Maya Research Program

Live in a Maya Village: Yaxunah Community Participation Experience
LEARN MORE ABOUT YAXUNAH:  Click here for the community website

  Click here for the MRP Yaxunah Newsletter!

VOLUNTEER:  Work in the small Maya village in Yucatán.  It’s a real opportunity to make a difference in the world.  Several volunteer opportunities are available to persons over the age of 18, who have adequate Spanish proficiency, and who have some college-level training. If you’d like to volunteer but don’t see your special skill listed, write us with a proposal. 

STAFF:  While you are in Yaxunah, you’ll work under the leadership of Grace Lloyd Bascopé, Ph.D., Maya Research Program Director for México projects, and Antro. Elias Alcocer Puerto, a member of the anthropology faculty at the Universidad Autónomo de Yucatán.  Dr. Bascopé is a cultural anthropologist with more than 20 years experience in teaching at the university level and in working in the Yucatán.  Professor Alcocer was born in the Yucatán, is an ecological anthropologist, and has worked with the community of Yaxunah for more than 14 years. 

WHEN:  Volunteer sessions during the summer can be flexible, and arrangements can be made for volunteers wishing to work over the winter break or at other times of the year.
SUBMIT AN APPLICATION:  The deadline for applications is May 1 each year, but do contact Dr. Bascopé as exceptions can be made for volunteers who wish to share unique skills.  If you are interested in being a Yaxunah volunteer, in living in a Maya community, and in changing your life by becoming engaged with programs of importance to others, submit the MRP application form.  Because you will be a visitor in the community, you will also be asked to sign a Code of Conduct form.  A limited number of scholarships are available.  If you are interested in the Yaxunah projects or have questions, please e-mail Dr. Bascopé directly at   Generally, Dr. Bascopé can arrange with anthropology professors at a student’s university to earn credit for this field experience.  If you want credit hours, please contact her well in advance of your field session. 

GETTING THERE:  Fly directly to Mérida from Houston, or come through Mexico City or Cancún, then to Mérida.  We'll meet you in Mérida and take you on to Yaxunah.

FEES:  A donation to Maya Research Program of $1450 is required for each two weeks of participation; $1100 if you are an active student at an accredited college or university.  There is a $500 donation for each subsequent week in the community.


The Community Center in Yaxunah – completed in 2010 – is home to numerous activities designed to benefit all segments of the village population.  Located in the heart of the village, the Center is a hub of social life and the location of Maya Research Program volunteer activities.
Volunteer Opportunities at the Community Center
  • Help plan and run a summer day camp for village children of various ages.
  • Design arts and crafts workshops and share you own unique artistic skills.
  • Help write and produce plays.  Design and make sets and costumes. 
  • Help conduct sports and recreational activities, or conduct yoga or exercise classes. 
  • We always need volunteers to work with village young people to paint buildings and fences, gather and recycle plastic, plant trees, and work on numerous other village betterment projects.
One of the most exciting learning experiences at the Community Center is the Sense of Place Program based on knowledge of the tropical environment of the Yucatán area around the village.  Young people involved in the program are in charge of the botanical gardens, which make up the grounds of the Community Center.  The Sense of Place team also keeps the grounds around the cenote (sinkhole, swimming hole), which was recently refurbished and filled with more native plantings.  Sense of Place team members are being trained as guides in the local environment, for the botanical gardens, and for the archaeological site.
Sense of Place Volunteer Opportunities
  • Share specific knowledge of seasonal tropical rainforests with community members. 
  • Teach organic gardening and composting skills.
  • Help community young people gather and prepare plants and insects to go in permanent collections.
  • Work in the Botanical Gardens and Cenote Gardens.
  • Teach swimming lessons in cenote.  Villagers of various ages are seeking to learn.
  • Share your love of photography with community young people.  Help them document their lives and environment in pictures.
The Community Center houses the Cultural and Historical Interpretive Center.  This area contains tableaus, dioramas and displays that explain history and culture of the Yaxunah community lands and local region.   This is a real tourist attraction that helps the community share pride of place with the rest of the world.
Interpretive Center Volunteer Opportunities
  • Share set making and other museum design skills with community members.  Help put together new displays.
  • Help village young people look for and write small grant proposals for new museum displays.
  • Help write curriculum so guides can learn to lead museum tours in English.
The Community Center also has Maya classes, Spanish classes, and English classes.  Soon you will be able to sign up to come for Spanish and Maya lessons there.  Plus the young people are learning to communicate with tourists in English and, very importantly, learning to write family and community histories and folklore in their own language.
Language Volunteer Opportunities
  • We are especially looking for bilingual education teachers, volunteers skilled in teaching English as a second language, and TOEFL teachers, or others who understand the didactics of teaching English to non-native speakers.
The Community Center is the new home of a research library, which houses information about the local archaeological site, the local environment, ethnographic work, and history of the region.  It also houses the computing center.  Modern life demands that the young people of the village acquire solid computer skills. 
Library and Computing Volunteer Opportunities
  • Volunteers are invited to come share specific computer skills with community members.  You are invited to conduct workshops in Publishing, Excel, PhotoShop, web design or any other special area of expertise.
  • Help community members document family histories and genealogies, document local folktales and customs, and engage in creative writing.
The community of Yaxunah, in the central part of the state of Yucatán, México, lies approximately 19 kilometers southwest of the great Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá and is, itself, the location of a huge pre-Columbian site and ruins of colonial era haciendas. Maya Research Program volunteers will have the opportunity to visit these and to see the nearby church in the county seat of Yaxcaba.  This church is laden with history, and its architecture is unique in all of México. 
The community of Yaxunah has just over 100 families.  Their first language is Yucatec Maya, but almost everyone in the community knows Spanish as a second language.  Traditionally, they subsist as corn, beans, and squash farmers.  Volunteers in the community will have ample time to observe and learn about this ancient form of horticulture.  In recent years the community has had to look for other work in order to be a part of the national/global cash economy.  They have turned to carving wooden wall plaques and figurines for the tourist market.  Yaxunah provides a unique vantage point from which to observe and learn about culture change as it happens. 

  Click here for the community website