Serving in San Juan, Texas
Experience daily life along the US-Mexico border.
The Rio Grande Valley often looms large in today’s news. But beyond the headlines and politics lies a vibrant community requesting your help. The families we assist struggle with the basic necessities of life. You can lend your hands and spirit to projects improving their living conditions through an exemplary program founded to assist migrant farm workers. In just one week, you can make a difference, form bonds with the people of San Juan, and learn firsthand about the issues facing this multicultural community.
Our host and community partner in San Juan is Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit self-help construction company that serves low-income families in colonias (unincorporated, low-income neighborhoods, often with few city services) in predominantly rural areas of Hidalgo County, Texas. Proyecto Azteca is a nationally recognized organization that has financed and trained close to 1,000 families in the construction and first-time ownership of their own homes. Proyecto Azteca is also part of a large coalition of community organizations working to improve the lives of area residents in the areas of housing, education and health.
Work projects in San Juan include providing assistance to refugees (helping at the local respite center and attending asylum hearings), light labor (home building and repair colonia clean up), conversational English, and health related projects at area clinics.
Community Partner & Work Projects
Our host and community partner in San Juan is Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit self-help construction company that serves low-income families in colonias (unincorporated, low-income neighborhoods, often with few city services) as well as other rural areas in Hidalgo County, Texas.
Established in 1991, the United Farmworkers of America, Texas Rural Legal Aid, and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Services came together to respond to the housing crisis in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley’s colonias and developed Proyecto Azteca. In the first year, Proyecto Azteca organized self-help construction with just four families. Today, Proyecto Azteca is a nationally recognized, community-directed, self-help housing organization that has financed and trained close to 1,000 families in the construction and first-time ownership of their own homes in over 150 colonias and rural areas.
While in San Juan, you may be asked to help with a number of projects, including:
Home Construction and Repair
Our community partner serves low-income residents through the construction of single-family homes. Volunteer tasks will depend on skill level of volunteers, but could include painting, siding, tile work, site preparation, landscaping, building disability ramps, and upgrading bathrooms to be disability accessible. Proyecto Azteca requires that families work on their own homes. Unfortunately, some families who are either disabled, elderly, or both cannot fulfill the 550 “sweat equity” hour requirement. That is where volunteers become the real difference for our families. The hours volunteers put in are banked and used to help elderly and disabled families meet their sweat equity requirement.
We’re asked to help canvassers going door-to-door in area colonias to survey area residents on a wide variety of topics, to compile survey data, and create reports used to improve conditions.
Refugee Respite Center
You may be asked to help at the temporary lodging for refugees before they depart for a permanent location. Tasks might include: providing childcare, helping with meals, sorting and disbursing clothes, and helping with paperwork.
Service Program Logistics
All programs are led by a trained team leader experienced in managing diverse groups of people. In cooperation with the community leaders, your team leader will facilitate your team’s orientation, assist you in becoming fully engaged in the work project, and manage all project-related logistical issues.
Three meals a day are included in your service program contribution. Volunteers eat meals in the housing’s dining room or at the worksite and the team leader purchases food locally for meals to be prepared in the center’s kitchen. A typical breakfast includes eggs, cereal, toast, coffee, and juice. Lunch is taken bag style to the work sites. Typically, lunches include sandwiches and other basic lunch items and snacks. Dinners are often prepared by a local cook and are served family style. Desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages are available for an additional charge.
Texas cuisine reflects influence not only of the area’s indigenous population and the varied immigrants who have settled there, but also the six flags that have flown over the state during its long history. The most popular foods in South Texas are Tex-Mex, Cajun, and Barbeque, in that order. Chili con carne is the official state dish. Tex-Mex includes foods such as nachos, flautas, fajitas, tamales, enchiladas, refried beans, and Mexican red rice. Flour or corn tortillas are central to this cuisine. The Cajun preferences reflect the influence of neighboring Louisiana, with the post-Katrina diaspora giving it a major boost. Gumbo, blackened fish, and po’boy sandwiches are a few typical items found on area plates. Barbecue’s roots come from European immigrants prior to the civil war with techniques designed to make tough cuts of meats more appealing. Today nearly every resident has their own take on the perfect ‘cue. Any instructions or preferences we might provide may well be considered fighting words. That means you’ll just have to decide for yourself.
Standard lodging for volunteers is dormitory-style in San Juan at Proyecto Azteca’s dorm – in two separate bedrooms with bunk beds, one for men and one for women. There is a bathroom off each bedroom with a total of four showers. There is a large common room/dining room/kitchen. The kitchen is equipped with a refrigerator/freezer, stove, oven, and microwave. The dorm is adjacent to Proyecto Azteca’s main offices. The building is air conditioned and is Wi-Fi accessible.
For an additional fee (see below for details) volunteers may opt to stay in a nearby hotel. The Rodeway Inn is a five minute drive from Proyecto Azteca. It provides clean basic single, double and family rooms with private bathroom and shower, free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and an HD TV.
All onsite transportation is included in your service program contribution. You will meet your team leader and other team members at the McAllen airport and be driven to our lodging – about fifteen minutes away – in a Global Volunteers van. You will also be taken back to the airport in the same way on the final day of your program. Transportation to the work sites varies from mere steps away to about 20 to 45 minutes by passenger van. Note: transportation for free-time activities is not included.
Free Time Activities
You’ll have ample free time in the evenings and on the weekends before and after the program to enjoy area cultural and natural attractions. All free-time activities are your responsibility. These activities include visiting the nearby Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, home or host to over 400 species of birds, or the Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center, an historic Spanish Revival adobe hacienda surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and native woodland. Five minutes from our lodging is the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, one of Texas’ most popular pilgrimage spots. Down the road is the McAllen Heritage Center, a small museum focusing on the history of the area and the International Museum of Art and Science.
Service Program Contribution
Global Volunteer’s service program contribution covers all lodging, three meals a day, in-country team transportation, emergency medical evacuation insurance, all preparatory materials, onsite orientation, a full-time team leader, and administration costs. The San Juan service program contribution is $1,177 with standard lodging for one week.
For an additional charge, volunteers may elect to stay at the nearby Rodeway Inn. It offers comfortable accommodations with a private bathroom, hot water, air conditioning, flat screen TVs, an outdoor pool and free Wi-Fi. Singles, doubles and families can be accommodated and daily transportation to the worksite is included. Upcharges are per room, based on the number of people staying in the room (so if friends are staying together the 2-4 person room rate will be split).
1 person – $381, 2 people – $311, 3 people – $241, 4 people – $171
Please ask your volunteer coordinator about referral credits as well as discounts for students, companions, groups, and alumni volunteers. We encourage you to use Global Volunteers’ online fundraising tool where you can create a personalized webpage to request partially tax-deductible donations from family and friends to help cover your service program contribution. Airfare and free-time activity expenses are your responsibility. The service program contribution and airfare are tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
~ Cesar Chávez