the photos below also help tell the story.

  • Total of 40 volunteers including 2 Canadians, 7 Mexicans and US visitors from, Colo., Iowa, N.C., Neb., Minn., Texas, Oregon. Half volunteered for projects on a half or full-time basis. Others joined for one or more activities during the week. Half are island visitors combining some vacation time with mission projects; the rest are island residents.
  • Total of 22 community service projects focused on benefitting children with special needs, providing learning opportunities for children and adults, helping families and non-profit organizations that support them to become self-sufficient, and promoting local volunteerism.


  • Enhanced quality of life for children with disabilitiesthrough construction of therapy equipment, repairs for Casita Corazon, preparing a donated lift van to transport children to therapy.
  • Increased knowledge, skills and learning experiences for individuals, families, non-profit organizations and ministries to help them advance economically—by providing 7 classes in composting, sewing, mending, crafts to sell, basic home repairs, conversational English.
  • Supplemented food resources for 32 children and 16 adults –by implementing garden beds and container gardens in six family homes.
  • Enabled families to receive daily needs of clothing, shoes, household goods through the Gran Bazar and distribution of reading eyeglasses
  • Helped Cozumel becoming an audiometric evaluation, therapy and resource center—through construction of a soundproof testing room for Manos y Voces, enclosing a teaching classroom for the hearing impaired, and making improvements positioning Manos y Voces to be a holistic evaluation/therapy/retail resource center. Families will no longer have to travel to the mainland to receive services.
  • Built cross cultural bridges of understanding—through a number of interactive events for local families and volunteers.

A huge thank you to every single one of this mission week’s volunteers. You KNOW how much effort you put into this. And we couldn’t have done it without the contributions of so many generous donors. Literally hundreds of people have given everything from used and new clothing to sewing machines and tools to money. Thank you, thank you and muchisimas gracias por todo.

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Sewing Skills a Godsend–a volunteer’s perspective

Diana (right) helps a sewing workshop participant.


Learning to sew and having a sewing machine, was a godsend to me in my life. Hard to believe now that there was a time when I made all the clothes for my family. My birthday money put shoes on my child, and my hands made her dresses and PJs. I could put a curtain on my window, because I knew how to sew.

In our sewing workshop we taught women how to use a sewing machine to replace zippers. One woman who had no electricity in her home used a treadle sewing machine, so the electric ones used in the workshop were a bit frightening to her.

Sharing my sewing knowledge with women who have less than I did was very special and empowering. Sewing is a skill they can use to clothe their families and could even help them make money.

It’s unbelievable that I can teach without speaking the language by just sitting next to them. It reminds me of my grandmother who was a seamstress. I show them how, then they show me, and I say “perfecto!” Is that even a word? But we smile at each other and then we are both happy because I know it will make a difference in their lives.

Can it get better than that? ~ with love, Diana, a local volunteer

Sewing classes attended by dozens of local women would not have been possible without generous donations of sewing equipment, zippers, thread and other supplies. Thanks to Sew Creative of Lincoln, Neb. for a serger, to volunteer Becky Gomez for a sewing machine, and to many additional volunteers and supporters for their help.

Jan (left) helps Juventina (right) who said “It’s very important for me to learn more to be able to work in this economy and to help other people that I know and to help my family.”

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Angels visit Cozumel – February 5, 2013

Sample of the finished product

The thirst for learning continued to blossom Tuesday morning. Diane had shown the women at the craft class a sample of a ribbon angel. Their imaginations took flight with so many ideas of what they could do with these angels that another class was scheduled. Becky, Karen, Sara, Sandy, and Ilene agreed to return with Diane to teach again. Not only could the angels be sold to tourists, but they could make red ones for children’s Valentines, Christmas decorations, and they could be given to babies as guardian angels at baptisms. Four women were scheduled to attend, but word of mouth about the craft class the night before brought 10 instead, including several young girls.


The craft class after completion

These skills are not something typically learned in the local culture, but these women and girls devoured the learning experience. They kept telling us they would teach more women in their fellowship groups. God had supposedly sent angels to make angels and they would grow more angels in their community. Maybe they were right because their enthusiasm sure made us volunteers feel like angels! ~ Diane from Nebraska

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Hope Blooms

Becky showed how to construct fabric flowers.

