Volunteering with Misión México in Tapachula – Chapter One (Mexico 2017)

Part 1: Everyday life in Tapachula (just to give you some context)

In last week’s blog I described the weather in Tapachula as ‘some sort of tropical oven from hell’…well, on a bad day that’s still a fair description amongst those of us volunteering here, but at least the bad days don’t seem to be as frequent recently, so maybe we are acclimatising?

Even when you do get used to the heat and humidity though, the bugs, insects and mosquitos are another matter entirely; some days you just feel like a walking buffet.  Ankles, shins and calves seem to be the favourite spot for the pesky little *expletives*, leaving behind all manner of red, itchy lumps, bumps and assorted wounds; I’m just glad I got all my vaccinations before I left the UK.

The garden wildlife is also a sight to behold:

Exhibit A: don’t touch!

Exhibit B: ‘Lary Caterpillar’

On a typical day in Tapachula during rainy season the heat starts building from 8 or 9am, by noon it’s baking hot. The clouds thicken as you push on through to 2 or 3pm, at which point you normally get a few cracks of thunder before it starts to absolutely bucket-it-down with rain; proper tropical-storm-style.  I got caught out in the middle of a storm just a couple of days ago where getting back to the refuge felt like a scene from Indiana Jones; the streets were literally flowing with water up to my calves so it was less ‘crossing the street’ and more ‘fording a small river’, although I must admit it was kind of exciting!

Besides these exotic elements to life in Tapa (as the locals call it), there’s also a few smaller things which help give context:

  • There’s a peacock that lives in a park next to the refuge, it shrieks very, very loudly…at all times of the day and night, and I don’t much care for it to be honest…in fact, all of us volunteers would very much like to do that peacock some serious harm!
  • Dogs. 10 of them.  Also in the park next door.  Dogs that bark…a lot…
  • The odd earthquake at 2:30am…with aftershocks at 4am…6.9 on the Richter scale.
  • Oh, and used toilet paper goes in the bin (although that’s across the whole of Mexico, not just Tapa), and that can cause some pretty funky-smelling delights on a hot day!

I know, I know, wah, stop complaining!  It’s not that bad once you get used to it but I just wanted to paint a picture of everyday life here.

Part 2: Volunteering 101

It’s gotten better in the last week, but it was really tough at the beginning.  Leaving the cruisy Sayulita life behind made me miss my UK friends and family all the more, and since I really wasn’t sure what to expect with the volunteering, establishing a routine wasn’t easy.

Most of the kids were generally really welcoming in my first 48 hours; I’d only been in Tapa for about 2 hours when I was asked to read a bedtime story to the chiquitos (really little ones).  The first real hurdle was learning everyone’s name though; not just the 23 kids, but all the full-time staff members, my fellow volunteers, and the older teenagers in the two YTP houses (Youth Transition Program).  It’s only with hindsight that I can now appreciate why some of the kids didn’t make much effort to begin with; basically because most volunteers only stay for 6 weeks at a time.  The majority of these kids have lived at Misión México for at least 5 years, so they’ve seen literally hundreds of volunteers pass through ‘their house’ over the years, each time building friendships only to see them go a few weeks later.

FYI – forgetting names or calling someone by the wrong name doesn’t go down very well as you might expect :/

Thankfully, the youngest member of the Mision Mexico family is an absolute legend and 9 times out of 10 he’ll manage to make you smile with his crazy antics:

C having a good laugh rockin’ my sunnies

Yes, of course I’ll pose for a photo with the cuddly chicken…

They have their moments; J is the loudest kid I’ve ever met, but he’s still pretty cool

Volunteering at Misión México can basically be broken down into the following summary; wake them up, feed them, get them to do their chores, entertain them, feed them, get them to do their chores, entertain them, make sure they get to bed.  Obviously there’s more to it than that, especially the ‘get them to do their chores’ bit, that is by far the most difficult and can result in some fairly moody behaviour if not handled appropriately!

The kids are smart too, they know who the new volunteers are and what they can get away with.  I’ve already been duped a few times with, “oh but we’re allowed to have A/B/C” or “just ask so-and-so, we always watch TV on a Saturday”.  There was tension in the air when I had to repeatedly explain to one of the 13-year-olds that if they constantly lied to me, then I had no choice but to question everything they told me.  I definitely had moments in my first 2 weeks thinking ‘whose bloody idea was this volunteering malarkey anyway’!

Building trust and friendships with these youngsters requires patience, that’s what I’ve learnt so far at any rate.

Part 3: Skateboarding!

Getting my hands on some new skateboards for the kids helped move things in a more positive direction that’s for sure.  One of the guys who successfully transitioned through Misión México into adult life still works with the co-founders, Alan and Pam Skuse, at their new project ‘Mision Surf’Delmar is a talented skater and surfer, even being sponsored by a skate shop in the US for a while.  He set up the meeting with his buddies so we could get our hands on some new boards; and in true skate style the dodgy-looking deal saw me handing over cash to some blokes I’d just met to buy stuff from the boot of someone’s car.

A pleasure doing business with you Choco

If only it had been a yellow Robin Reliant…

Quality merch

Every Sunday is supposed to be ‘beach day’ at Misión México, unfortunately the weather has been awful at the beach on both of the Sunday’s that I’ve been here for so far.  I’d been hoping to get some surfing done whilst in Tapachula, so frustration was setting in again, no surf and too rainy to skate!

Thankfully the sun came out late last Sunday which gave us the time to at least set the skateboards up properly; the guys were super keen to get involved and didn’t need much guidance to get cracking on the assembly process:

J, J and Q get to work


Skateboard assembly 101


M, J and A make the most of the new gear

Finally getting some boards together and skating with the kids was a definite milestone in my time at Misión México, everyone was a bit rusty on day one (especially me) but we’ve got some big plans for the next few weeks!

Part 4: Exploring Tapachula

“What follows? Morena, the hope of Mexico” (some sort of political slogan)


Local restaurants are often half restaurant/half home

My favourite Mexico photo so far (if I ever write a book, this will be my front cover)

Part of the Cahoacán river (I think)

Mexican architecture

Very stylish VW Bug

Tune into next week’s blog to see how things progress at Misión México…the plan is to build one of these…and skate it!

(If you enjoyed this blog then please feel free to ‘like’ the ASN Facebook page and Instagram to catch the next update in my new adventure! All ‘likes’ are hugely appreciated! Gracias)