Besides the fine dining, glamorous hotel properties and cocktail sipping one might see if you follow my rambling trails on Instagram or Facebook, you will also see photos of locals or crafts people I meet along the way. I love chatting with those involved or working within these foundations – people who make a significant difference in local lives. People who provide job skills and aid in creating sustainable occupations.
One such fine organization was presented to me in Mérida, Mexico. When you visit Mérida, we will organize your private guiding with an esteemed local firm who has secured the most knowledgeable guides and supports several local non-profits. Part of my process is to hand select our guiding teams, assuring the absolute best guides for our clients. We don’t look at an extensive list provided by a large travel association to ‘vet’ our guides and local teams, I prefer a more personal relationship with our local representatives.
As you may know, many original Haciendas have been restored as hotel properties or as private stay. I had the opportunity to explore a few and stayed at one hotel hacienda property – I am dying to return to Mérida and see more of these converted ancient haciendas.
In 2002, the devastating Hurricane Isidore slammed into the states of Yucatán and Campeche, leaving a path of devastation in its path. In these two states there are many rural Maya communities that were severely affected by this hurricane. As a result of witnessing the ruins and destruction caused to these communities, Grupo Plan, a corporation that owns a number of haciendas in the Yucatán, started the project La Fundación de las Haciendas del Mundo Maya, AC ( The Haciendas Foundation of the Maya World). The same founder, a successful businessman and his wife founded an exclusive travel firm, employing esteemed guides, specializing in the Yucatan, whom we specifically work with for our client visits.
Friday morning, Pedro Gamboa collected me for the visit to the artisan workshops nearby the Hacienda Temozon Sur. What an electric morning with these charming and talented women. They challenged me to make one of the sisal turtles…from handling the rough uncombed sisal to intricate weaving and assembly. By nature, I am competitive and I sadly must admit, I failed at this delicate craft. The story was the same, each one had introduced a friend to the native craft – the objects may be travel trinkets, but the sisal history is an integral story of the Mayan heritage. I asked them what they liked the most – one said: the money, it is all mine, not my husbands’! She giggled and blushed; these traditional women did not work outside the home and some faced resistance from their spouses. I asked what do you with your money? I pay for my children and grandchildren’s education. I’m not certain she saw the tears well up in my eyes, it was so heartwarming to see a flourishing project and meet these enterprising successful women. The foundation works directly with the women in the villages and are seeing that when women are empowered with education and skills, entire families benefit – and when families benefit, the entire village benefits. Through various programs, the foundation is working with 177 artisans in 14 villages that surround the haciendas they own.
We visited the sisal workshop and the carved horn workshop where Cecilia Ek took slices of a horn, pounded them, drew and cut intricate patterns into the tough horn, remarkable – she has won many awards for her work. We also visited a seamstress and a tortilla business. It was the hottest month of May, but the broad smiles of these proud women in the sweltering tortilla bakery told the story – independence, success and a better life for them and their families. These are a few of the highlights of my recent travels.
The local guiding team we selected also works in collaboration with the hotel and private haciendas, they provided my introduction to these village of women working on their exceptional crafts. The features of the foundation, besides teaching these women useful skills, set up working villages near the hotel haciendas where the women work and sell their goods. They have also established a path with retailers for the craft goods. The non-profit organization was created with the idea of assisting these rural Maya communities escape poverty as they try to change their ways and adapt to the 21st century.
The Haciendas Foundation was founded as a unique union between the tourism project developed by the group (Grupo Plan) that specializes in innovative tourist developments (the hacienda hotels) and the Maya communities where the haciendas are located.
I once spent much time in Kenya with a small non-profit who taught teen girls how to run a business – it was a solid lesson in the theory: if you teach a woman or a girl a skill, she is more likely than a man to share these skills with other girls – like tossing a pebble into a pond, the ripple effect. When I met the local women in the workshops near Hacienda Temozon Sur, this lesson was repeated to me by the workers – each one introduced a friend, mother or sister to this organization. Success creates success.
Transformation is on the rise in the villages where the program has been put into practice – lives are changing for the better. Such positive changes seem infectious in each community!
When you purchase one of these products you are helping a family end the vicious cycle of poverty.
Donations and more details can be found at: www.haciendasmundomaya.com