On Monday evening 11 ladies and one man gathered at Vida Abundante Church with lots of enthusiasm. They all were anxious to learn about crafts our volunteers make. While we enjoy crafts as a hobby, they were hoping this might be a way to raise funds for for a church building. This fellowship currently meets in an open air space covered by a tin roof.

Diane helped class participants use a glue gun while making flowers.

Becky and Diane taught the group to repurpose fabric scraps to make flowers that can be used in many ways from shoe decorations to jewelry. Ilene and Sandy taught them how to make beads from rolled strips of newspaper. Nuria, Karen, and Sara helped translate during the classes and even Sara’s husband threw himself into the project.

These crafts hold great hope for these women. They plan to sell them on the town square to raise money for a permanent church building with a real learning center.

One woman came back the next day to show us that she had gone home and immediately put her new skills to work. She had made absolutely beautiful flowers to attach a train to a wedding dress.


Ilene demonstrated how to create beads from newspaper while Nuria

The flowers were not the only thing blooming. Fellowship blossomed between cultures, skills grew, and hope bloomed for a better life for this tiny church and its families. ~ Diane from Nebraska.

The fabric flowers can be used for decoration or jewelry.

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Handy Women Unite—Tuesday, Feb. 5

Nine local women attended a workshop to learn home repair skills.

The women were in charge.
Laura repaired the toilet so that it flushes now. Sandy showed how to make a shelf, level it and attach it to a concrete wall. Jodi showed how to install a doorknob. Shirley worked on a dripping faucet. Sara translated.
Nine women attended a home repair class held by Friends of Cozumel women volunteers on Tuesday.
“From my perspective, we wanted to give a bit of empowerment to women so that they would know how to do some things on their own to improve their homes,” said volunteer Shirley.

Creating a shelf was easy once they had the knowledge and tools needed.

“They were pretty wild about working with the electric drill. It was really cute.”
The nine local women were also given a packet of donated hand tools—screwdrivers, wrenches, hammer, channel locks, pliers and a tape measure.
“They seemed to really enjoy it,” said local volunteer Sandy. “Pastor Mariela said her faucet had been leaking forever and she was going right home to fix it. And Maria was going home to put up a shelf. We know we’ve succeeded if they ask for more workshops—and they certainly did.” ~ Phyllis from Nebraska.

Any way you look at it, being able to repair a toilet is a valued skill.

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This House Has a Heart—Monday, Feb. 4

Karla wanted to make friends with the pinata rather than taking a whack at it.

Casita Corazon translates to Heart house. A year ago we began renovation of this once-abandoned property. Today it’s a tidy and comfortable place that serves as a second home to families of children with disabilities. The families usually come several times a week for therapy and support, but tonight was just for fun. Friends of Cozumel held a family festival for about 65 people. This included 20 volunteers along with 45 children and adults. Based on the sheer noise level, it seemed like everyone had a wonderful time.

Izzy volunteered to help with the bean bag toss.

It was a mixture of favorites from both the Mexican and U.S. cultures—carnival games (including darts, bean bag tosses, basketball, pencil pulls, fishing booth and other games) with Dollar Store prizes, hot dogs on the grill, and a piñata. And the new swing constructed by Roger survived strenuous testing by experts with years of experience.

The swing is actually a therapy aid, one of several projects at Casita Corazon. It will have two special platforms for the children with disabilities to experience motion and learn balance. In the meantime, Roger installed two bench swings for the rest of the children to enjoy this evening.

Roger created a swing that will become a therapy aid for Casita Corazon.

In addition to repairs and an electrical wiring check on the home, a donated lift van is being renovated and a garden bed is being installed. Adults from participating families were also fitted with donated eyeglasses.

The glasses were the inexpensive magnifiers that we often refer to as ‘cheaters’ but they make it possible for those who can’t afford corrective lenses to be able to read or thread a needle.

