Crisis and moments of need often grant us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. We can take a hard look at what’s around us in order to see what can be improved. This interview is an example of how adversity can bring out the best in ourselves and how unidos (Spanish for ‘united’) we can create something different.
Thomas Landín, chef and business owner of the vegan restaurant “Aguacate y Limón” in Tulum, has been an active volunteer member of the “Unidos” community since its creation. We sat down with him to tell us more about this project that sprung up overnight.
What is United and how did it come about?
It is a movement that arose basically to address a need-to help people impacted by COVID and job loss who had difficulty putting food on the table. As problems with the virus were increasing, some friends who lived in Tulum had to go back to their countries or places of origin and told those of us that stayed here in Tulum to make use of their pantries so that food would not go to waste.
We also learned that several hotel companies were starting to fire many of their employees, many of whom did not have a stable economic situation to begin with. Shortly thereafter, you saw more people sleeping on the streets, and then came the idea of preparing daily plates of food for people in need under the slogan: “You will not go without eating”.
What is Unidos offering the Tulum community?
We started working in the dining rooms, offering a daily dish per person. We put to use some plant beds, germinating sprouts of seeds so that after four days, we could cut them and use them for the plates. We also made a point to search for donations in order to meet the needs required of the project. Little by little, Unidos has been growing based on new needs that have been emerging along the way. For example, the “Roofs” program was created for laid-off workers with no financial means to return home. So this program was created to help support people in reuniting with their families. Another branch that emerged from the project was the “activities,” where we offer this to Tulum’s most vulnerable areas. We provide the children in these communities education through art, culture, and crafts, as well as math and English classes. We also teach them yoga and useful habits like recycling.
We also emphasize nutrition with these communities. We always try to talk to the people who receive the dish about where the food came from, respect the land, and the importance of a healthy diet.
How did the community react to the project, was there a lot of collaboration?
We can say yes, both in the number of volunteers working in the different programs and in the support resources and donations. We receive support from many fruit shops, greengrocers, and hotels with products that we then use in the dishes we offer. In addition, we also receive a good number of financial donations.
Do you think this project will continue after the virus?
We do not know what will happen when the economy returns to “normal” although I see that the project may continue, it could probably use some change with the logistics and the organization of work a little. There have also been many people who have asked us this question, including people or businesses who would like
to continue supporting and financing. We also know that there are two unfortunate things about Tulum: There are people who live without access to a kitchen or a refrigerator as they live in unsuitable conditions, and the other is the number of workers who come here in search of better opportunity, eat poor quality food because of its price advantage over healthier food. These facts alone are a motivation to keep working.
Did this project come from the people or with the help of some institution?
This project from the beginning was by the people and for the people. But what we can be thankful for is that the authorities let us work freely because they initially saw us as a means of mass contagion and constantly threatened us with the closure of these activities. After several visits by some authorities verifying that the safety and hygiene measures were respected, they allowed
us to work freely and supported us with some masks. What we can say is that we started working 15 days before the government realized that there was a need and also that we made a lot of noise. This movement was replicated by different cities such as Playa del Carmen or Mexico City.
In many cases, governments tell you to wait, so one has no other option but to suffer through the misfortune and that eventually they will come in to save you: but in this case, we did the opposite. We acted in the moment we felt there was a need.
What has this experience given you?
It is very gratifying to feel how this has impacted people’s lives. We have received messages from some of the boys and from some very grateful community members saying things like: “Thanks to you I will not need to steal on the streets in Tulum”.
It was also shocking to hand out food at the place known to many as “the most dangerous” in Tulum. We realized that it is not dangerous, the problem is that for one reason or another these people have been denied an opportunity for a better quality of life. You feel very satisfied after being able to share with these people.
I think this will have a very positive impact on Tulum’s lifestyle in many ways. The people we have come to help, have shared with us that they want and need to live differently.
We have shared a lot with the community and seeing people pushing to continue sharing with others—for me, this is the correct path.