Written by Give Back Day Organiser Rebekah Uccellini

For this years Giveback Day in Cancun Mexico, we chose to work with an amazing organization called Manos de Apoyo (MAV). MAV is a refuge for women and children who have gone through domestic violence and those who are living in poverty in the outer Cancun region.

The program was founded by domestic violence survivor Emma Magana right out of her own backyard. Despite having incredibly limited resources, MAV has grown to meet the needs of more than 400 families in the local community: Offering food distribution, trauma-informed-care, ongoing education (to children and adults) workshops for the elderly, youth leadership programs, empowerment programs for women, free legal support, a internet hub for education and economic development and guidance and refuge for many.

When I visited their facilities for the first time I was blown away to see how effective and far reaching their impact was despite having rain leaking into their counseling and computer rooms, non-functional bathrooms, limited financial resources, transportation services and needing major upgrades to the center. It was clear to see that putting our collective energy into upgrading their facilities, systems, and providing coaching/training and resources they would be able to expand their reach exponentially.

During the initial site visit to Manos de Apoyo y Vida, I realized quickly that we couldn’t fit more than 40 people in the space without it being a bit chaotic. Almost as if the universe read my mind, an amazing woman named Diana took me to visit Emmas home just a few blocks from MAV and I found out that she has been living in a home (with her children, disabled father, mother and sister) that was literally halfway built before she ran out of money. For years, she and her family have been living with only half-a-roof, unfinished walls, electricity and having to walk through the rubble of the unfinished construction each day to get in and out of her home. Emmas generous heart continued to put all of her time, energy and resources into helping the community around her, yet her own home continuously was put on the back burner.

Over the last 2 years, one of the greatest lessons I have had to learn was the importance of “put the oxygen mask on ourselves first”. As Lisa Nichols says, “ We cannot give effectively from an empty cup, we are SO much more powerful when we serve from a place of OVERFLOW”.  This was an A-Fest wisdom that we were able to now make tangible.

The final week of finalizing the GBD plans, we found one of the children who come to MAV for food distribution named Angel was living in untenable circumstances. We found out that he and his two brothers had recently lost their mother to cancer and their father is struggling to work 12-15 hours/day to provide for his family. We went to their home to bring the other brothers some food and they had been living in unimaginable conditions without a roof or walls, plumbing, working bathrooms, electricity, in a foundation of a home filled with trash covered in tattered tarps. It was raining this week, and though I knew it would be a stretch….I also knew that I couldn’t walk away from seeing this family living in these conditions without doing something.

And in true A-Fest fashion the tribe came together and made the impossible possible.

In one short day, we were able to divide up into 7 different teams, including; a murals team (working with local Mural Artists Daniela Palacios Prado), garden team (installing a veggie and herb garden into Emma’s home), website team (website optimization and creating a fundraising campaign), photography and video team (teaching the youth and giving a voice to the community), mastermind & strategy development (working with women, local community & youth empowerment group), Emma’s home building team, and lastly, the team dedicated to the Cardos’ home (a home remodel and transformation).

It was absolute magic the way that our A-Fest tribe came together in such a powerful way.

  • We accomplished getting the roof built and walls built on both homes
  • We had our mural teams paint 3 gorgeous murals at Manos de Apoyo
  • Sammy Taggett (aka #ShoeboxMoses) taught the next generation of DJs
  • Our Video and photography team, led by Christian Nicolai, taught the teens an introduction to photography and video
  • Our Social Media team, led by Thaís Tuffi, taught Facebook live to the kids and was able to get interviews from many of our attendees related to the concept of finding your quest
  • Our Mastermind teams did strategy sessions and “problem hacking”/ Coaching with MAV leaders, as well as with about 17 women in the local community
  • Marisa Peer, Emily Fletcher, and Jelena Ley Petkovic had time to teach meditation, mindfulness and some breakthrough exercises to the women who run MAV
  • We had a couple translate their inspirational children’s book ”you are Extraordinary” from German into Spanish
  • We did Empowerment exercises and breakthrough sessions with the teens from the community
  • One amazing A-Fest angel Sherry Anshara got the water for the Cardos family turned back on (they had no water due to a unpaid $4000 peso bill) and not only did she pay their overdue bill, but she even paid for them to have water for the entire year
  • A huge load of yoga mats, sports equipment and soccer balls were donated to the children at MAV
  • Our garden team, led by James McMillen, planted a beautiful herb and flower garden and a mango tree at Emma’s home
  • We did 7 loads of laundry
  • We painted and completely cleaned up and transformed the boys home
  • Some of our attendees had one on one social entrepreneurship sessions with Taylor Conroy
  • We built a fence out of recycled materials led by Tarmo Täht
  • Our Web team did SEO and Facebook optimization and added donation buttons to their sites, made some updates to the MAV website and Social Media sites, and they set up a Patron campaign so that our A-Fest tribe can continue to lift up this community at Manos de Apoyo y Vida for the entire year
  • We had the mamas pour so much love into these children’s lives and do arts and crafts with the kids. Steffani Fort LeFevour printed out photos of the mother (who had passed away) and we got the photos framed and they are now prized possessions at the boys home
  • A group of incredibly generous Afesters took it upon themselves to go out and buy them furniture and kitchenware and backpacks and clothing for the boys
  • Dean and Lisa Stanhope Grafos provided jobs to the local builders to help us go beyond just the roof for the Cardos family home and we were able to add on an additional room to the house, electricity, and working sinks installed into the boys home
  • Luis Hanibal Negron, Aubrey Loren and Gina Elias. From the Vinyasa Flow Classt raised over $1000 to get flooring and doors put into Emma’s home and to give the children at MAV a beautiful Christmas!
  • Udo Gollub donated language courses to the community center (even adding on extra languages that the children were interested in learning).

Emma’s House Before & After

before1 done1

Cardos’ House Before & After


And because of the generosity of so many A-Festers who added money to the bucket at the Giveback day lunch we have been able to get 2 additional rooms built, doors and windows purchased for both houses, and indoor plumbing and working bathrooms/toilets in both homes, Kitchenware and furniture, and ongoing education and coaching.

I am amazed and humbled by each person who showed up to make this magic possible. I have so much gratitude to the entire MAV team (it took a tremendous effort on their end).

Thank you Emma for your vision, pure heart and dedication. Thank you Diana for being the bridge which made this all possible. Thank you Coral for your patience, love and beautiful grounded presence. Thank you Laura and Carmela (sp), and all the staff at MAV and the incredible youth empowerment team. Thank you to Daniella, the most amazing artist I could have possibly found for this project. Thank you Román and Ahbram and the amazing local building crew. Thank you Isaac for letting us run a tab until we had the funds available. This list can go on and on. So many earth-angels have made this all possible.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

We are hoping to raise some money to buy the Cardos family a working refrigerator, fence and gate, bathroom mat and some indoor/outdoor rugs for the floors. If you would like to help sponsor Manos de Apoyo y Vida, A. C.so that they can continue to support hundreds of families in the local area… please go to: www.patreon.com/handsofsupportandlife