the other side of cabo + some helping hands

 Beautiful beaches of Cabo San Lucas - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Beautiful beaches of Cabo San Lucas - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Welcome to Cabo, one of the most beautiful places in the world. The skies are blue, the sand is soft, and the waves are mesmerizing. It’s perfection. Well, what you see as a tourist is perfection. It’s easy to see only the good side of things when you’re covered in Banana Boat, wading in a warm pool, and wearing the rose-coloured glasses that can only be created by the consumption of multiple margaritas.
 
Don’t get me wrong; margarita-infused or not, it’s a beautiful place. The people are friendly, the environment is stunning, and the food is incredible. The thing is, in order to fully appreciate a place, you need to get to know it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s where the Solmar Foundation comes in.

Solmar Hotels and Resorts have been around since 1965, and with over fifty years in the Cabo area, they’ve certainly become part of the community. In fact, being part of the community (and giving back) was always a priority for the company’s founder, the late Don Luis Bulnes Molleda. In an effort to continue his good work, the Solmar Foundation was created, providing crucial social services that are not provided by the government to the area’s most vulnerable, including women and children, the homeless, and the elderly.

 Living conditions of the "people in the mountains" - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Living conditions of the "people in the mountains" - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Why the increase in homelessness {and everything that comes with it}? Los Cabos is a beautiful, growing tourist destination that’s booming like crazy. Spring break, luxury resorts, sport fishing, and its close proximity to the US border are just a few reasons people are flocking to the region. In turn, a multitude of people from mainland Mexico have come to the area, either alone or with their families, in hopes of finding work. According to UNICEF, “50.6 millions of Mexicans can’t afford the basic needs such as health, education, food, and living.”

Unfortunately, upon arrival, many of the newcomers find that there is not work for them, or that they are unqualified or under-educated. Also, the cost of living is quite high, and incomes are low, skewing the typical idea of “class” – what’s considered to be low-medium class in Cabo are general managers of resorts, and even doctors. They tend to live in rental properties that cost about $400-$500 USD per month {2 bedroom, services included}, which, to many, is hard to believe that’s a high cost of living. With low wages and a struggling economy, however, it’s too true.

 Garden at the rehab facility - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Garden at the rehab facility - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

The Solmar Foundation has been working hard to try and alleviate some of these issues, providing education, accommodation, medical treatment, and so much more to those in need. It’s not luxurious, and the outcome is not always as planned, but the effort is there – and those who make the most of the assistance succeed.

It’s one thing to hear or read about a charity and all that they do, but it’s another to experience it. The Solmar Foundation encourages guests of Solmar Resorts to make a small donation upon checkout, bring items that can be used at their facilities {school supplies, women’s clothing, children’s clothing, toys, etc.}, or join them on a guided tour of the community and some of the charity’s locations.

Donating money or bringing along some goodies to share are both simple and rewarding. They’re actions that don’t require a whole lot of effort, but provide satisfaction in knowing that you’ve made a difference. Easy peasy, right?

Visiting the foundation’s locations, however, is different. It sort of seems like the children and others involved are being exploited… at first. As you explore, however, and see how everything is run, and how passionate the volunteers {it’s 100% volunteer-run BTW} are, you start to see it differently. You see the incredible difference that’s being made, the dedication of the people who are working their asses off, and the complete and utter gratitude of those on the receiving end of that dedication.

Not sold on it? There are a few spots along the way on the tour that will definitely pull at your heart strings. In fact, after spending some time on the tour, it’s now a goal of mine to head back and volunteer for a few weeks. Seeing the work being done {and the results of said work} first-hand is a pretty kick-ass experience, and it’s truly inspiring.

Here’s a peek at some of the efforts in action:

 Swinging around at the children's rehab facility - Global Dish - Stephanie Arsenault

Swinging around at the children's rehab facility - Global Dish - Stephanie Arsenault

CHILDREN'S REHAB FACILITY
When I first heard that we’d be visiting a rehab facility for kids, I assumed it was for some sort of physical rehabilitation. Wouldn’t you? There’s no way your mind would venture to a place where your first thought was, “oh, yeah, a facility for kids addicted to drugs! That makes complete sense!”

