Anne Menke, originally from Germany, moved to Sayulita ten years ago from New York. Right away, Anne and her husband, Johann, wanted to give back to the community by building a pedestrian bridge over the river. However, not knowing when you build in a government process, one doesn’t have much say about the construction and engineering, the bridge collapsed with the first summer rain. Anne continued to strive to make a difference in Sayulita, and has done just that. She is one of the co-founders of Costa Verde International School, as well as a committee member of SayuParke, focusing on fundraising. Anne tells El Sayulero more about what she does to bring about positive change in Sayulita, why she does it, and much more.
How did you get involved with co-founding Costa Verde?
I saw the need for a school in Sayulita after spending some time at the public school. I had first hoped to be able to change something there and came to understand that would be an impossible project. Jennifer and Gary Culp had the most incredible kindergarten that you can imagine, and they inspired me. Tamra Koch and I thought that to create a school as magical as Jennifer and Gary’s kindergarten would be the dream. Most important in our decision to make the school was to have local children attend the school full time and for those children to have the opportunity to be bilingual, like our children already were. For me, the vision was always to have a minimum of 50% of the kids be Mexican, and with the international mixture of people in Sayulita, we would be a great international community that could learn from each other.
How does Costa Verde make a difference in Sayulita?
I think that the school is creating a new form of learning environment that a lot of local people have never seen in the form we do. The schools all around us are more “old fashioned” and go “by the book.” I think we are “producing” free thinking and loving children and encouraging them to learn their whole lives and be stewards to the environment . I think the whole green idea to go back to the roots is changing Sayulita and will especially if we start with the children. I have seen kids enter the school and leave a few years later, and even if their parents are completely unaware and are not able to help the children be this way, the school transforms them into these special little human beings. This is what gives me the drive to do it. I believe and have learned over time that our children from international families will be able to learn all of this through us, but the local children learn it in the school, and in exchange, we are lucky that our international children are confronted with the Mexican culture everyday with their friends and school buddies. This teaches them an incredible amount that we would never be able to give them as they grew up in such a different lifestyle and world.
What motivates you to continue to try to make a positive impact in Sayulita?
When we moved here, I wanted my children and myself to not to be any different from the local people. We wanted to fit in, so for the first two years, Johann and I lived with a very respected local family and hung out only with them. I wanted to be part of the community and not just move here and have a great time. I always wanted to give back. I love Sayulita and there is no other place on earth where I want to live. After traveling the globe, I really fell in love with this place and its people. This is one of the reasons I have at least 10 more projects in mind that we can do over the next years. This is also why I got involved in SayuParke, as I had heard from so many mums that wanted a playground. We had meetings and a few mothers said, “It is impossible. We tried it before,” but we got a group together that was determined, and would not take no for an answer. One year later, we have a park. Even though it can be still better than it is, we have a great start, and the most wonderful thing about SayuParke is that all the local schools are making use of it every week. It is used all day and not just for little babies or after school.
What changes do you want to see brought about by Costa Verde?
We are strongly working towards more community involvement in the school and the school in the community. We have projects that all the children do within the community. For example, the kindergarten has started gardening in the plaza and will continue to maintain projects like this. The middle school and high grades started a program with Eco Sayulita. They are trying to change the “take away” mentality and products the restaurants use. If they are successful, within one to two years, Sayulita could be Styrofoam free, which is a dream.
What role do you play as co-founder of Costa Verde?
As co-founder and board member, I am part of the major decisions where the school is headed and where we want to be headed, but because we are such a small group and entity, we all wear many hats. One of my main daily hats is fundraising, which includes fundraising for the scholarships, but also for general funding that we need to grow. This includes funds for computers and technology, to build another classroom, other growing costs, and funding special projects in the arts and music.
What have you gained from your involvement with Costa Verde?
Triple work I never dreamed of when we decided to move and go surf and relax… hahaha! I gained an endless opportunity to learn and give that I will never regret. For me to see kids graduate from the school that may be from a really poor family that would never be able to afford private school, to see them leave perfectly bilingual, be able to get a totally different job that their parents couldn’t have dreamt of, it makes me the happiest person on the planet. I know that this generation will change the world. I learned that investing in education is the only way to save the future.
What positive changes have you seen brought about by your efforts? What are you most proud of?
Actually, what I said above, I am doing all I do not for my or any other foreigner’s children. I am doing all I do for the local community. I have learned that there are some wonderful families starting to make a difference and they will change our world. My favorite example is graduating this year from middle school . Leonarda is a girl we found through the essay contest of Punta Sayulita and the Eco Warrior Foundation two years ago. She was at the local secundaria in 7th grade and was the best student in her class. She wrote the most incredible essay about why she is an ecowarrior and won first place of the secundaria. I suggested our Director of CVIS meet with her and the parents and see if they were interested in changing schools and coming to Costa Verde if we offered her a scholarship, and they did. This family is absolutely incredible. The mother comes and helps every day in the school’s cafeteria and now, two years later, Leonarda is graduating from 9th grade and is fluent in English and is absolutely the most brilliant student. The parents are happy and thankful and wish we had a high school for her to continue. This makes me happy and gives me the drive to continue.
What additional change(s) would you like to see in the future and what are you doing to make this happen?
There are so many projects. I would love to get more afternoon programs at the school that would be free, so everybody can make use of them, regardless of their budget. There are so many community projects that are necessary and they could all come from one community center, which could thrive from the bases of CVIS . We have a big responsibility with water and it would be great if we can grow more groups that can take projects on, like cleaning up the water in Sayulita. I am dreaming of an artificial reef in our area to have people learn and work with the ocean (inspired by Sebastian Briones, local dive shop). I have endless projects and dreams in my mind, but as of now, first comes first. We have to still work on CVIS to make it perfect and also be able to give the option of a high school, which is next in the making.
How can others help?
Finding dedicated volunteers that are truly dedicated is the key to success and that is what we need. There are so many ideas and projects, but not enough leaders and helpers to do so. If we are able to get more people involved, we will be better than ever!