As the year winds down and the holiday season is upon us, it seems fitting that we bring the Playa Pals Mahahual relief effort to a close. Our regular blog readers know that after Hurricane Dean devastated the small town of Mahahual, about 175 miles to the south of Playa del Carmen, a small group of Playa residents banded together to see what they could do to help.
This informal group started out by just trying to get emergency food and water to the area. The word was sent out via email, online forums, blogs, radio advertisements, and even Radio Margaritaville, that help was needed. We set up a PayPal account and asked people to give what they could. And give they did.
As the money came in, our little group began a regular routine. Every couple of days. armed with our most current shopping list, volunteers would spread out over Playa del Carmen buying these items. The group would then drive them down to Mahahual, and with the help of Mahahual locals, distribute them door to door.
The needs of local people changed daily, almost hourly. Food and water were always at the top of the list. Medicine, clothing, tools, construction material, diapers, and just about every necessity for daily living showed up on the list at one time or another. The Playa Pals also supplied the local community kitchen, which was trying to feed as many families as possible. And, since the area had been turned into a virtual swamp, insect repellent and mosquito nets were highly in demand.
After some time, we realized what had started out as a short term emergency supply project was the only lifeline many people in this devastated area had. For reasons which are too complicated and delicate to discuss here, there was no international or governmental aid available to the area. It became quickly apparent that if the people of Mahahual were to survive, it would be because volunteers were willing to help.
Many people and organizations other than our little group, the Playa Pals, assisted Mahahual. They did what they could, and what they did was important. As the days turned into weeks and longer, the need for more money to buy more goods to help the people of Mahahual increased. In response, money continued to come from people all over the world.
Eventually, the people of Mahahual regained some self-sufficiency, and emergency food, clothing and medicine were no longer needed as often. Families began to move away from the area, lessening the needs, and finally some forms of government assistance appeared. By the time this happened, the Playa Pals had raised over $35,000 US. By the time the need for emergency supplies had ended, we had spent all but about $10,000.
We asked locals in Mahahual the best way to spend the remaining money. Over the last several weeks, a lot of ideas have been considered. However, now there is a consensus that the money should be utilized to help build a much needed hospital in Mahahual and for medical care for Mahahual residents. We think that’s an excellent idea. Kevin Graham, who has been the point man in Mahahual for volunteers and relief work, will be supervising the expenditure of the rest of the money. Kevin guarantees that it will be spent only for the medical needs of the people of Mahahual. We trust Kevin implicitly. So, in the next few weeks, the remaining money will be transferred to a foundation which will serve these specific goals. At that time, the Playa Pals PayPal account will be closed out and this chapter of the Mahahual relief project will come to an end.
We didn’t want to let this moment go without offering a few observations about what we’ve experienced and learned during this amazing time. Helping the people of Mahahual offered us rewards we could not have imagined. We received nothing but smiles and thanks for our work down there. No one pushed, no one shoved, no one stole, and no one took more than they needed. It was humanity at its finest. At the same time, we became painfully aware of how people’s lives can be affected by politics and geography.
But most of all we were stunned with the generosity of people. Let’s start with the Playa Pals volunteers. Nothing would have happened without Kevin Graham. A local real estate agent with Costa Maya Living in Mahahual, he lost his home, his business and everything he owned in the hurricane. His first response was, “What do other people need?” He worked without rest, literally for weeks on end, to help the people around him. Ethical, committed and of a great heart, Kevin is one of a kind.
Then there is Claudia Hurtado Valenzuela. Claudia was the point person in Playa who first sent out the call that help was needed in Mahahual. A local Red Cross volunteer, Claudia is the nearest thing Playa has to a Mother Theresa. No one who needs help is ever turned away by Claudia.
The group that Claudia brought together included some of the most wonderful people we’ve had the pleasure to meet. Unfortunately we don’t know everybody’s names. Some volunteers came for a day, some for two or three, some just worked anonymously and we never had the chance to meet them or thank them. But we did get to be very close to some of the regulars. First, there is Heather Anderson. We knew Heather before this project, but not well. We found out that not only was she a butt-kicker organizer, relentless in her energy and drive, and one of the funniest human beings you’d ever want to spend four hours in a car with, but she also has a heart of gold which quickly turned to mush every time some four year old thanked her for water or food.
And of course there was the group we with great love call the Dutch Army. Ex pats from the Netherlands included, among others, the adorable couple of Jessica Schaap and Alex Huis. It didn’t matter what time of day or night you called; they would be ready and willing to work. And regardless of the hour or the situation, their upbeat, delightful happiness infected all of us. And of course there was Willem. The best way to describe Willem is to compare him to a ride we love in Disneyland: Big Thunder Railroad, which simulates a runaway train barreling down a mountainside without brakes, heading for the next steep curve. Willem was a force unto himself, and he used all that energy to help. These folks also raised and contributed a lot of money on their own.
And there are more. The folks at the La Tortuga hotel, Andrea from the Italian consulate, Il Barretto restaurant…Soriah, Michael Holmes, the boys from Israel…dozens and dozens of others. If we forgot anyone, forgive us; it’s late here. However, the real heroes are the people who donated money. From donations of five dollars to thousands of dollars, literally hundreds of people answered this call. Without each of you who gave a little something, volunteers would not have been able to feed and clothe and offer care to hundreds of devastated families for several months. The money you gave saved people’s lives. And now it will build them a hospital.
So this is the end of our Mahahual reporting. We wanted to give credit where credit was due, and as we say, most of that credit goes to those of you who answered the call for help. This holiday season enjoy the warmth and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you made a difference in people’s lives. Thank you all. Happy Holidays.