Xcalacoop, like many rural towns in Yucatan, Mexico, does not have the public services offered in more urban areas. Local families, however, have gotten support since 2007 from the Maya Foundation In Laakeech (lak’ech). The foundation is a civil volunteer association committed to supporting the Mayan people and communities with private funding and a volunteer team. The foundation sponsors a number of programs, but the one I took part in was the NUTRITION LUNCH PARTY for Mayan children.
This is what I learned…
1) It takes very little effort to make kids smile. (Or, in this case, maybe I said something really loco in Spanish and didn’t realize it. I think I was telling the boys they were handsome and used the words for “pretty” or “beautiful” — terms you would use to describe a girl, and I was quickly corrected. The word is definitely guapo for this group of macho teens.)
2) There’s more than one way to cook a meal for 50+ kids. It’s no easy task.
The kids at Ixcalacoop live in one of several Student Housing Centers in Yucatan. They range in age from kindergarten through high school. There’s one dormitory room for the girls; one for the boys. Big empty rooms! I expected to see beds. Chairs, dressers, desks. Then I saw the hooks around the walls. Of course, the Mayan kids sleep in hammocks. Each child has a small closet to hold personal belongings. They live here and go to various schools in the area, depending on age. Some of them visit families on weekends; some do not see much of their families at all.
3) It takes a special person (in this case, one caretaker/”principal” and a cook) to live with 58 children and teens and make it work without utter chaos. I got a glimpse of the way things work after lunch, when the kids lined up to wash their own dishes, one at a time. They were polite, disciplined, organized.
But they also laughed a lot, played games, joked around with each other — and occasionally laughed at me.
4) Something about Xcalacoop was foreign and familiar at the same. Was I simply recalling long-ago lunchrooms full of kids? Maybe. Girls exchanging shy looks across tables…secrets being whispered…celebrations? No. It was something I only realized later. The oilcloth! Every table had a different, brightly-patterned cover. I grew up with oilcloth and my mom was always excited when we got a new roll in the store. I remember her unrolling and measuring and cutting tablecloths for customers, as well as for our own house. Oilcloth has a special scent that is not like anything else. It feels slippery but smooth, doesn’t absorb spills, and is incredibly easy to keep clean. Years removed from my own childhood, I was suddenly sent back in time by the colorful designs on the lunchroom tables. I love these connections!
This one had roses and birds and looked almost like a patchwork quilt…
5) For the first time ever, at 5’5″, my height made me stick out in the crowd. And I knew my big feet couldn’t fill the shoes of these Mayan women and others like them who work so hard in their communities to give children a happy, healthy place to live and a chance for a better life.
The Hacienda Chichen, which sponsors and works closely with the volunteer programs, is walking distance to the ruins at Chichen Itza. If you’re visiting those fabulous Mayan ruins, check out how you can make a difference in the local community.