In the early 1980s, a small area of jungle was cleared and a staff housing unit built across the highway from Puerto Aventuras, a new resort community in the Riviera Maya. The clearing quickly grew into a small village or poblado with little more than an elementary school, some stores, and a church.
By 1995, 2,000 employees and their families were living in the poblado that had many needs, among them education.
Initially, a local union (“CROC”) donated the use of a building, and a local developer, Oscar Constandse, provided funding for basic adult education programs.
In 1995, two frequent visitors to Puerto Aventuras noticed that their cleaning lady brought her school-age children to work with her every day. When asked why, she explained that she couldn’t afford to send them to school, and so with the help of other community supporters, the idea for the Friends of Puerto Aventuras (FOPA) was born with the goal of providing more educational opportunities for the poblado community. The initial program offered was adult English classes.
In the first year of this program, 30 adults enrolled in English classes of whom 23 completed their work and received a certificate, a 77% success rate.
In 1999, a sister organization to FOPA was created, Puerto Aventuras Educators (PAE), that took on the responsibility for primary through secondary levels of English education, while FOPA continued to provide adult English education among other community services.
PAE first tried to fulfill its Education Mission by “embedding” English teachers in the elementary school and later in the middle school when this level of education was introduced in the poblado. An order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conneticuit (www.sistersofsaintjoseph.org/ministries.html), sent members of their order and lay volunteers for three years to teach English in the public schools and offer some adult English classes for FOPA. Oscar Constandse generously provided housing for these teachers for three years. When he could no longer do so, PAE found in-country English teachers. With this change, the organization moved from being a public school-embedded English Language program to being an after-school English program.
When PAE started its work, schooling in the poblado only went through the 6th grade, but the sponsors came to know students through the English program whom they hoped would continue their education past elementary school; therefore, PAE decided to start a scholarship program to send students to Playa del Carmen for middle and eventually high school. In the first year of the potential scholarship program, the founders of PAE could not find one family that was willing to let their children go to Playa to school. The reasons cited were a loss of money if the child did not work and/or too many ideas in the head might make him/her (usually a reference to a “him”) more difficult to control. The PAE leaders realized that if they were to be successful, they would have to work with/involve the parents. During the next year they did so and ended up giving three students scholarships to middle school in Playa. When the middle school was introduced in the poblado, the program limited scholarships to high school attendees. The scholarship program almost doubled every year until PAE was providing close to 40 scholarships.
In August of 2005, PAE had its first high school graduates- two girls and a boy. Much to the surprise of all the adults involved, two of the students asked if PAE would support them in their post-secondary studies. PAE did, and in 2008 PAE had its first post-secondary graduate, Jose, from one of the technical colleges in Playa del Carmen.
In 2008, the first high school classes were offered in the Puerto Aventuras poblado, and in 2011 the poblado high school graduated its first class. With high school education now available in the poblado, PAE phased out its high school scholarship program, with the graduation of its last high school scholarship graduate in June 2012. However, PAE continued to offer post-secondary scholarships. Meanwhile, FOPA’s adult-English classes continued to offer education to workers seeking employment in Puerto Aventuras’ shops and restaurants and those in neighboring communities. Also, an available jobs list was posted weekly on the adult school bulletin board. A twice-yearly bazaar was held in the poblado with donations from Puerto Aventuras residents. The funds raised were used to support FOPA’s many activities, e.g., providing soccer uniforms, creating a donation-based public library, and offering computer-literacy classes. One of the enduring trademarks of the organization was its ability to continually respond to the changing needs of the community.
In 2012, the two organizations, PAE and FOPA, decided once again to join resources under the name of Friends of Puerto Aventuras (FOPA). The new organization continues to offer post-secondary scholarships and elementary,middle school, and adult English classes.