It was hard to tell just who had more fun – the children and their families or the volunteers who hosted the event. It is always a pleasure to see the children enjoy activities that they don’t otherwise have an opportunity to experience. Tonight’s festival made it clear that Casita Corazon is much more than a gathering place. Just like a human heart, it’s a vital part of many lives, connecting people who care for each other.

Susan and Carl help two teens choose glasses.

Shelley, a volunteer from Minnesota, applied temporary tattoos at the family festival.




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Gardening—and the Ground—is Harder than it Looks

Volunteers Izzy and Gary clear rocks from an area to create a garden bed.

Lovely, fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables are not easy to come by on this island. You would think that the balmy weather would encourage all kinds of crops in home gardens. This isn’t so, however. The soil is hard and rocky, bedding plants are scarce or non-existent, and seeds are not available in great variety. So, why are we knocking ourselves out to help people start gardens?

Because they are needed, that’s why. Many families simply can’t afford to buy the fruits and vegetables that are shipped to the island and sold in stores. A watermelon is an extravagant luxury that simply isn’t realistic on a modest food budget.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers are working on three small plots and several balcony or patio sites. Our resourceful leaders found a source for good dirt, someone to teach composting, and secured concrete blocks for garden boundaries. Others of us visited the recycling center and scored a few containers (mostly buckets) that can be used on balconies or walls. We found chives and yerba buena seedlings (a plant in the mint family) and might be able to squeeze some seeds out of cherry tomatoes. No kidding, that’s one of the ways that it’s done here. Now, if we can just get all the above mentioned things together, there is a chance that some families may have a better diet. ~ Shirley from California

Kristin, Recycling Queen for a Day, looks for things to repurpose for container gardens.

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The Joy of Getting Dirty—Sunday, Feb. 3

Today was all about dirt—making it, that is. As part of the garden project, we held a composting workshop to create ‘fertilizante organica natural.” Families with an interest and need to grow some of their own food were invited to learn how to create fertile soil for the garden beds we’re building for them.

This mixture of leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells will turn into rich soil with a bit of time, sun and moisture

I confess, I’ve taken dirt for granted. As a home gardener on a Midwest farm, I’ve never had to worry about where to find soil for my plants. Here in Cozumel, fertile soil isn’t easy to come by. The island has a wealth of sand, rock, and crushed coral but very limited topsoil. As with many things here, when you need something not readily available, you make it yourself. In keeping with the educational mission of Friends of Cozumel, we decided to learn how to make good quality garden soil.

Adrian taught us the fine points of mixing organic matter to create natural fertilizer for gardens

The volunteers had been saving their fruit skins, vegetable peels, coffee grounds and egg shells and gathered fallen leaves and blossoms in preparation for a workshop on composting. The class was led by Adrian, a local bilingual biologist with a love of the reclaim, reuse, recycle concept. Adrian repeated the information in Spanish for Antonia, Charo and Lupe who hope to grow food for their families. He mixed the organic components together for composting starter kits that we sent home with each family.

Benji (right) proudly gave us a tour of the many plants he’s growing

The compost created in the workshop will supplement soil made by Benji—a man recreating his grandmother’s Mayan lifestyle near the jungle. He grows native plants and makes soil with a mixture of livestock manure, sawdust, common dirt and leaves.

Antonia’s family is anxious to begin their new garden

When the first load of his soil was delivered to Antonia today, it was clear that the entire family was thrilled. Think about that. Joy from dirt? It’s not so unusual when you realize this can make a significant change in their lives. They’re one step closer to sustainability, and that brings us joy. ~ Phyllis from Nebraska

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Balloon Animals Are a Hit at the Gran Bazar

Shirley helped volunteers learn how to make balloon sculptures.

Wow–there are no slow people in this group!

After a wonderful get acquainted and re-acquainted evening, the day started with devotions and a general planning meeting. Then the “manos y voces” team headed to Manos y Voces to begin construction of their projects while the garden team and the sewing and crafts team got off to a flying start at planning, thanks to a lot of preparation from their leaders. The Casita equipment team took off to build some needed things at Casita Corazon, the house for therapy for children with disabilities, and the same house that last year was completely revamped from the roof down by Friends of Cozumel. Island life may be slow paced, but this group is on a mission (literally) to get lots of things done in a fairly short time.