Unfortunately, it most certainly is a program for child drug addicts. No, they’re not kids who fell in with the wrong crowd, rebelling against their parents, or any of that after-school-special PSA bullshit. These kids are kids. Children. Toddlers. It all started a while ago, when children used to hang out at the marina in town and sell candies to tourists. The tourists felt bad, so instead of just buying one or two items, they’d give the kids $50 or $100 and buy the whole lot. Local drug dealers noticed that the kids were raking in the cash, and would come at the end of the day and take their money in exchange for “candy”. The candy was actually drugs, and as the children became addicted, they’d continue to do whatever they had to do to make the money and get more drugs. As the kids were so young, they didn’t even know what was happening; just that when they had the candy they were happy, and that when they didn’t have the “candy” they felt terrible – a vicious cycle.

 Feeding kids all day, every day - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Feeding kids all day, every day - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

The Mexican government has since done a great job of cracking down on children being used for money and drugs, but there’s no doubt that kids are the most vulnerable people out there. Solmar’s facility provides food and support for these children all day, every day, and it is, again, completely volunteer run. When we arrived there, the children greeted us with a song, and then a short tour of their space, which includes a small kitchen, a laundry area, a swing set and slide, and a tiny garden. The kids were eager to chat {language barriers aside}, play, and show off their extremely impressive playground skills {A trio of slide-goers! Big pushes on the swings! Super far jumps!}. My heart grew, and then deflated as we made our way back to the van along the dirt road lined in bare-bone housing {primarily made of scrap wood, corrugated tin, and tarps, with no sanitation or electricity} and panting puppies adorned in halos of flies; it was time to move on to the next stop.

 Celebrating Children's Day - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Celebrating Children's Day - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

SHELTER
As I mentioned before, Cabo has an immense homeless community; they live in the nearby mountains in a kind of shanty town. It’s illegal, as they live on government land and do not pay to live there, but the government allows it because it keeps the homeless off the tourist-packed streets of Cabo. There’s an extreme difference in people here: some are shockingly rich, others are living in misery. Men stand on corners each morning and wait to get day jobs {mostly labour at small hotels, etc.}, but they can’t get hired full-time as they don’t have the proper documentation.

 Entrance to one of the sleeping quarters at the shelter - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Entrance to one of the sleeping quarters at the shelter - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

That’s where Solmar’s shelter comes into play. While there’s space for people to stay {divided between men and women areas}, and a great kitchen/dining area, the highlight of this facility is the training portion. There, they teach job skills, take necessary exams, teach English, and help people get hired. Through this program, they have employed over 400 people in Cabo {as of May, 2017}. There are a couple mock-hotel rooms on-site where people are trained in hotel room maintenance {making beds, cleaning, etc.}, and hotel beds, towels, and kitchen supplies are up-cycled to the shelter for both training purposes and general use.

 The shelter's chapel, recently rebuild post-hurricane - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

The shelter's chapel, recently rebuild post-hurricane - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

THRIFT STORE
When it comes to charity, I think it’s natural for people to gravitate toward causes involving children. But there are, of course, equally important groups of vulnerable people, like the elderly. The Solmar Foundation’s nursing home is a quaint spot in central Cabo San Lucas, made up of a beautiful outdoor area {for games, dancing, and all sorts of fun activities}, a big kitchen {where volunteers cook up a storm}, a medical treatment room, a garden, and a thrift store. The thrift store is great, because it employs people who would otherwise be unemployed, and makes use of items from the resort. Towels, sheets, dishware, and so much more is for sale at the shop, alongside items left behind. Clothes, shoes, bags, and even wedding dresses are available for purchase {it’s amazing what people forget while travelling!}, and all of the proceeds go back to the foundation.

 Working on a meal for the lunchtime crowd - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Working on a meal for the lunchtime crowd - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

A quick visit to the nursing home will provide you with endless hugs and kisses from grateful patrons, a unique insight into the medical care and support offered, and a true appreciation for the kindness of humans.

 Lunchtime grub at the nursing home - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Lunchtime grub at the nursing home - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

So whether or not you make it to Cabo and have the chance to give back to the Solmar Foundation, make a point of giving back in general. When you’re on vacation, think about the impact tourism has on a community, both good and bad. Do something kind. Be a good human. Trust me, it’s a win-win for everyone.

 Living conditions of the "people in the mountains" - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Living conditions of the "people in the mountains" - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish