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When we registered for the Maya Rally 2012, we had the choice of paying upwards of $400.00 in entrance fees or alternatively, sign up to volunteer for a week with the Muskoka Foundation, an organization that pairs overland travelers with projects on their route- all around the world. I first learned of the Muskoka Foundation when I was doing research for our round the world overland trip. Since we had to put that off for a bit while Astrid recovers from her bone marrow transplant, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to work with this fantastic organization!

Upon our arrival in Guanajuato we set up camp, we met Chris and Liz of On To Plan B Then and their friend Andy who would be working with them at a different project site. Bryan and Jen, The Dangerz, rolled up next in their awesome ’67 Kombi. We all got to know each other a bit and then headed down the hill to meet the project coordinator, Katie Clancy and learn about our what we’d be doing for the week.

At Katie’s house we met Tad and Gaila of Overland Now as well as Elvis, the Africa Coordinator for Muskoka, Katie’s friend Beth, who was working with Katie’s other project in Guanajuato at Buen Pastor and Olga, a student from Spain who was helping out with the projects. Katie fed us some amazing Pozole Verde and we talked about the project we’d be working on for the next week.  Katie is incredibly energetic and passionate about her work and early into the evening, we were getting very excited about volunteering with Albergue Infantil de Irapuato, a state run home for orphan boys in Irapuato, about and hour’s drive from Guanajuato.

Katie goes over our volunteer strategy outside the orphanage.

Katie goes over our volunteer strategy outside the orphanage.

Day 1: Making New Friends

The next morning, we loaded into Katie’s car followed by Tad and Gaila on his BMW GS800, Andy on his XR250 Tornado and Jeff and Monica in their 80 Series Land Cruiser. As the big blue gates opened at the Albergue, we were deluged with kids and we spent the next half hour meeting Otmar, Diego, Mauricio, Felipe, Manuel, Jesus, Guadalupe, Martin, and Daniel as they climbed all over the motorcycles! What a great way to break the ice! We played futbol and basketball with the kids and then shared our cameras with them so they could take some photos. Even though there was a language barrier, we were able to form some quick bonds with the kids before they had to head off to school.

Katie and Felipe
Otmar and Camilla
Mauricio and the Volunteers

Once the kids took off for the day, we got a chance to really take a look at the facilities and make some decisions about what we could get done in the five short days we had left. The paint in the kid’s dorm rooms was dingy and in serious need of refreshing and their playground was dangerous to say the least. We sat down with a few of the kids that didn’t go to school that day to talk about what they wanted to see happen to their surroundings. Above all else, the kids said they wanted to have a better place to play. We knew what we had to do. The next few days were about transformation. Change their living space into something more beautiful and make their playground safer, more secure, and fun.

That afternoon we visited The Home Depot to pick up building supplies, paint, and other tools so we could get to work early the next day. By the end of the first day we were completely exhausted, but we had lots to do in the morning.

Day 2: Demolition and Painting and Buen Pastor!

Early the next morning, we started painting the boy’s rooms and demolishing the unsafe parts of the playground. I ran out with the gardener, Don Chava who had a good lead on used tires for the swings and tire wall we planned. After a few stops, we found a llantera that had some cheap used tires to sell us. We loaded them into Katie’s Jeep Cherokee and headed back to the Albergue! When I returned, the playground was already taking shape with Bryon and Bryan angle grinding the sharp edges off the swingset and Gaila and Jen getting a great start on the boy’s rooms. Monica was busy in the sewing room making new sleeping bags for the boys! It was amazing that we had all come together from different parts of the world and were working together to accomplish this incredibly cool feat for these kids!

Me and Otmar repainting the climbing structure!

Me and Otmar repainting the climbing structure!

We finished up early that day because Katie wanted to take us over to Buen Pastor to see what she hoped the Albergue would turn into at some point. We piled back into the vehicles and made the hour trek back to Guanajuato.

Buen Pastor is a girl’s home run by Catholic nuns and from the moment we entered the grounds we could tell that the home was based on love, respect, and hard work. The girls we met were incredible and we spent some time showing them pictures and talking to them about our travels and that turned into sharing our cameras with the girls so they could take photos of their friends. There was an amazing energy in the Buen Pastor and I certainly hope that Katie can bring a bit of that magic to the boys of Irapuato.

Bryan and Katie talking about Buen Pastor
Gaila showing off travel photos with the girls
A resident of Buen Pastor
A resident of Buen Pastor
A resident of Buen Pastor
The kids loved the travel photos
The girls loved the cameras!
A resident of Buen Pastor
Bryan and Jen showing travel photos to the girls

Day 3 & 4: Taking Shape

By day three, things really began to take shape. This was the push to get things completed as we only had one more full day to work and this evening was all about hanging out with the boys, watching movies and having a campout. We all drove our trucks there that day so we could set up the tents and stay the night. The tire wall began to take shape as Jeff and I bolted tires together in rows getting them ready for attachment to the monkey bars the next day. Painting was completed on the playground and Gaila and Jen got most of the painting done in the boy’s rooms. Monica and Beth worked hard to get the rest of the sleeping bags made and even made the boys some scarves and hats with extra material!

The boys we super excited when we lit the bonfire and broke out the fixings for S’mores! I’m not sure they’d ever had S’mores before, but they really liked them! Being completely exhausted from a long day, we all turned in to our respective tents and fell asleep knowing we accomplished a lot!

We awoke the next morning and got to work finishing the tire wall and attaching it to the structure. We hung the tire swing and dug a huge trench to bury the last row of tires before leaving at 1:30 p.m. back to Guanajuato. It’s amazing what can happen in the short span of a few hours!

Day 5: A (Needed) Day Off for Volunteers

Katie built in a day off in the midst of all the work, and believe me it was welcome! She wanted to take us to a special place far above Guanajuato in an area called Calderones. We drove far up the mountainside, through a small village and out into the middle of nowhere. The area we were in was filled with huge mountains, boulders, trees and amazing views of the City of Guanajuato far below. We hiked, had a picnic and spent more time talking and laughing! After lunch, we left Calderones and drove down to La Presa, a large lake in the city and had beers and Queso Fundido con Chorizo in the sun. It was an awesome afternoon!

The ride to Calderones
Beautiful moonscape!
The hike!
Far above Guanajuato
Alex and Katie
Chris and John the Hungarian drug addict.

Day 6: The Final Unveiling!

The last day was all about the final work on the playground and the dorms, we only had a few hours so things had to get finished that day. It was a bit sad to come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be seeing the boys again and with them being at school, we couldn’t really say our goodbyes. However, it was fulfilling to see the change we made in a few short days and I hope the boys were happy with the changes to their living spaces. I also hope that this was just the first of many experiences these boys will have with volunteers like us. I know for myself, my life was affected by working here with them and I hope they feel the same way. The bonds the volunteers made as a team will last well into the future too.

All the volunteers with the new playground!

The volunteers with the new playground!

We posed for one last picture with our finished product and said our goodbyes to the staff before taking off back to Guanajuato.

Read other people’s experiences of volunteering with the Muskoka Foundation!

Next up: The Start of the Maya Rally 2012!