A Travellerspoint blog

Q&A: How much extra spending money should I bring?

How much money you might spend outside of volunteering/HOY activities

Q: How much extra spending money should I bring to use outside of my scheduled HOY activities/volunteering?

A: Each volunteer comes with a different budget. You can't compare yourself with other participants. It’s up to you how much you want to spend or not spend. You are not required to make any donations to your volunteer placement or to buy materials, although you may very well be inspired to once you start volunteering. It would certainly help, however, to learn this new currency quickly.


Study and become familiar with the Mexican bills and coins so that you’re ready with your money when you need it. Cuernavaca and the surrounding area have plenty of activities, places to shop and restaurants and bars to eat/drink your money away. The information below is a quick summary, based on real Casa HOY volunteers' experiences, of possible ways you can make your extra spending money disappear. Plan accordingly.

Local bus, one way: $5.50, < $0.50 USD
Bus from airport, one way: $158, < $13 USD
Bus to Mexico City, one way: $85, < $7 USD
Local taxi: $35, < $3 USD


A small bottle of water: $6, $0.50 USD
Lunch at Iguana Greens: $40, < $3.50 USD
A coffee at a nice café: $22, $1.75 USD
A beer at a bar: $15, $2.25 USD
A bag of chips or a chocolate covered banana: $7, $0.60 USD

Volunteer Placement
Stickers for rewards: $20, $ 1.75 USD
A pack of pencils: $15, < $2 USD
Copies: $0.30/sheet, $0.02 USD
Volunteer cell phone: $30/week, $2.50 USD

Weekend fun, out of town: $700-1000, $60-80 USD
The movies: $55, < $4.50

Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering international cultural volunteer voluntourism cuernavaca participatory intercambio alternative_travel participatory_travel english_teaching Comments (0)

Hiccups in English Teaching

No pencils. No paper. No copy machine. No markers. A whiteboard that won’t erase. That’s what a classroom with need looks like in Mexico. Oh, and it might not be a classroom. It might be a covered patio with mismatched chairs, a cramped playroom with broken toys and tattered books, or the funky smelling cafeteria.

And that’s just the beginning. Teaching English as a volunteer is nothing like teaching English programs in a foreign country in a paid setting. Your students most likely will not have an English curriculum, will not be at grade level in their regular subjects, let alone English, and won’t have the family/moral support necessary for a healthy learning environment. At Casa HOY we prepare volunteers for these very likely situations. Even when volunteers are armed with all of this knowledge, it is still a shock to enter your English teaching placement here in Cuernavaca or neighboring cities in the state of Morelos.

At our new project, a “casa hogar” or foster-care home in a nice neighborhood in the municipality of Temixco, our volunteers are fortunate enough to have a more academic setting. Desks with seats, a large whiteboard and some kids with notebooks. What a relief. Although the ages range from 5 to 10, boys and girls, most kids have only a few words of English. And even though they’ve been taught English in the past, as obvious from a few random child-made posters of prepositions on the walls, there is no lesson plan to follow.

As recommended, our first day we went prepared to review colors and teach body parts. Veteran volunteer, “H,” taught us the color song which reviews colors in English and Spanish. After 10 weeks of volunteering with Casa HOY she has quite a list of activities up her sleeve. The kids actually knew their colors pretty well, so we moved on to body parts. Head, shoulders, knees and toes is always a favorite, singing it quickly then slowly. The children drew a body, going off of volunteer “K’s” drawing on the board.

The second day we focused on shapes. In order to review, we had kids do a scavenger hunt going out to find examples of each shape. Most kids really got into it, and for their partner presentation we were shown balls, parts of doors, toys and other random objects found around the playground. Although volunteers are only expected to give an hour of English, we ended up entertaining them (through teaching, of course) for an hour and a half. Afterward they had us running around playing hide-and-seek, hangman and yoga.

