Upon arrival we would settle in at a small roadside restaurant, called Lucy's, for a breakfast of cereal and coffee. We would also put in our lunch order with the super friendly Lucy, who makes the most delicious quesadillas and empanadas I've ever tasted. We also would normally put in an even larger take away order for dinner, so we could bring some back for the others. Letting her know in the morning helped her out since she gets busy throughout the day and she only works out of a small home kitchen with a few family members to help her.
Once that was all settled the group headed off to whatever activity we had planned for the day. Our activities included visiting local schools from kindergarten to high school to teach children about marine life and environmental issues, meetings with town officials, town/beach cleans, or meeting with local tour guides to make sure their operations are environmentally responsible, that they know why this is so important to both the environment and their business, and that they are able to communicate this message to their customers. Everything we do tends to center some way around environmental impact.
With the kindergarten and primary school kids we teach them about the ocean and marine life with fun games. When it comes to the older students we try to get them thinking more along the lines on conservation. We let them watch videos and conduct discussions. The struggle for me was definitely the language barrier. Most students did not speak English, and my very basic Spanish skills didn't go very far, so I found it hard to communicate. The volunteers that did the best on these trips were those that could speak Spanish at some level. Some students had better English skills than others, but the students learn from non-native English speaking teachers or their parents. Still those few times I was able to communicate with a teacher or student it was such a triumphant moment for us both, even if it was as simple as "How old are you?" "I am 32!" That was actually a question I got quite often.
Other days we would spend time with the local tour guides. As I mentioned, tourism is still a very new concept to them, and so is conservation. They are finally learning that they can make a good living from their natural surroundings, and the only way to ensure they can keep doing this is to protect the environment and marine creatures that lure tourists to their tiny, way off the beaten path, village. We would teach them simple English phrases such as, "Do not stand on the reef." or, "Do not stand when the boat is moving." Just little things to help their business run more smoothly and environmentally sound. We would also give them facts and presentations on marine life so they can spread the correct knowledge to visitors. And we helped them organize marine clean-ups and gave them the tools to be able to continue these initiatives on their own in the future. They were incredibly open to our recommendations and ideas, and were all so friendly and grateful for our assistance. Some even offered to give us rides in their boat from Pez Maya to Punta Allen and back again, which was much more enjoyable than the bumpy roads.
I wish I could have spent more time in Punta Allen, but at the end of the day I was there for the diving, and so that is what I chose to spend my time doing. There were only 3 spots open to go to Punta Allen each week and more than enough volunteers eager to fill them, so I didn't feel too bad about staying behind most weeks. The couple of times I did go was a lot of fun though, and eye-opening for sure. I really loved and appreciated the experience provided by GVI.