The Gran Bazar drew a crowd anxious for bargains.

The Gran Bazar set-up team hustled off to Vida Abundante, the church location we used to sell some new and gently used clothing donations. Crate after crate of clothes, shoes and a few other miscellaneous things were loaded into every available volunteer’s vehicles and carted to the bazar site. It resembled a bunch of busy ants scurrying around, everyone with a load.

Then the real fun started! There was a long line of people waiting for opening time to sieze some of the wonderful bargains. The prices are set quite low to give families with limited resources access to affordable clothing. And it raises a bit of support for our project supplies. Some of our group had a blast making balloon animals, swords, hats, hearts, and flowers for some eager children. Popped balloons aside, we were pretty productive, if not occasionally startled by those noises. The group started learning how to make the balloon sculptures last night and made fantastic progress—well, at least enough progress to delight the children. Several more occasions are planned where we hope we can delight an equal number of kids.

This two-year old wanted to help the volunteers.

When the bazar closed, the many crates were packed with the unsold items and hauled by the same busy ants. The crates that remained empty stood witness to the great number of things sold. Even though we don’t know the monetary total yet, it should supply a goodly amount of funds for Friends of Cozumel to carry on their very generous work.

Everyone, hot, tired, and happy adjourned to April’s for Happy Hour, hopefully followed by a good night’s sleep.

If anyone wants a few lessons in organization, they should get acquainted with FOC’s leadership group. They are outstanding, and they do this year after year! ~ Shirley, a second-year volunteer from California

These two boys preferred the balloons over shopping.

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Project Week Off to a Great Start—Friday, Feb. 1

Messages of anticipation were posted on Facebook. A flurry of emails flew back and forth to plan projects. Weird things not typical for a trip to beautiful Cozumel were stuffed into suitcases. It was all part of the preparation for our sixth year of community service projects. We’ll need those garden gloves, scores of spools of thread, scientific calculators and multiple sets of hand tools. Our projects range from building physical therapy equipment to vegetable garden beds and holding classes in sewing, composting, home repair and conversational English. It’s all part of our effort to help families in need become self-sustaining through education and support efforts.

Friends of Cozumel volunteers gathered for an orientation and dinner to kick off the February mission week.

Volunteers from Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon and California, as well as many who live here on the island gathered tonight for a welcome dinner and orientation. It was great to see so many returning volunteers as well as some new faces. I was amazed to learn that some first-time volunteers joined us in a leap of faith after visiting this website and reading about our work. You’ll have a chance to meet some of them through our blog this week.

We have 22 different projects on the schedule for the next seven days. I know—what were we thinking? But no worries. About 40 volunteers have signed on. Some will help part time during their vacation. Others will work full time, which for this group means 14-hours days. Of course we have lots of fun along the way. I hope you’ll come back to this blog to see the evidence. We’ll try to post information and photos daily. And be sure to leave us your comments. We’d love to get your reaction. –Phyllis

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Casita Corazon Cozumel . . . Embracing Volunteerism — October 2012

Visiting Casita Corazon (Heart House) yesterday reminded me of the African proverb Hillary Clinton popularized in the 90′s “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Casita was bustling with various activities (physical therapy for youth with disabilities, sensory stimulation activities, games/basketball, pumpkin decorating project) focused on the needs of special children ages 3-23. Carrie’s Heart staff, parents as well as visiting and resident volunteers work as a team. Pictured from left: Luis (Carrie’s Heart therapist), Jose (19 year old youth with multiple disabilities), Lee and Dianne Wilson (visiting volunteers) and Lupe (Casita Corazon caretaker).

Lee and Dianne are here for an extended stay this fall. They contacted Friends of Cozumel to inquire about volunteer opportunities to combine with their love of diving. The Wilsons have personal experience and support mission work with women and children in Africa. They were searching for ways to serve children along with their special interest in benefitting people with disabilities so volunteering at Casita Corazon seemed like a perfect match. Lee and Dianne assist with therapy and lead activities with the children and parents three mornings a week. The Wilsons are also involved with Diveheart and looking forward to participating with a team coming to the island in early December. Diveheart is a non-profit foundation that provides educational scuba diving and snorkeling experiences for children, adults, and veterans with disabilities. Click here to learn more about Diveheart.

