Isla Mujeres: tourism and the economy
Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is a little piece of paradise just off the coast of Cancún. Once it was a sleepy fishing village with a tranquil, slow-paced lifestyle; now, its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and glorious sunsets have attracted the tourist industry. The local Mayan culture, with its delicious food and unique cultural offerings, is central to the island’s charm.
Isleños are warm and welcoming, but those who don't have a working understanding of English find many service-industry jobs beyond their reach. The influx of global tourism has drastically increased the cost of living and at the same time has made the ability to speak English essential to earning a living wage on Isla Mujeres.
An English school for the community
In 2004, La Gloria English School opened its doors. The school was founded by Maggie and Tom Washa, two North Americans who had been spending several months each year on Isla for over a decade. Located in one of the poorest neighborhoods on the island, the school immediately attracted students of all ages.
The results after nine years
La Gloria English School now offers six classes a day, each taught by one of two full-time, licensed English teachers. In 2012, 221 students -- whose ages range from kindergarten to adult -- attended classes, for a total of more than 34,000 student contact hours. Adults who have learned English have been able to double or triple their income as a result, helping to lift their families out of poverty.
In some cases, the increased income is the result of a better job: a position in a hotel, for example, that requires contact with tourists. In others, the increase has come about because the student has been better able to communicate with customers, such as a jewelry vendor who is now able to take custom orders, or a taxi driver who can arrange pick-ups with tourists and now offers tours of the island in English. La Gloria Englsh School has provided hundreds of local residents with a tool to help them improve their lives.
Friends of La Gloria English School (FOLGES) is the US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports the school.