I recently visited our volunteer program in Mexico and wanted to share my honest look at volunteering abroad in Mexico with IVHQ. If you are still torn between which IVHQ Latin America program to choose, be forewarned Mexico may just come out the winner before your reading is through.
Even after all of my travel experience, my mother’s initial reaction when I told her I was traveling to Mexico for my IVHQ visit was - “is it safe for you to travel there?”. The truth is, I felt safer walking around Merida, Mexico than I ever did in many cities in Europe. The IVHQ Mexico program is located in Merida which is in the south the Gulf of Mexico and it seems like the biggest troubles you could possibly encounter here are the stray cats and dogs. Don’t get me wrong, like in any foreign country you need to have your wits about you and use your common sense. That’s the advantage of traveling with IVHQ, as part of your program you are provided with 24/7 guidance and support from our local team to ensure a safe and enjoyable volunteer experience.
After a long haul flight from New Zealand, my arrival was a bit of a blur, but after joking with the friendly customs officer I made my way through Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (MID) easily, with my baggage - which after any flight is always a bonus. Once through customs and in the arrival hall a large IVHQ sign came into view and I was greeted by the local staff. Once we left the airport, the heat hit me instantly - phew, if you are looking to escape the cold then this is certainly the place for you! Merida is rarely ever below 68°F (20°C) year round, it basks in heat with the occasional cool shower or thunderstorm.
On arrival at the volunteer accommodation, I knew I was going to enjoy my stay in Mexico. I was greeted by other IVHQ volunteers who had just arrived and were now relaxing around the communal swimming pool. The vibe between the local staff (who live just next door) and the volunteers was very relaxed and playful. The volunteer accommodation is very social, and throughout my stay, there was a lot of story sharing about volunteering, travel and life both pool side and around the dinner table. If you would prefer a home stay type accommodation, this can be arranged no problem. This is a fantastic way to truly immerse yourself in the culture of Merida - live like a local with a local family.
My first day in Merida was a Sunday, so there was no volunteer work, but I was glad it worked out this way as I was able to find my bearing and I planned an excursion to check out the history and sights of Yucatan. Traveling by minibus with a local tour company (who work closely with the local staff in Merida) I arrived at the grounds of Chichen Itza and spent the day exploring the Mayan ruins and learning about the history of the area. Following the incredible wonders of the Mayan ruins was a quick trip to the famous Cenotes for a swim in the 150ft deep caves. This whole journey is definitely an experience I recommend to all volunteers during their IVHQ weekend or before or after their volunteer experience in Mexico.
Orientation in Merida takes place on the first Monday of your start date and takes the full day. Orientation covers rules, expectations, culture, and placements instructions followed by a tour into downtown Merida to see the sights and to learn the transport system.
The rest of my stay in the delightful city of Merida was made up visiting the following project placements, I can honestly say that our program in Mexico has a volunteer project for everyone, I don’t envy IVHQers having to decide between projects - take a look at my experiences below!
Working With Children
Visiting the first placement Tuesday morning we traveled to a centre for children aged up to 18 with special needs. Having a younger brother with Cerebral Palsy, my jaw dropped in awe of the amazing opportunities that the children are provided at this placement. The main support that volunteers are able to provide at this placement is through creche support and childcare. While Volunteers with specialized qualifications are absolutely able to utilize these, from occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, dentistry, to sports and water therapy.
Off to the next placement, a home for young troubled boys who were working on growing and maintaining there own sustainable crops, chickens and fish. Volunteers who have a great attitude, can assist in sports and implementing daily routine with these young boys. What is particularly great about this placement is the excitement the boys get from having international volunteers as mentors - bring stories of your travels and life back home.
Animal Care/Animal Rights
If you have a passion for animals, in particular dogs and cats then the Animal Care project is a must for you. During my visit, in the space of an hour nearly ten street dogs had been rescued. IVHQ volunteers work alongside the shelter staff to feed, clean, walk and care for these animals until they can be vaccinated and neutered in the hopes that they will then be collected by locals looking for house pets.
Volunteers with a background in teaching or those with a basic knowledge of Spanish are placed in a small public school Teaching English to children’s from grade 1 up to grade 6, a challenging but rewarding project. If you are interested in teaching however feel you are more prepared to teach adults than children, for two nights per week you can work additional hours and mentor adults whose understanding of the english language is a little more advanced.
Special Needs Care
The following day we visited the home of twelve wonderful children with severe physical and mental disabilities whose care had been originally abandoned, thankfully they have been taken-in by nuns. Volunteers support provides daily care, game playing, teaching, singing and movement. If you have a background in the care of special needs this project is in great need of you.