Casita Corazon News and Photos

Luis provides therapy for Juan Diego, age 23, who loves looking at Christmas lights. Carrie Conn, Founder of Carrie’s Heart, is leading a new model for working with children with disabilities. Employees and families are being asked to stretch outside their comfort zone to transition from the traditional one on one (therapist and child) method typical in Mexico to a team approach using volunteers.

Leticia (Juan Diego’s mother right) helps her granddaughter, Hanna, decorate a pumpkin. Leticia and the other parents are beginning to volunteer their time while at the Casita by cleaning, putting away supplies and doing educational, stimulation activities with kids. They are also being trained to assist with all the youth (not just their own child). Beginning in 2013, parent volunteers will participate in a rotation schedule to allow for respite for the moms. They will be able to drop off their children and pick them up some days and be scheduled to assist on other days.

Luisito (brother of Jose) decorates a pumpkin with Lee. Luisito’s life has significantly changed this school year as he is no longer confined to stay at home all day, everyday. His mother takes him to the Casita on the Collectivo (public van transportation) daily before she goes to work and picks him up early evening after work. His mornings and lunch are spent at the Casita in activities with other children. Then he walks a few blocks with Lupe (caretaker) and two of her children to attend the CAM School for children with disabilities in the afternoon.

Hanna and Luisito play with a learning computer. After two months participating at the Casita and attending CAM, we see a HUGE difference in Luisito. He’s learning to interact with other children, making friends, communicating more and is much calmer. At age 12 his world has opened up to include opportunities beyond his home and immediate family.

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THANK YOU 2012 school supply donors and greatest needs for 2013–October 2012

The huge smiles of gratitude from Miriam and four of her five school age children pictured here says it all . . . THANK YOU to everyone who donated school supplies and to many volunteers who shopped, served as “sherpas” transporting donations to Cozumel, filled backpacks or distributed school supplies to 162 children. An additional 80 children with disabilities and their 8 classroom teachers benefitted from extra supplies donated to the CAM school plus 20 more children who received supplies given to the Vida Abundante Church youth group.

All of the students are from families in need identified by pastors, church lay leaders, non-profit organization leaders and local resident volunteers based on their personal knowledge of the family’s economic situation or unique circumstances. Approximately 2/3 of the students who received school supplies in August are kindergarten through elementary grades; 1/3 are middle or high school students plus a few who attend a local university.

School attendance is “obligatory” (but not enforced) for youth to age 12. The exciting trend we’re seeing over the years is the increasing number of students continuing their education into middle, high school and the university, especially young women. It is much more expensive for students to attend middle and high school due to the increased costs of supplies as well as public school registration fees. A number of parents have shared with us their children would not be able to continue their education without receiving this type of help.

During the past several weeks I’ve had a chance to talk with 33 (~20%) of the 162 children during home visits. Nearly all of them feel they are doing well in their classes. Some of these children have incredible odds to overcome that detract from learning like hunger, lack of home electricity for light to do homework, family situations that include abuse/alcohol/abandonement or parents who can not read or write to help them. They LOVE their backpacks with supplies and are so proud to receive them.

Our 2013 goal is to help 180 children. Each year we wonder if/how it will be possible to gather enough bags, supplies and shoes for the children in greatest need. Through the generous donations of many individuals, families, and groups in the US, Canada as well as visitors and local Cozumel residents, we are well on our way to collecting basic supplies for next summer. Here are the top five needs listed in priority order:

Backpacks and messenger bags (all sizes). Watch for end-of-season sales at discount stores selling off their inventory.

Athletic shoes. Greatest need is any color/style of children’s sizes 3+ through adults’ size 8 (white preferred, accent color OK)

Pencil holders (any style pouch or slider box)

Basic calculators

Scientific calculators

Click here for more information about the School Supplies Project.

