Many high school and college students from the U.S. come through my language school in Cuernavaca. They talk about many things, but one thing I realize they don’t talk about much is having a summer job. Back when I was in college in California we all had summer jobs. Not so these days. What’s changed?
Migration from third world countries to first world countries is part of the answer. Many jobs that used to be filled seasonally by high school and college students are now filled year round by immigrants. Often these immigrants have professional skills acquired in their home countries that they can’t put to use in their new country. In effect, employers have overqualified people working at a bargain price.
I think another part of the answer is that these young adults know what admission officers in college are looking for. How many times have high school students been told by their elders that they should do something because “it will look good on your college application”? This is reinforced by service-learning classes in high schools and universities. So the question becomes how to fill your summer vacation time doing something interesting and meaningful without going into debt?
I found out about a clever opportunity here in Mexico and around the world when I met Jeremy Bollin. Digs Collaborator Carol Hopkins had met Jeremy while walking Spain’s Camino a Santiago de Compostela. Jeremy expressed his frustration at not knowing Spanish and Carol offered him the opportunity to live in her Cuernavaca B&B while studying Spanish at the Cemanahuac Educational Community. In exchange for his tuition he worked with me several hours a day on projects within the school.
You see Jeremy is a “Wwoofer”. He’s a member of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which according to its mission statement is “a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to building a sustainable global community.”
WWOOF is found in 99 countries including Mexico and provides an opportunity to live in local environments usually without cost other than transportation to get there. In exchange for an average of 5 hours a day of work, 5-6 days a week, the host provides room and board. Before coming to Mexico Jeremy Wwoofed in California. After leaving Cuernavaca he Wwoofed in Quintana Roo and Jalisco. He looks forward to Wwoofing soon in Australia.
WWOOF was founded in Great Britain as an opportunity for urban folk to get into the countryside and to help popularize organic food. WWOOF originally stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms. The organization evolved into the international Willing Workers on Organic Farms. In some countries this caused problems with local laborers fearing volunteers were thinly disguised migrant workers threatening their jobs. While the acronym remained the same, the name evolved again.
Each nation has it’s own separate WWOOF affiliation. Participants in Mexico’s WWOOF pay $20 for a year’s membership. Currently there are 4000 members in Mexico and 50 hosts or farms. In the U.S. there are currently 1685 farms.
Wwoofers in Mexico may do anything from planting corn to teaching surfing. At Jeremy’s Jalisco WWOOF farm he built and slept in “igloos” constructed from sustainable materials: mud, sticks, sand bags, and donkey dung. Photos of these “igloos” strongly resemble a Mesoamerican temascal. He also helped build and demonstrate dry toilets.
I found out that there are multiple “farms” near me in the Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and Tepoztlan area. Within 50 kilometers of the D.F. there is opportunity to learn permaculture, organic farming, use of medicinal herbs, and dry toilet construction. The only thing these “farms” seem to have in common is environmental sustainability and a philosophy of care for the earth. One Tepoztlan farm is part of an orphanage and raises the food for the children. Viewing the Mexico WWOOF website with Jeremy was an adventure in itself.
Some WWOOF locations provide relatively luxurious accommodations. Jeremy served at a hotel facility on the Island of Holbox, Quintana Roo where he was housed in a room with an ocean view and took his meals in the hotel restaurant! Most farms suggest bringing a sleeping bag. Some even require a tent.
Jeremy told me that upon finishing junior college in Washington he decided to work and travel before taking on debt to obtain a degree when he wasn’t sure yet “what I want to do when I grow up.” After the experiences he’s had this year -- from the Camino a Santiago to Cemanahuac to wwoofing-- he’s accumulated lots of experience, skills, and information to help him make that decision but, understandably, he’s still not in any hurry. It seems like a wonderful alternative life path.