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Por Un Mejor HOY
You may have had moments when you said, "I hope tomorrow will be better than today." But these folks are 24 hours ahead of your schedule.
This month, I had the chance to connect with Por Un Mejor HOY, and discover how they have developed their VolunTourism activities over the last several years. Their goal for VolunTourism is in their name - "For A Better Today."
A Brief History
In 2001, after multiple trips over the years, each one with increasing contact with the peoples and cultures being visited, husband and wife Gerardo Jaime and Katy Barnhart decided to add a new twist to their next journey: incorporate volunteer community work to the itinerary. Por un mejor HOY was launched in the summer of that year during a life-changing backpacking trip through South America and Mexico. They chose the inspiring Maya legend La historia de los colores to read to children in spontaneous visits at schools, orphanages, after-school and child-care centers, and public squares in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chiapas ( Mexico). During this incredible journey, they got a taste of the possibilities for world improvement and personal development through this type of “contact travel.” Getting back to New York in late fall, they decided to legally incorporate Por un mejor HOY as a U.S. nonprofit.
Since its beginnings in 2001, Por un mejor HOY has carried out more than 30 workshops (focus on cross-cultural understanding, cooperation and peace) on a volunteer basis with approximately 500 children and youngsters in communities in need, in 10 countries of the Americas. HOY has planned and hosted 6 events in Mexico and New York (project presentations, photo exhibits, and video screenings) as well as day-long celebrations of arts and culture called “Festival Esperanza” to promote its work. HOY has also volunteered at youth hostels in New York City and Mexico City.
HOY now focuses on promoting participatory travel, or contact travel. HOY’s participatory trips program combines community service; “sightseeing” with a twist (emphasizing the unusual, culturally illuminating, off-the-beaten path destinations), and visits or chats with local artists and activists (often at their home). HOY has carried out 2 two-week-long organized participatory trips in Mexico City, and 1 one-week trip to the small town of Tianguistengo in Mexico’s sierra. A total of 29 individuals from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America have tried out HOY’s brand of meaningful travel and carried out volunteer work at six different organizations or projects to the benefit of approximately 100 individuals in the local communities. This coming spring HOY will return to Tianguistengo with a group of 15 college students from Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles.
Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT
Por un mejor HOY has established a working relationship with important not-for-profit organizations in New York, such as Art for Change, Fourth World Movement, Lower East Side Girls Club, and the Mexican Cultural Institute. In Mexico, HOY has set up links with organizations and community projects where volunteers are constantly in demand and where HOY’s travelers/participants can integrate themselves and work, including Colectivo Tierra Viva, EDNICA, Comparte, Metamorfosis, and Pro Niños de la Calle.
Por un mejor HOYmeans"For a better today" in Spanish. It offers a participatory experience, whose key ingredients are the socially aware traveler and community volunteerism. It is the expression of simple but productive human experience through interaction and exchange. It is Katy and Gerardo’s response to the world and life in these trying times of war, violence, poverty, injustice, and accelerated and overwhelming globalization. We hope it will strike a chord with others and inspire them to incorporate a new type of travel and a new way of seeing the world into their own lives—for a lifetime.
Although oftentimes carried out in a limited amount of time (say, a week or two), participatory travel can be a very rewarding experience, allowing the visitor to get to know other people from different cultures. It also creates an interaction between visitors and locals that has the potential to impact impressions, rethink preconceptions, and spark new ideas about one’s own future projects. Most important, HOY’s brand of voluntourism, p articipatory travel, is a means of grassroots international cooperation that advances cross-cultural understanding and, ultimately, world peace!
We believe that travel in the 21st century should be a multidimensional tool for effecting massive positive change on earth! Participatory travel, a philosophy that can be applied the world round, creates a niche for each traveler to contribute to this movement.
Unique Voluntary Opportunities
In Mexico City, volunteers work weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. at an institution of their choice. Among the options are Tierra Viva, a community garden that promotes “permaculture”; EDNICA or Pro Niños de la Calle, two separate organizations that emphasize self-worth among street kids and show alternative ways to street life; Comparte, a community center serving the elderly; the Children’s Hospital in Xochimilco, where self-starters can design workshops and structured activities to hold with the facilitiy’s young patients; and Metamorfosis, where over a longer term, a volunteer can work with mentally and physically disabled children and adults.
Some specifics for Mexico City options: At EDNICA and Pro Ninos, volunteers spend the day with neighborhoods “chavos,” playing games and carrying out activities together. Everything from Ultimate Frisbee and races to the park on scooters to reflective workshops such as weighing “winning things” vs. “losing things” in one’s life to writing poems on selected subjects fills a typical day. The experience at Tierra Viva revolves around hard work under the sun preparing adobe bricks, picking up garbage for recycling, and carrying in and out sand, soil, and manure. Conversations can turn reflective when exchanging ideas and experiences with Tierra Viva’s members who have incorporated punk-rocker ecology into urban life in a rough-and-tumble part of the city. At Comparte, volunteers interact with senior citizens at the organization’s day center. They also visit the sick and infirm at home or in hospital, distributing food, medicine, conversation and company.
In a rural setting: In Mexico’s Eastern Sierra, HOY offers volunteer opportunities based out of Tianguistengo, Hidalgo. From there, volunteer head out daily to a given local community high in the mountains and work together with its members to carry out a project designated by the community. In the past HOY helped build a playground for a village’s school yard and painted murals for other communities’ public spaces. Participants also interact closely with the local children, giving a workshop and playing games.
Unique Tourism Experiences
A typical participatory trip consists of hands-on work with a community during the day and visiting an unusual museum, taking a walking tour in an old neighborhood, or meeting and talking with local artists, activists, or college students in the afternoon. All afternoon activities are chosen to take visitors to places where a tourist would not usually venture and introduce them to people and aspects of the culture that a tourist would not normally get to know. The opening day in Mexico City consists of a walking tour of Xochimilco and lunch on a boat along the area’s canals as a way to acclimate and get to know one another. Orientation is held in the afternoon. Other activities include going out dancing at a salsa club one night and a trip to a traditional Mexican cantina. All activities are optional and varied to try to suit many different tastes. There is always plenty of free time for the volunteers to visit whatever most interests them. Most moving around inside Mexico, be it in an urban or rural setting, is carried out on public transportation to further create a more real experience.
Sample Itinerary (June 13 - June 24)
June 13: Arrival & Orientation
June 14: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Cultural Activity/Outing
June 15: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Free Time
June 16: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Gathering with Artists
June 17: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Stroll through Coyoacán
June 18 & 19 - Free Days!
June 20: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Free Time
June 21: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Cultural Activity/Outing
June 22: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Gathering with Activists
June 23: 9am - 4pm Community Work Project; 4pm - 6pm Stroll through San Angel; 6pm Farewell Dinner
June 24: 9am - 4pm Last Day of Program - Group Activity, Recap, and Departure
U.S. mailing address:
Gerardo Jaime/Katy Barnhart
11 Bridle Path
Garrison , New York 10524
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