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Antonia’s Garden Experience (continued) — October 2012

Rain, rain go away! It is rainy season here on the island. It has been one of those weeks with torrential downpours, flooded streets and “rain days” where school was cancelled because it was too dangerous to transport children to school. Everything feels wet, including clothing and furnishings inside our homes. However, the plants and trees are thriving. The photos are from Antonia’s garden area . . . bananas almost ready to harvest and coconuts contribute to the family’s nutrition.

During a home visit, the kids in Jose’s family told me they missed three days of school this past week due to rain. When I asked them what they had been doing while home on the rain days . . . they said eating squash “muy dulce” (very sweet) grown by Antonia, their grandmother (photo in previous blog posting). What better endorsement can you get about the value of growing vegetables when children ages 6-15 comment enthusiastically about eating squash?

Antonia shared exciting news . . . she recently sold three rose cuttings for 25 pesos (about $2 US) each. I commented about her raising prices 5 pesos from two weeks ago. She just smiled and said that people will pay it for healthy plants. She is so proud of being able to sell a few of the things she is growing.

Although Antonia has been growing flowers for years from cuttings given to her by friends and neighbors, her experience in growing food is new. Here’s her first small garden plot about 3′ x 5′ filled with the first crop of radishes. The seeds were given to her by Friends of Cozumel volunteers.

Now she wants to expand her efforts. She’s planning to clear the junk and trees off this area of land and put in a larger garden. Antonia’s is one of several families we plan to support in implementing home garden projects during the next year.

A community garden project sponsored by the Cozumel Rotary Club will be initiated soon to educate families in different methods of growing vegetables and will include composting. Check back for an update to be provided by Cindy Trautwein, Rotary Club member and Friends of Cozumel volunteer.

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Growing food for her family . . . Antonia’s experience — October 2012

Ask Antonia about her plants and she immediately beams. Antonia is Jose’s grandmother and the matriarch of her extended family including 10 children living outside of town in very modest conditions. She’s always had an interest in growing flowers from cuttings neighbors give her. She has the most amazing collection of tropical plants and beautiful roses potted in broken reclaimed containers most of us would consider garbage.

Jose’s family has lots of needs. Frequently they do not have enough food for the 10 children and 6 adults that live together. This past year has been especially difficult because only one or two adults have had steady work. Medical bills for Jose’s mother’s operation and a new baby have taken their toll on the family’s resources. During our mission project week last February we asked Antonia why she didn’t grow food to help supplement the family’s basic needs. She responded that she would love to but she didn’t have seeds and couldn’t afford to buy them. We took her two tomato plants and “herba buena” (local herb used for cooking) from a local nursery. She was thrilled. See Antonia’s first tomatoes (green ones at lower center of photo) next to a beautiful tropical plant (at left). She kept some of the seeds of these tomatoes to start more plants.

Since her early success with tomatoes, Antonia has received seed packets (i.e. radishes, lettuce, chili peppers) from Friends of Cozumel volunteers. Although this initial stage is just a trial and the quantities have been small, the family has enjoyed eating what Antonia has grown. They have used the herbs and chilis for flavoring in soups, pastas and beans, all staples for their meager food supply.

In June Antonia excitedly told us she had made her first “sales” . . . two chili’s for 2 pesos (about 8 cents each) and a mounding handful of chili peppers for 5 pesos (about 40 US cents) to neighbors walking by on the Transversal Road. She also sold a small rose bush grown from a cutting off her roses for 20 pesos (about $1.60 US). We did the math . . . her earnings from selling a rose cutting could buy 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of dried black beans that would last the family of 16 for several days.

She’s a smart woman. For the first time ever this stay-at-home grandmother is able to make a small amount of money to contribute to the family’s needs by doing something she loves. We talked about how she might be able to sell more things she grows . . . perhaps Blanca, one of the older children, could paint a sign to post by the road. She commented yes, it is an idea. However, they didn’t have and couldn’t afford materials to make a sign. After all, she can just “call out” to people walking by to ask if they would like to buy something. I chuckled to myself because we were trying to help her with a simple marketing approach and she reminded us “word of mouth” works just fine. Antonia lamented she could sell more rose cuttings if she had bags or containers for them . . . a resource problem easily solved with a box full of used old plastic pots a local donor gave us.