Hiccups we’ve encountered thus far are the fact that some other volunteers that teach the kids arts and crafts have come while we’re supposed to be teaching. That interrupts us and distracts the children. Or maybe children haven't had lunch yet when we get there. That gives you time to review your lesson plan, or to sit down with the kids and bond over dinner table conversation. Or for example, although we’ve created an English only classroom, it is still complicated when children start babbling about something and you have no idea what they’re saying. Many volunteers find it very difficult to communicate if they have no Spanish. This is an opportunity for you to get creative, and a chance to take you out of your comfort zone. Talk to Casa HOY staff and other volunteers for tips on communicating. It also helps to write down a list of words that you think you will need during your day, such as basic greetings or vocabulary that you plan on teaching.

Expect the unexpected, and embrace the discomfort.
Just two weeks of learning to be flexible outside of your comfort zone will seriously change your outlook on life for the better.


Posted by UnMejorHOY 08:48 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico english volunteering teaching alternative_travel teenagers participatory_travel english_teaching tips_for_teaching_english Comments (0)

The Wild Wild West

A volunteer testimonial, by Mariam Magsi


I was browsing the Internet when an article popped up on Yahoo. “Mexico: The most dangerous country to visit.” I had recently explored the Mayan Riviera and the only dangerous elements I had come across were obese and pathetically drunk Canadians and Americans falling over themselves on the beaches. Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t pockets of affected areas in Mexico, but that is the case anywhere may it be the United States of America or Europe. Having an alert head on your shoulders usually helps when you travel and explore various parts of the world.

I have always been a rebellious kid. When the adults said no, it made me do it even more. So, I googled organizations that cater to volunteering programs in Mexico and came across IVHQ. I signed up with IVHQ's Casa HOY, paid my fees, packed my bags and had a small farewell in case something was to happen to me on my voluntourism adventure.

“Mexico City is very dangerous. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Mexico City is where all that bad stuff happens. They don’t even spare their police guys.”
“Please be safe. We are really worried about you.”
“Leave all your valuables in Toronto, please. They’ll steal your camera and your jewels.”

The concern stemmed from my friends, but for some odd reason, it didn’t faze me. There are journalists and aid workers squeezed into god forsaken areas of Afghanistan and Africa and if they let fear govern their lives, they would never be able to help any developing society in the world. I myself hail from Pakistan and sometimes the bombs fall quite close to home, so fear wasn’t on my agenda whatsoever. Moreover, being a photographer, I wanted to see everything. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I decided to embark on a journey deep into Morelos and surrounding areas, a central state of Mexico that contains unique towns, cities and landscapes such as Cuernavaca, Mexico City, Tepoztlan, the famous and stirring “Popo” volcano, the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Frida Kahlo’s home town, while volunteering and teaching English to children from low income families. I arrived in Cuernavaca to be greeted by vibrancy, colours, inviting food stalls, people dressed conservatively to reflect the deeply religious Catholic predominance of the country, hardly a tourist in sight. Barely anyone spoke English, except my host family comprising of Americans and Mexicans. The streets were made of cobblestone. Traffic was in abundance and the smog even more noticeable. If I didn’t know any better I would think I was roaming the streets of Mumbai. Buses whizzed by at the speed of lightening in narrow streets, startling people, dogs and children out of the way.

This was Mexico. This was the culture I was craving and I finally had access to it. I roamed the unknown and desperately new streets of Cuernavaca, climbed up a mountain in Tepoztlan, visited the virgin of Guadalupe and admired the works of Frida Khalo and Diego Riviera. “Convivir” was an essential part of Mexican culture and it essentially highlights the primary and most celebrated meal of the day: lunch. No television sets, no microwavable dinners and definitely no take out. Families sit together, from children to the elderly and enjoy conversation and hearty meals consisting of beans, tortillas, quesadillas and chicken with a spicy chocolate sauce, discussing the woes of the world and especially how Mexico is being ripped to shreds in the media, affecting tourism and volunteerism. As the co-director of the family run hostel I was staying at said “We live here. Mexico is our reality. So when we see people thinking twice about coming here due to news reports on the drug wars, it deeply affects us.” Mind you, this co-director is a New Yorker who decided to give up her life in the super power, and I doubt she would be living in the heart of Mexico with her daughter, hosting volunteers from around the world, if it wasn’t safe.

