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Rural Maya life in Yucatán

what you don’t see from the Riviera Maya

-article published in Atherton Magazine

The Maya Riviera is synonymous with crystal clear Caribbean waters, adventure travel, luxurious all-inclusive resorts and fabulous vacation memories. Sadly, this is not the life in rural Maya villages.

The Yucatán Peninsula is made up of the three states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo and most visitors only know the recently created “paradise” between Cancun and Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo. Rural life in the villages is nothing like the Maya Riviera. Yucatec Maya families are living on less than one dollar/person/day. The minimum wage in Yucatán is 66 pesos/day and at today’s exchange rate that is just slightly more than 3 dollars. Few people in the villages receive even half that and if they travel to the capital Mérida for minimum wage jobs they spend 60% of their earnings on bus fare.

Creating Change

Proyecto Itzaes (PI), builds sustainable community service programs that promote family-centered learning and respect Maya culture. Our motto:  Learning in Order to Teach, Aprender Para Enseñar, Ka’ambal Uti’al Kansaj is at the heart of  our community service based programs. PI asesores (mentors) are the backbone of our reading, computer and early childhood learning programs. PI middle, high school, and university students teach what they have learned to younger students in their own villages. The asesores experience firsthand how to teach, designing their classes and activities and most importantly demonstrating their passion for learning. PI mentors, local and international, share their knowledge, skills and drive with others and are essential role models for the younger children.  

The majority of families we serve live in one or two-room very humble houses made of mud and sticks or blocks. They cook outside on firewood and few have bathrooms. They love their children like we do and want the best for their futures. They hope for education, health and happiness just like we do.  Proyecto Itzaes  help make this happen by providing educational resources and support for children and their families. Basic educational resources are scarce to non-existent and tragically many children are forced to leave school with barely a primary education ensuring that their poverty will persist. Imagine growing up without ever owning a book or not having the funds for medicine for a sick child or an elderly family member? Imagine not being able to keep your child in school because you can’t purchase the uniform, backpack, or notebook.


Jessica Cetz Dzib, an asesor from Ixil, a recent graduate in mathematics from the Universidad Autonomo de Yucatan (UADY) wrote recently:

Es por eso y mucho mas que estoy muy agradecida con el Proyecto Itzaes, pues creo que la labor que hacemos el enseñar a los niños del proyecto es tambien una gran ganancia para nosotro los asesores, ya qu es muy divertido y agradable.


We are fortunate to count among our longstanding hardworking international volunteers many Rotarians both here in the Bay Area and in Yucatán.

— Walter V. Hays, Past President, Rotary Club of Palo Alto

How you can help:

Some local examples from recent years:

  • Economic support for projects that enable community members to become increasingly independent within their own communities.  Includes family support projects like: women’s sewing cooperatives, bio-intensive gardening (Rotary) and farmers’ markets projects (Rotary)

  • Environmental initiatives including: collaboration with Roots and Shoots/Jane Goodall Foundation, a reforestation project supported by Stanford University student Erica Fernandez, a biodiversity course based on the local resources with Stanford professor Rodolfo Dirzo that inspired students to make a commitment to protecting their bio-cultural heritage.

  • Stanford alum and educator Tom McFadden worked with PI on health and diabetes prevention that culminated in a health fair for communities and an anti-diabetes rap song that has been a hit on YouTube

  • Collaboration with One Dollar For Life that raised funds for books for village libraries

  • A gift from bilingual children’s author Alma Flor Ada of books/ CD’s

  • School fund drives for books, school supplies and educational toys


STILL…the need continues to out distance the funds raised. 

With your help we can provide learning resources for more villages and enrich our programs for thousands of Maya families. PI has successfully reached the toughest, most critical population in Yucatán - low-income families in small villages where parents have little formal education. In the past 20 years, as a measurable outcome, the children in Proyecto Itzaes are continuing on not just to high school, but to the university and the level of literacy of entire villages has changed dramatically.

What your gift can do:


  • $18,000 will bring PI to a new village

  • $10,000 will buy 12 new laptops

  • $5,000 will replace worn out books in our libraries

  • $1,200 will provide a book & transportation stipend for a university student

  • Your gift of any amount will help create positive change!

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