What's Going on in Cristo Rey?

by Michele Kinnon (Oct. 2013)

Whatís going on in Cristo Rey? That seems to be the question on everyone's lips this past week as pictures and stories began appearing on Facebook and even in Playa del Carmen's new English-language newspaper, The Playa Times. So, what IS going on in Cristo Rey and how did we find ourselves involved?

What and where is Cristo Rey? Where is easier to answer than what. Cristo Rey is located in the northwest quadrant of Playa del Carmen, beyond the colonia of Guadalupana and behind the "eco" community Sac Be. Itís a rough ride down dark and deserted roads flanked by scrub jungle. It's not a place you are likely to come upon by chance. WHAT is Cristo Rey? That's a bit trickier and the answer will likely depend on who you ask. What I know is this: Cristo Rey is a large parcel of land that was privately purchased and subdivided into 3000 lots. The lots were sold by the developer at very reasonable prices and with manageable financing terms providing an opportunity for home ownership to many lower-income families who could otherwise never afford it. Much of the workforce in Playa del Carmen is comprised of men and women who have migrated alone to the region in search of work. They work for weeks to months at a time, traveling back to their homes and families only occasionally and to bring them money. In fact, many of the homesteads were purchased by municipal police officers who were then able to move their families to Playa del Carmen rather than going for long stretches of time without seeing them.

1800 of the 3000 lots have been sold. Many families have been able to build modest homes on them. But somewhere along the way, a few things fell through the cracks. The services and conveniences that are mandated for a development of this scale somehow never were provided for the residents, turning their dream into a nightmare. No electrical lines have been run to the village. There is no sewage system. Water is pumped up from the cenotes using hand-operated pumps. The only electricity comes from two generators and is sold to the residents who can afford it.

The roads are rough and there is no public transportation to bring workers back and forth from their home to Cento or even the carratera. The closest public school was located in the center of Guadalupana, meaning children as young as 5 would be required to walk 90 minutes each way Ö under the hot sun or in the rain Ö to attend school. As the number of children in Cristo Rey increased, the need for a school in the community became apparent. A small school was built and quickly "adopted" by a larger school in Playa del Carmen. While improvements were made to the rustic facilities and the curriculum was improved, the parent school later demanded tuition from families just scraping to get by, and once again the children of Cristo Rey were out on the street.

Left with no other options, another school was built, block-by-block, classroom-by-classroom, to accommodate the children left behind in the name of progress. The school was built organically with the cooperation of parents and a few generous sponsors. Most of the construction was done by members of the community and is a source of great pride for the children, parents and teachers alike.

Somewhere along the way, the plight of the tiny school in Cristo Rey started grabbing the attention of people outside the community, far outside the village, reaching all the way into the expat bubble.

To be continued.

Michele Kinnon and her husband, Rob, are the owners of BuyPlaya Real Estate Advisors and FurnitureMEX, both based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Michele is a member of Rotary Club of Playa del Carmen Seaside and participated on the founding committee for Taste of Playa, the Riviera Maya's largest and longest-running culinary festival. She also blogs, writes local interest articles, and administers the Riviera Maya Events Calendar. Michele and Rob have lived in Playa del Carmen with their two children since 2004. Follow her updates on Google+.

Cristo Rey, Michele Kinnon