The institute I volunteered at through Casa HOY was Telesecundaria, a middle school that gave me great insight into the daily lives of Mexican children and educators. It was heart warming to meet parents who were hopeful for the futures of their children. Children who had big dreams of studying at accomplished universities in the United States and Canada; children who wanted more than just a reputation of the “wild, wild west” or stigma stemming from unfortunate drug cartel wars. These children were filled with love. I received more than a hundred embraces and kisses daily. My soul felt free.

The people in these towns and cities conserved water and shared food. The culture was not a selfish one, developing solely on the basis of an independent person but rather involved the entire community, creating a strong network of support needed for healthy and balanced living. I took my Nikon everywhere, in alleys, on main roads, inside schools and cemeteries, but no one bothered me. Children were not attached to ipods and laptops but rather played outside basking in the sunshine. Women carried their baskets to the bazaar to buy healthy, unmodified produce and meats. Groups of teenagers would congregate outside beautiful architectural cathedrals, churches and museums, in love, kissing openly adding romanticism and sensationalism to the air. It was a whole other world, one I was overwhelmed to have experienced, even if it was for a fleeting moment.

Before I left for my volunteering program, friends warned me against Mexico’s dangerous state. Even embassies had issued travel warnings and websites described Mexico as the most dangerous country to visit. I was not harassed, mugged, drugged, stabbed or disturbed at any point of the trip and I do believe people from other worlds need to come out of their comfort zone, namely Cancun, and discover authentic Mexican culture and landscape while also giving back to it’s community in one way or another.

I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote I found online: “If you want something you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done.” Get up and do that something you have never done. You will not regret it, this I promise you. You will meet people who will enlighten you and challenge your school of thought and your experiences will give you more knowledge than any formal educational degree ever could, turning you into a wiser, more compassionate and adventurous person.

by Mariam Magsi, Casa HOY volunteer, 2012

check out Mariam's pictures: pictures
video about volunteering: video
Casa HOY's website: Casa HOY

Posted by UnMejorHOY 11:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes historical_sites international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca english_teaching Comments (0)

Back to School- Teaching English at the Secondary School


Over the course of my last few blog’s, I have had a focus on Mexico and my adventures in it. Though Mexico and its many adventures has been an amazing experience, I am also here to volunteer. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound as exciting as exploring a Mayan site or trekking through an ancient cave, but to be honest, the school I’m placed at has been just as exciting or even more so than any adventure I’ve been on in Mexico. How is this possible? Let me introduce you to Telesecundaria.

This is my first time teaching English to non-English speakers. Before I started volunteering at Telesecundaria I was uncertain how I was going to connect with the students. Though I had certain ideas for curriculum and activities, I had no past experience to gauge the effectiveness of such curriculum methods. To further my uncertainness, I was placed with an age range I’ve never worked with in a school setting…..preteens!

My first few days at Telesecundaria were that of observing. The first few classes the students asked me questions about where I came from, why I was at the school, and other general questions to gain a familiarity with me. Though I was able to interact with the students, it was mostly through gestures, pictures, and crude electronic translators. Keep in mind; I can barely speak a word of Spanish. The most useful tool used was a picture book of Toronto. The students seemed fascinated with Toronto, more specifically, how Toronto was able to have hot summers and cold winters. One student seemed confused as he said, “This change happens in the same place, right?” The student interactions at the school have been extremely positive. The relationship between the students and I has been that of reciprocal learning from one another. The students have been learning about the English language, Canada, and about life outside of Mexico. Where as I have been learning about the Mexican education system, what student life in Mexico entails; apparently wrestling (WWE) and Justin Bieber are extremely popular…. I still don’t understand the latter, and how a positive classroom climate is essential for student learning. From all of my observations and learning, I have been truly blessed to have the guidance and support of the English teacher, Estefania. Her positive outlook, encouraging attitude, and remarkable teaching approach have been awe-inspiring, and have helped shaped my teaching style. For this, I thank you.