Antonia is proud of her latest “harvest”, squash grown by the side of the road. In the past couple of weeks she’s shared that she wants to clear junk out of a central area of their homestead plot and put in a large garden bed. Antonia’s husband is slowly digging a pit by hand to make the family an outdoor latrine since they don’t have plumbing. He is saving the soil in between the limestone rocks as he digs to add to Antonia’s first very small garden area. He is also carefully piling up limestone chunks of rock to use to outline a larger garden area. Friends of Cozumel volunteers may help Jose’s family install garden beds during our February 2013 mission project week.

We’re anxiously waiting for news about a community garden project being sponsored by the Cozumel Rotary Club to help families like Antonia’s implement home gardens. It will be a terrific way to assist families in becoming self-sustaining and improve nutritional health.

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Sweet Donations Benefit Children & Families — September 2012

Picture this . . . walking into a guest suite at Cozumel Palace Resort seeing a king size bed completely covered with school supplies and teaching materials piled a foot high; an avalanche of 70+ backpacks in one corner; suitcases and bags stuffed with fabric, underwear, socks; tool bags full of new hand tools while Sweet volunteers continued opening and sorting more bags of donations arriving every few minutes from their group’s guests. Larry, April and I were speechless at the magnitude and quality of the donations from the “Sweeties”, a group of 300+ women who combined vacation and community service here the first week of September.

Sweet donated over 30,000 items for Cozumel women, children and animals. And they kept on giving through their sponsorship and participation in events to benefit the Cozumel Humane Society, the turtle rescue program, cleaning beaches and partnering with Friends of Cozumel to support children and families in need.

Our conservative estimate is Sweet donations will directly benefit . . .

350 Children (1/3 with disabilities)
by supporting their education and learning (via donations of school supplies, books, shoes, socks, underwear)

50 Women learning new skills in sewing and basic home/facility repair classes (via donations of fabric, supplies and tools)

7 Families and 16 daycare children by providing nutritious meals (via donations of food supplies). Friends of Cozumel, Sweeties, and NUAFA President Eloisa Buenfil met with Raquel, a single mother and her 12 day old baby, Cecilia. Together we provided food for the mother and special needs for the baby. It was a very emotional, meaningful time for everyone. Raquel shared she sought out Eloisa’s help and cried and prayed for two days after her baby was born because she didn’t have adequate milk for the baby or resources to purchase formula. She returned to work when the baby was 10 days old because she knew she needed to provide for her child. The Sweeties were so moved by this young mother’s story they collected a cash donation from their travel companions that night at supper and are providing financial support to assist Raquel in providing for her child.

Victoria and her five children were one of seven families in need identified to receive food supplies. They walked over 3 miles to receive food despenses (supplies). One of the children received a new pair of shoes brought by Sweet. The four school age children received backpacks as part of the Friends of Cozumel School Supply Project last month. They will also benefit next summer from Sweet’s school supply donations.

30+ Families
with needed clothing they can not afford to buy

20+ local community leaders, teachers, pastors, daycare staff with resources supporting their work with youth and families (via donations of a laptop, teaching aids, supplies)

Multiple non-profit organizations and efforts
including the CAM School for 120 kids with disabilities; NUAFA (Heart of Family Support Center) daycare, women’s skill training classes; Vida Abundante (Abundant Life) Church youth group learning programs; and school supply project for 180 students (kindergarten through univeristy) from families with limited resources.

KUDOS to Sweeties . . . Their personal caring and donated resources are helping local families and organizations become self-sufficient. Ten volunteers visited NUAFA to learn about serving families in crises and interact with daycare children. They also toured the CAM School’s life skills program for teens with disabilities. A small group personally shopped, assembled and distributed food supplies to families in need. Personal connections made and new friendships initiated will go beyond a one-time visit. Individuals of the Sweet group are partnering with Friends of Cozumel volunteers to provide follow-up financial support and special needs for selected families and organizations. ~~Karen


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