By Allison Tibaldi, Taking the Kids Correspondent
DAY THREE at Iberostar Playa Mita on Mexico’s Pacific Coast — Beach vacations are an opportunity for busy families to spend time together in a relaxed environment. Kicking back with your toes in the sand can facilitate memorable moments and encourage inter-generational conversation. In our family, an afternoon away from the resort is fundamental.
Interacting with the local population is a broadening and rewarding aspect of our travel experience. A day or just an afternoon away from the resort’s confine is a terrific way to open your eyes to a completely different way of life. If you have ever considered volunteering, a visit to the Riviera Nayarit presents a golden opportunity.
A 20-minute taxi ride from the luxurious Iberostar Playa Mita brings you to the sleepy fishing village of San Francisco, known locally as San Pancho. In this tiny seaside town, you will find Entre Amigos. It is a vibrant community center, founded by local resident Nicole Swedlow. She is an American expat who came here a dozen years ago. With a divorce behind her and two young children, Nicole has remained loyal to her adopted home and its people.
Her mission is to teach the local population how to better themselves in a variety of ways and education is a key component. Nicole was a literature major in college and books are everywhere you turn. There are English classes for kids and adults as well as a tech center with modern computers. There is a light-filled art studio that turns recycled laundry detergent containers into ride-on children’s toys that they sell at their craft shop. Entre Amigos has an expansive circus arts program.
One of the founders of Cirque du Soleil has a home in town and has donated time, equipment and manpower to teach local kids acrobatics. The goal is not to train kids for a professional career in the circus, rather to teach them hard work, confidence, discipline and self-esteem.
Environmental sustainability is another important part of Entre Amigos. 100% of the waste created is re-used and 80% of all materials on the premises are recycled. Skylights keep power bills low and a maze of primitive fans exploit the Pacific breeze to naturally cool the entire complex. Empowering the local population to be economically sustainable is at the forefront of Entre Amigos. Nicole’s goal is to teach the local population viable skills so they may remain in San Pancho and not need to migrate to larger communities in search of work.
The profits earned from the second hand clothing store on premise help to support the center. Prices in the shop are always low, but there is a monthly sale when any item costs only one peso, approximately a penny in U.S. currency. Nicole does this so that local families may take pride in purchasing necessary items, not just receive donations.
Nicole is a welcoming presence and she accepts casual volunteers of all ages with open arms. As Entre Amigos receives no money from the Mexican government, volunteers are indispensable. All she asks is that you contact her in advance. If you want to simply tour the center, perfect.
If you can donate a bag of used clothing to sell at the resale shop, wonderful. If you have the time to help out in the library, art studio, play center or kitchen, fabulous. Your tween or teen might want to be a homework helper to a younger child. They may even learn a few words of Spanish in the deal. Some casual volunteers have returned and taught workshops for a week or raised funds for the scholarship program, but there is zero pressure to commit or to donate money. We found our afternoon at Entre Amigos to be extremely inspiring and hope your family will too.
Click on the Entre Amigos website for more information. You may e-mail Nicole at email@example.com. The Iberostar concierge can arrange transportation to San Pancho.