Palapa Society In Todos Santos Makes Progress

Enriching the lives of the locals
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

The Palapa society was established in 2003 to develope and administrate scholastic scholarships, along with medical and environmental programs that benefit Todos Santos children and their families. This goal is achieved by many volunteers working with community leaders. Their vision is to optimize opportunities for local children.

palapasociety.jpgThey consider that the small town’s future lies with its children, and that success depends on the childrens’ education and well-being. They plow forward with such successful fund-raisers and community support that the Palapa Society has become indispensable to the town. Recently they were able to include both environmental and cultural programs, new to the community.  They are now  working on the Palapa Building Fund Campaign to build a permanent Palapa Society Center in Todos Santos.

Their scholarship program, which started five years ago with the founders searching out deserving students who needed help with a scholarship (or beca, in Spanish).  Chosen students would have needed to give up their education without this help. Founders picked 10 kids and their program was a go. Now, they support more than 30 high schoolers and 11 university students and have a growing waiting list full of eager students waiting for a boost to their education.

The Palapa Society also has an English program called bridge to English, because they realize the Baja peninsula is a place where being bilingual is almost a requirement to finding a job. “Language mentors” and volunteer English speakers developed a program in which kids would learn English from native speakers. With a combination of lesson plan, songs, games and art, they came up with a fun and creative way to teach kids in a cross-cultural manner. They hold their after school program Monday through Thursday in The Palapa Center in Todos Santos. A small fee for materials is charged, and scholarships are available; but no child wanting to learn is turned away. This program also teaches adults English. There is also a way to get involved with this: the program welcomes volunteers and it’s a great way to make your travel experience a whole lot more awesome, by giving a little back and meeting children and local members of the community while building strong relationships and friendships along the way.

The English program also helped the art program become a reality. During summer vacation, Palapa decided to offer children from the Bridge to English program an opportunity to work with a professional artist in an effort to expand their talents. The artist team, local street artists and their professional mentor have  prettied up a wall that was often tagged with graffiti by painting portraits of saints. This ties in with their anti-graffiti program which consists of spotting tagged walls, buying supplies, and painting over the crap.

Chino is their medical program which was born from the need of an 11 year old boy whose nickname was Chino. Chino had a very serious eye condition, and his mother did not have the money to do anything about it, so Chino was helped. The program continues to help children who need medical care. It can be something as little as giving a ride to medical appointments or buying medicine, to pitching in for transportation to the mainland for the kids’ parents to accompany their child to serious procedures where there is better technology. 

Eight years ago, The Palapa Society helped raise money for Junior, a 17 year old who had serious 3rd degree burns, needing months of hospitalization and recurrent trips to the burn center for children in Obregon, Mexico. He recovered and graduated high school in 2008. In 2005, they met Jesus, an 11 year old boy who suffered from severe cleft palette. He is still going to dentist and speech appointments in La Paz, while preparing for the last surgery. And finally there is Gloria, a 16 year old girl who was diagnosed with Type 2 Neurofibromatosis, a life threatening genetic disease characterized for spinal tumors, giving her a life expectancy of 25-30 years. After all the efforts of so many people working together, and with her determined father working against health care system bureaucracy, Gloria beat the odds of her doctors’ saying she would never walk again. She proved that patience, determination, and a walker go a long way. She was the inspiration of the Gloria Courage Award scholarship, awarded after finally losing her battle with this disease.

They also have an environmental program called Eco Kids. They study the interaction between plants and animals and the way humans affect it, with interactive, hands-on activities and field trips. The kids learn to respect the environment because they learn the way it affects their lives, in hopes to inspire the next generation to take care of the planet. The society is working with turtle hugger organizations to prevent the extinction of marine turtles.

There is also the community library, which costs of 250 pesos a year, created with the help of some temporary community members, bookworms and readers donating a few boxes of books. The Todos Santos bilingual library now holds over 9,000 books, has more than 200 card carrying members, and four rooms at The Palapa Center. This marvel was started in a dark, windowless room back in 2004.

The Palapa Society also holds the summer swim program, in a pool donated by a local resident where basic water safety and swimming lessons are taught to young children while on summer break. Most don’t know how to swim, although the Baja peninsula holds the most beautiful swimming spots. Many of these youngsters will grow up to work on the water and still not be able to swim, so this program is more valuable than one would think. The Palapa Society is talking with community leaders to discuss building a community swimming pool, in hopes of develop a permanent program that holds swim instruction, team competitions, and lifeguard training.

You help. You can volunteer, donate funds, or donate in-kind. For more information on how you can get involved in your Todos Santos community, go to http://palapasociety.org/donate/