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Brazos Abiertos


I just spent the most amazing and rewarding four days in the company of some very dedicated young people.  I volunteer with a local organization, Fundacion BAI A.C. aka Brazos Abiertos.  Even though I have been with this group for a few years it has been solely in a fund-raising capacity.  The committee has a great time,  we put on lovely events that are enjoyed throughout the community and rake in some big bucks so this group can continue with their good works.  All well and good but I realized I truly didn’t know exactly everything the charity did.

A few years back I visited the village/Comisaría of Komchen to check out the volunteers from the USA and TEAMM Yucatan in action during an education campaign.  It was so incredible to see all these young people working with kids in the local school to educate them about sexually transmitted diseases. 

But I was ready to do more, so when Carlos and Luca told me there was room for me in this year’s testing event at Isla Mujeres; I jumped at the chance to help.  This is the fourth year for the HIV testing on Isla but the first time there will be night testing.  We traveled to Cancún via ADO bus which, in my humble opinion, is the only way to travel in Mexico!  We then took a cab ride to Puerto Juarez and then a ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres.  We were met at Casa Sirena by our host Steven Broin who is also our benefactor for this trip.  The next few days were spent meeting with the team and relaxing as this is also a "thank you" to all those who have volunteered this past year.  brzaosgroup


On Thursday morning, our director Luca Cuturi and intern, Laura Sharkey spoke at a press conference to discuss what Fundacion (Brazos Abiertos) would be doing on Saturday.  After the conference, Luca and Laura were approached by the prison commander.  He asked to have the team come to the jail to test the 20 prisoners as well as the prison guards.  This was a first, so the team was ecstatic!  On Friday afternoon, the majority of the team headed to the prison.  I elected to stay behind, as my Spanish language skills are lacking and I really didn’t have a job to do.  It was quite an experience for everyone who attended. 


Here is Ricardo, Laura, Arlette, Laura and Marcos who were given a ride back to the hotel after the testing! 


Saturday morning we were up early, so we could leave the hotel by 9am.  Today’s testing was being held at El Parque de la Gloria on the south end of the island.  This is where the working people of Isla live and the park is the center of the community.  When we arrived the city workers had a tent up and the tables and chairs were being unloaded.  They also provided a cooler with ice and cold beverages which were very welcome as it looked to be a incredibly hot day.  Once everything was set up the people started arriving.  I was amazed to see the first group was three women of varying ages.  Looking closer it was apparent they were all related.  Grandma, her daughter and then granddaughter were all there to be tested.  I walked around the park handing out flyers which provided information as to what we were doing in the park.



It was a little slow in the beginning but as the morning progressed we saw more and more coming to be tested.  I was impressed with the number of women of all ages and young adults who attended.  The local government had lunch provided for us and we were even visited by the congressman for Isla Mujeres.  Right before we got done packing up we found out that more police were coming over to be tested!  Really amazing!


We headed back to the hotel to rest up until 8 p.m. when we walked over to the zocolo, just a block from the hotel.  Once again the city was there with tables, chairs and that cooler for the next wave of tests.  This night the target group for testing was the restaurant/bar and hotel workers as well as younger "at risk" folks.  We had just finished setting up the testing tables when the first group from one of the restaurants arrived.  From then on it was a steady stream of people.  Everyone was so appreciative that we were available to them and that we worked with their schedules.  My favorite job that night was when Lana and I acted as the "condom fairies" handing out free condoms up and down Calle Hildago.  We made lots of people very happy!!


By the time we finished, a little after midnight, we had tested about 150 people that day.  There were only two positives, one at the prison and another during the morning testing.  Afterwards, Steve was ready for us with some munchies and a cold beverage or two.  Then the mayor had pizza delivered to us at the hotel as a THANK YOU!!  Exhausted, we all called it quits at about 2 a.m. 


As we rode back to Merida the next afternoon I was tired but in a good way.  I reflected on the work this organization does which is so necessary and worthwhile.  I was constantly in awe of these young people; Intern Laura Sharkey, Marco, Omar, Ricardo, Laura and Arlette along with Lana and Kody from Texas.  They all have jobs; most are going to school and; they give of their free time to help run these testing and educational events.  To watch them assist people with questionnaires, provide detailed educational information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,  and then one on one counseling after the testing was what impressed me the most.  They are so passionate about this cause and incredibly professional.  Dr. Carlos Cabrera has so much to be proud of.  He has done an outstanding job with this group.  And now Brazos has formed a support group which meets once a week for those in Merida who have tested positive.  I count myself very lucky to be associated with such an important organization and look forward to our next fundraising event! 

And one more thing…thanks to the other two "senior" volunteers; Cotting White and Fred Martinez!!

One Comment leave one →
  1. 25/06/2012 18:12

    All I can say is…WOW!!! I live to volunteer….maybe in January I can help!!

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