With Thursday being my last day at Telesecundaria, each class will be presenting their class song that they picked at the beginning of my placement. Songs that will be performed include CCR’S “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, and The Scorpions “Winds of Change.” No, I didn’t have an influence on what songs each class choose, they decided on what to sing by themselves. Are you starting to see why I like teaching with these students? In a recent class, one of the students asked if they could show me a clip on YouTube. The student showed me a clip from the movie School of Rock. After viewing the clip, I asked why the student showed that clip. The student simply said, “That is you. You rock!” The students definitely got to know me well over the last six weeks.

My volunteer stay at Telesecundaria has been one the best experiences of my life. The position has shown me that teaching is a career path that I want to pursue, though challenging at times, teaching ESL can be fun, and most importantly, having a great teaching team is crucial. I don’t know if I will ever see the students from Telesecundaria again, but the impact that they had on me, along with Estefania, will be life lasting. I wish you all the best in whatever path you pursue in life.


Posted by UnMejorHOY 07:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer teaching casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca english_teaching Comments (0)

Community Garden in Tepoztlan

Santo Domingo-Ocotitlan


I haven’t had blisters on my hand in years. Sitting in front of a computer and typing just gives you carpal tunnel. No blisters. But it feels so good to get out in nature and just stick your hands in the dirt.

Unless, of course, there are tarantulas, scorpions, black widows, centipedes, giant reddish grasshopper-like bugs, crickets and other things that Mother Nature put outside to scare you into staying inside. The local people just pick up these cool creatures with their bare hands, to show us “city folk” that they don’t hurt you IF you don’t accidentally step on them or grab them in an unfriendly way. Right. Whatever. As long as you avoid being bitten by a black widow, which you would most likely die from since the nearest hospital is an hour away, the work at the community garden in Santo Domingo-Ocotitlán, Tepoztlán, is masochistically fun.

Casa HOY has sent volunteers two weeks in a row now; the first week three of us went and the second week four of us went. Arriving at the site, we break up into teams. A pair goes off into the brush to find “hojarasca,” the decaying plant material that we sprinkle on top of the beds to provide added nutrients. Another group starts turning over dirt to loosen it up. Another group pulls out weeds and grass and crickets. And the last group begins the more intellectually challenging task of shaping and forming the vegetable beds. I don’t usually participate in that group, because my garden pathways end up more like crooked waves than straight paths for a wheelbarrow to follow.

The project in Ocotitlán is one of a few projects in the area run by the Fundación Comunitaria Morelense, and is a continuation of the local gardening project. A few years ago the Foundation taught local families how to plant a garden for individual use, and that project was so successful that they have managed to rent a piece of land nearby to create a community garden. Produce from the garden will be sold in nearby towns, such as Tepoztlán and even Cuernavaca. The land has already been plowed once, by oxen, and it is now our job, as upright beasts of burden, to mold it into something more productive.

The first week we made 5 beds, in which community members later planted lettuce, fennel, strawberries, etcetera. They grew some plants, like lettuce, in the greenhouse until they were big enough to survive being out on their own. The land hasn’t been cultivated in many years, so the soil is rich and well watered by the daily summer rains. The beds have been made wide enough so that in the dry season two small hoses can run down their length and water the plants. In just a few short weeks, many of the crops will be ready to be harvested and sold. The Foundation already has one buyer in Cuernavaca, La Maga Café, one of Casa HOY’s favorite restaurants. (Their lunchtime salad bar has all the leafy greens you need). This week we did 6 more beds, and finished clearing out the rest of the weeds. We’ve finally gotten the hang of building and shaping the beds, and making sure they’re wide enough for the plants and the hoses.

For me the highlight was lunch, of course. The townspeople provide us with rice, beans, cactus, chicharrón, potatoes with pepper strips and best of all, handmade tortillas. Will work for food. Casa HOY people included volunteers from Oregon, the Virgin Islands, Cuernavaca and Madrid. It’s so inspiring to see an international effort involved in this project. Although we won’t be sending volunteers to the garden for a few weeks, the Foundation promised to keep us posted for the first harvest so we can go and pick out our own veggies.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 13:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged garden volunteer environment alternative tepoztlan cuernavaca casa_hoy community_garden Comments (0)

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