Somewhere along the travels of my life, I heard a saying I’ve tried to follow: We should strive to leave a place in better condition than when we found it. I loved this idea. In practice, though, it sometimes feels inconvenient. However, once I’m done helping, it’s a wonderful feeling that lasts much longer than that great massage. Since my kids are privileged compared to most people in the world, as most Americans are, it’s important for them to connect with the understanding that, because of their blessings, they have the power to help others live better lives than they had when we found them. Even if it’s in the slightest way, like sharing a book or a smile, or even in a bigger capacity, like helping to plant a garden or dig a well that will feed and hydrate countless families. Balancing a fun family trip with a few hours spent helping the surrounding community can leave kids feeling good about themselves and empowered — you can’t buy those gifts.
Somewhere between Sayulita and Punta Mita lies the efforts of one single mom of two. Nicole Swedlow came on vacation to Puerto Vallarta, ended up falling in love with the town next door and singlehandedly brought literacy and recycling to San Pancho, a village full of fishermen and house cleaners. Now, the children of this pueblo are going off to college and their parents are also learning new skills.
The idea was simple, if you have a skill, teach it and if you want to learn a skill, come take a free class. She started with her kitchen table set out in front of a storefront she rented to sell artwork created by locals. She took a lower cut of their profit if they agreed to teach classes to anyone interested. It became a community center, a central hub. The idea caught fire and donations started arriving in the form of books for her to create a library in the town without even a post office; secondhand clothes for a thrift shop that now funds their efforts; and the government donated an abandoned warehouse to expand their good deeds.
Families vacationing in the area could come for an hour, a day or a week. If you know a craft, come teach it. A sport you love, come demonstrate it. Bring backpacks full of school supplies for needy children because education isn’t free in Mexico so many poor families don’t send their children. EntreAmigos aids those families by providing scholarships to kids demonstrating a desire to learn. If you visit the center, there’s something for all ages to do. My sons sorted library books with their dad while I attached price tags to the displayed art. When the boys got bored, they wandered over to the indoor playing field and found a way to communicate with the local children playing soccer and engaged them in a game.
Email Gaelle at email@example.com to find out how your family could get involved.
Hawai’i has the highest number of homeless people per capita than any other state in the United States. It also imports 90 percent of its food. In 1974, a priest, a professor and a social worker came together to try and fix that. Together, they created Kahumana, which developed over time into a transitional housing program for homeless families, a site to learn new job skills and a farm to empower the island to cultivate and harvest its own organic food.
Today, the program offers a safe place for adults with developmental disabilities like autism to come and commune with the animals for the day, a child development center and a retreat for families who want to get back to the land and make a difference in Oahu’s future. Families, couples and solo travelers can stay on the farm and help out as they like. Visit kahuman.org for more information.
You may have heard the world’s coral is slowly dying from climate change. Some of the hardest hit areas lost 90 percent 2015–2017, but, in Fiji, they are doing something about it and inviting visitors to help. Build a fish house in one of the resorts like the Shangri-La to create a safe domain for fish to live in and reproduce; go underwater with Plantation Island Resort or Navutu Stars Resort staff to help transplant harvested coral into areas that need repair; or stay at a farm to learn about organic farming and permaculture.
Go to Visit.org or globalvolunteers.org/ to find opportunities to leave a place in better condition than when you found it in areas where your family will visit.