Where Do All the Children Go?

by Mari Pintkowski and Aline Libassi  (March 2015)

Have you ever passed by one of the primary schools in Tulum at either 12:30 or 4:30 (double-session classes)? Unlike in Playa and Cancun there will not be a traffic jam of cars, as the caretakers in Tulum are on foot. You will observe mamas, papas and abuelos, along with their tiny children, peering through the locked gates waiting for classes to be dismissed. Soon the children come running out to greet their family and often partake in a snack sold by a friendly person in a cart on wheels. It is a loving yet chaotic scene for an outsider.

I began to wonder if all children have to be picked up by someone, or can children be dismissed to walk home alone? I also wondered if the school or other organization provided care for children whose parents were working outside the home.

I understand that most Latin American mamas do not work outside the home. They are kept occupied with housekeeping tasks, including caring for little ones, often as many as 2 or 3, younger than the primary age children. These babies are quite mobile as many now have strollers and baby carriers. I remember only five years ago when a stroller or baby carrier was a rare sighting for non-tourists. The other luxury many of these mamas have is that they are surrounded by extended family. There is almost always an auntie or grandparent close by to lend a hand.

Tulum has become a desirable place for young people, many of them single, from all over Latin America as well as other places in the world, to relocate to in order to find work and a better life. With this new culture, there is not the extended family around to help with the task of raising healthy children.

Since all schools in Tulum are on double session or extended day, there is no space or staff available to fill the need for an organized after-school program.

I discovered that Save the Children, the largest international non-profit working for the well-being of children, has a small center, known as a ludoteca, in the neighborhood of Hurricanes. Save the Children also has ludotecas in Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. These locations are targeted because these communities present a high incidence of abuse and neglect. The programs in all locations follow the same curriculum that was developed professionally to emphasize cooperation, respect, self-esteem, nutrition, health, equal opportunities for boys and girls, safety, English and homework support.

Save the Children also provides programs for public schools in Cancun and Playa del Carmen focusing on health, nutrition, suicide prevention and special workshops for adolescents, parents and staff in some of the large hotels. Human trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors, and good parenting practices are some of the topics that facilitators from the organization discuss in their workshops.

In other Mexican states, Save the Children facilities are located in schools, municipal spaces and libraries. Tulumís ludoteca first opened its doors in a space at the Casa de la Cultura but, due to lack of funding, the facility was shut down. Today, sadly, it remains closed to the citizens, no longer the bustling location for classes in art, music, crafts and language learning, as well as the Save the Children group.

After leaving the Cultural Center, they moved to an inadequate space across the street, which they had to leave within a few months.  They were able to locate a new space and a community of volunteers, including the teaching staff and members of Los Arboles Tulum, who set to work to transform the tiny, bare and dirty space into a bright and cheerful haven for children. This regional non-profit does not receive funds from Save the Children International, so they depend on private and corporate donations. Xcaret has been instrumental in making the space more comfortable for the children by putting in fans and building an outdoor palapa. The cost of this space seems relatively cheap, about $350 US a month, but without a solid funding source, each month the program is in jeopardy. During its first year at Hurricanes, the rent was paid for by private donations from Los Arboles Tulum residents. Save the Children now is able to fund the rent for this year.

Currently the facility only serves 20 to 25 children in this tiny pocket community of Tulum. A location that is more centralized and more accessible to a greater number of children would allow the project to be more visible, and hence to serve more children. The giving-committee of Los Arboles Tulum has been searching for a more suitable location, and would like to consider the purchase a piece of property within the city center to accommodate a building. The company that owns and operates Xcaret, Xel Ha and other environmental parks has agreed to build a facility on the land. Since the cost of land in the center of Tulum has been steadily increasing, the organization will need a large fundraising effort to realize this dream.

When asked about the families of the children currently attending the ludoteca, I was told that many have moms at home. Just because there is someone present in the house does not mean the children are receiving stimulation and the attention they deserve. Many moms in this group have newborn or very young children and are overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks of caring for the home and the babies. At the ludoteca, the children have supervised time to complete homework that reinforces skills learned in school before taking part in the other planned curriculum activities, including learning English. The most important part of this is that the children have a safe and enriching place to spend a few productive hours with a dedicated and caring staff.

We all need to realize that the children are our future, and that it takes a village to raise a child.

If you would like to help, please consider monetary donations to go towards the purchase of land, so that we can build a comprehensive space for todayís children and future generations.

Please contact aline.libassi@gmail.com for further information.

Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, own and operate the #1 B&B in Tulum, www.laselvamariposa.com.

Save the Children
Akumal Villas

Cabanas Tulum