Meet Barbara Nelson. Barbara is originally from Long Beach, California. After retiring and venturing off to Mexico on a sailboat, she first came to Sayulita when her grandson expressed a desire to learn to surf. Since then, Barbara fell in love with this community, her daily walks to the beach, and watching the surfers. Now a long-time resident, she has found many people that she enjoys and has built strong friendships, all of which have given her the desire to get involved in helping her community by giving back to our local public schools.
Barbara, tell us about your background- where are you from, and what brought you to Sayulita?
I was born in Long Beach, California. I left California at the age of 21 and moved to Washington State, then to Oregon. At age 49, I was laid-off from my engineering job when they closed our office in Gold Beach, Oregon. My husband and I worked together with one secretary. We were living in our sailboat and getting ready to retire, so we got the boat ready and sailed off to Mexico. We lived on our boat at a private moorage in Nuevo Vallarta. My husband was having mobility problems, and boat living requires using many ladders, so at that point we were looking for other options. Then, our grandson Ben came down to Mexico to visit when he graduated from school. He wanted to learn to surf, so we started to bring him to Sayulita on a daily basis. Ben learned to surf, and we knew we had found our new home. We looked for awhile for a home, but we couldn’t seem to find just what we were looking for. Eventually we found a very large lot, in a rural area, but only a 12 minute walk to the beach. I loved the beach, and that was what attracted me the most to Sayulita. I love to watch surfers. I thought the town was small, quiet, and a paradise for sure. I thought about moving away from Sayulita as it started to explode more and more, but I have found so many people here that I enjoy, and I love the friendships I have made here in Sayulita, so I decided to stay.
How did you first get involved in helping and giving back to the community? What inspired you to do so, and how do you continue to help?
When I first came to Sayulita, I worked in the yard daily. We had over 1/3 of an acre of land, and the land had not been lived on. I also walked to the beach daily. My neighborhood had only 3 or 4 existing houses. At the time I was caring for my husband and 7 year old Java Macaque monkey, but soon found a need to help the elementary school upon my first visit, when I realized they had a lack of basic sanitary supplies, like hand soap. On my next visit to the school, I saw they had no toilet paper. Thus, I started asking tourists to help by bringing gifts and supplies down with them on their trips. I would then take the supplies to the school, and would bring the tourists along if they wanted the experience. Word spread, and lots of people starting bringing materials, including many locals. We got the school 5 tumbos for garbage, and I drilled the tumbos on the bottoms to discourage theft. When my friend Bobbie advertised a refrigerator for sale, I asked her if the school could have it, and they were happy to donate it. Jose, a waiter at my favorite restaurant has a son in the school, and he also offered to help. So lots of people in the community have helped me. I continued to help by gathering gifts, putting them in plastic bins, and delivering them to the school when we had enough gifts for an entire class.
What do you think Sayulita needs more assistance with, and how can others that want to volunteer or help out get involved?
I think Sayulita needs more work with following the laws. For many years laws were ignored. Slowly, I have seen progress, but there is still a long way to go. The community has made a big improvement with trying to care for our environment, with garbage management, construction waste, dog control, and turtle conservation. For people wanting to help, there are groups like Grupo Pro Sayulita that do projects in the community. Last year I visited the local international school Colegio Costa Verde, and saw three-year-olds separating their garbage! That is something easy enough to teach to anyone. Whatever people have time to do to help, there definitely is a need here, and it feels great to get involved. Helping others gives me a warm feeling knowing that I can make a difference in somebody’s life and in our community.
*Written by: Aanya Sheikh-Taheri