Maya Research Program



Come to Yaxunah and surrounding communities to live with Maya families, to lend your skills, and to enrich your life and the lives of others. You’ll be astonished at how much you will accomplish in just two weeks!

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old (unless coming with family or in a supervised group), and must have had at least some college studies. Some level of Spanish proficiency will greatly enrich the experience, as well. Come as an individual or bring the family or your club for an enriching opportunity to work together and make a contribution.

Here are some of the many things you can do:

  • Help with English classes in the local Primary and Secondary schools. You can also have private students who want to learn English and need to study for TOEFL and other exams.

  • Teach computer literacy, and help villagers hone their computer skills. Any level of help is welcomed. You can work with school students to make websites, or improve facebook pages, or help older community members conquer the internet by showing how to approach it from A to Z and find things that might be useful and entertaining for them.

  • Share your skills at birding, butterfly observation, botany, and all around naturalist knowledge. Help young people to appreciate and become more knowledgeable about their rich surroundings, with an eye towards them becoming field guides.

  • Share campfire cooking methods and recipes, and show folks how to build and use a solar oven.

  • Teach arts and crafts classes to folks of any age. Design your own class; share your own artistic skills with village members. Community members are always ready to learn new crafts, especially those that might lead to sales in the tourist industry.

  • Teach music, dance, theatre, puppetry. Make musical instruments out of found items. Work with young people to create a play or puppet show about alcoholism, family violence, protecting the environment, and much more. Teach photography and filmmaking skills.

  • Bring yoga, tai chi, exercise, and physical therapy skills. Work with groups of villagers who suffer from hypertension or diabetes, or provide physical therapy for disabled community members.

Don’t see what you do best on this list – contact us about knowledge or a skill you’d like to share. Just want to be a worker bee? – there’s plenty of room for you too. You are important to us. We can always use your willing hands to work in the Botanical Garden at the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center, or to help us lay out new garden spaces in other neighboring communities. Help us decorate the villages by painting public spaces and houses with bright designs.

All of these experiences will be enhanced if you have at least a minimum level of Spanish proficiency.

The Setting

The community of Yaxunah is made up of over 150 families. Their first language is Yucatec Mayan, but almost everyone in the village 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 times the community has had to look for other work as well in order to be a part of the national/global cash economy. They have turned to carving wooden “Maya-esque” wall plaques and masks for tourist markets and have sought assistance from Non-Governmental Organizations and state agencies for community development projects. Thus, Yaxunah provides a unique vantage point from which to observe and learn about culture change as it happens.

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. Those going to the village to get involved in the Maya Research Program volunteer experience will have an opportunity to visit all of these during the course of their stay. Plus, volunteers will also have the chance to visit the nearby church in the county seat of Yaxcabá. This church is laden with history, and its architecture is unique in all of México.

The Staff

A Medical and Environmental Anthropologist, Dr. Grace Lloyd Bascopé has worked in Yaxunah and surrounding communities for more than 25 years. Elías Alcocer Puerto holds a Master’s of Science in Human Ecology and has done fieldwork in the region for almost as long. Dr. Bascopé has been a professor at both Texas Christian University and at the University of North Texas. While engaged in her own research, she conducted many field schools in the Yucatan for both of these universities, and has continued to foster graduate students during their field experiences. M en C Alcocer teaches at several universities in the Yucatan and is president of the Yucatan chapter of Partners of America. He works closely with several international NGOs and state agencies and is, thus, able to bring many resources to bear on the MRP projects in the Yaxunah area. Together, and under the leadership of community members, Bascopé and Alcocer built the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center which houses a small museum, has internet services, and is now a hub for educational and cultural activities for several closely associated villages. You will work directly with one or both of them while involved in the Maya Research Program Yucatan Project.

Making Arrangements - Applying

Dr. Bascopé will approve participants. She will also ask each participant to sign a good-conduct pledge that is in keeping with community behavior standards and with those of the American Anthropological Association. If you are interested in being a Yaxunah Community Participation Experience volunteer, in living in a Maya community, and in changing your life by becoming engaged with programs of importance to others, please contact her at 214-549-9013. You may also e-mail Dr. Bascopé directly at 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.
Credit: Generally, Dr. Bascopé can arrange with anthropology professors at a student’s university to earn credit for this field experience. If you desire to earn credit hours, please contact her well in advance of the field session.

Time Slots: There is no deadline for applying to participate in the MRP Yaxunah Projects. Simply contact Dr. Bascopé. Choose a two-week (three weekends) period between October 1 and the middle of December, or the middle of January through the end of March. For special circumstances, arrangements can be made for a slot during summer months.

Getting there: You can fly directly to Mérida (the capital of the state of Yucatan) from Houston (United, and sometimes American flies straight from Dallas to Mérida), or come through Mexico City or Cancún, then to Mérida. We'll meet you in Mérida and take you on to Yaxunah.
Program Fees: A donation to Maya Research Program of $1450 is required for each two weeks of participation (a limited number of partial scholarships are available, and all are advised to look into The Explorers Club stipends - You will receive two nights and food in a hotel in Merida (at the beginning and end of your stay), transportation to and from Yaxunah and while in the village, room and board in the village, and a trip to tour the great Maya site of Chichén Itzá. Plus, it’s practically guaranteed that your Spanish will improve!
Note: We can always use either PC or Mac working laptop computers. Bring one with you to leave, or if you can send them to Dr. Bascopé, she can get them to the community, and the value of the computer is tax-deductible. Thank you so very much.

LEARN MORE ABOUT YAXUNAH:  Click here for the community website

Interested in joining the team? Call 817-831-9011 or email Dr. Tom Guderjan :