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Life’s a Beach

But There’s Also Much More to the Mexican Communities You Visit

Giving a check to Un Nuevo Amanacer
Roberto, of Hurricane Divers, gives a check to Un Nuevo Amanacer, a school for physically disabled children.

Most mornings, Vicki Cole, the owner of Zicatela Properties in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, begins her workday by sweeping the beach sand off her office steps. Late afternoons, she watches surfers, silhouetted against the sun as it sets below the horizon, catch the last breaking waves of the day. While her Pacific Coast lifestyle might sound like an ideal escape from the typical North American 9-5 routine, the reality is that operating a business in a foreign country involves much more than surf, sand, and sun. It often means getting involved with the local community in unexpected ways.

“Puerto Escondido isn’t as manicured or sanitized as mega-resorts such as Cancun,” she explains. “Everyone has to pitch in from time to time.”

Although located between the popular resort destinations of Acapulco and Huatulco, Puerto Escondido is off the beaten path for most tourists. First established in 1928 as a port for shipping coffee, it is now growing in popularity among travelers drawn to its world-class surfing beach. But the town is still rough around the edges. Located in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, economic opportunity is elusive for many of the region’s residents. According to EDUCA, an education and development organization, 75 percent of its 3.4 million residents live in extreme poverty and often need assistance to meet basic needs.

For North Carolina native Vicki Cole, who relocated to the area 18 years ago, those community needs prompted her to offer a helping hand. In 1998, she founded the International Friends of Puerto Escondido (IFOPE), www.ifope.com, an organization that serves as a link between the foreign community, local residents, and government. In her role as president, she assisted in establishing an emergency aid service, a lending library, and a community assistance team. The team gathered donations of medical supplies, assisted AIDS clinics, and participated in the construction of a therapy pool for the School for Children with Special Capacities.

She’s not alone in believing in giving back to the community. A few hours south along the Pacific coast in the Bahias de Huatulco resort, Roberto Kraak, the owner of Hurricane Divers (www.hurricanedivers.com), also stepped in to help. Originally from Holland, he has focused on raising awareness and funds to build Un Nuevo Amanacer, a school for children with physical disabilities. Established in 1999, his dive center offers snorkeling and diving excursions, as well as Padi-certified instruction for travelers interested in exploring the offshore reefs within the string of nine bays that line the coast. Fundraising activities have included gathering donations from divers as well as the creation of a calendar featuring scenic photos. At $5 per donation, success took perseverance. But Kraak recently presented the charity with a check for $26,720 pesos, a sum which will go a long way to making its vision of a new school a reality.

Both of these expatriates agree that the rewards of their community work outweigh the challenges. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” says Cole.

Next time you holiday in a foreign country, why not put your travel dollars to work and support a business that gives back to its local community? As an independent traveler, you can have a tremendous impact by making informed choices about the businesses you patronize. Choose wisely and make a difference

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