From the moment it was founded, Banyan Tree Group has held a firm belief that tourism has the potential to do good in the world, and that stewardship of destinations is our responsibility. Part of our long-held ethos of “Embracing the Environment, Empowering People” involves creating real benefits for the communities surrounding our properties all over the world – and in 2023, one of those projects came to fruition.
The Kaxan Naát School in Santa Cecilia is a project by Banyan Tree Mayakoba, our award-winning beachside sanctuary on the scenic Caribbean coast, launched with the goal of ensuring the long-term prosperity of a nearby village community by addressing one of its biggest issues: a lack of schools for the local children.
Nestled within the lush tropics of Mexico’s easternmost state of Quintana Roo, the rural community of Santa Cecilia comprises just 45 families. Despite its proximity to world-famous tourist hotspots such as Cancún and Playa del Carmen, the residents of this small town did not have reliable access to basic services like electricity, drainage and paved roads.
In 2019, a team from Banyan Tree Mayakoba made their first visit to Santa Cecilia, and discovered that the children in the community were travelling up to six kilometres a day just to get to school. As many did not have their own transport, daily attendance was often a struggle, particularly when the weather was bad.
That same year, the Banyan Tree Global Foundation, in partnership with RLH Properties and the Sancus Foundation, committed to building a new school classroom in the village, suitable for 30 children. This would be the first stage of a larger school and community centre project called Kaxan Naát, set on communal land provided by the government.
After three long years of planning and preparation, the team finally broke ground on the first classroom in autumn 2022, marking the start of a brand new chapter in the lives of the children of Santa Cecilia.
The main, short-term objective of this passion project was clear: to provide easy access to a high-quality education for children. We see regular schooling as a key tool for lifting communities out of poverty, so a new classroom could benefit Santa Cecilia for generations.
For Banyan Tree Mayakoba, sustainability was also a vital part of the project. Working hand-in-hand with the world’s leading advisory group for sustainable tourism, EarthCheck, we meticulously planned every detail to ensure that there was a sustainable approach from the beginning, and then with Ecological Constructions of the Caribbean to bring this vision to life. This covered everything from the use of ecological supplies and correct management of waste to the reforestation of native plants and installation of a rainwater-capture system and compost toilets.
We also made sure that the buildings could withstand the (rare, but fierce) hurricanes that could potentially hit the Mayan Riviera.
In February 2023, the first classroom of Kaxan Naát School officially opened, and teachers took their first classes. “The families of the Santa Cecilia community have expressed that they feel very fortunate to have the support of this classroom, since their children and teachers will now have a decent environment to take their classes”, shares Marcela Monteon Diaz, Sustainability Manager at Banyan Tree Mayakoba .
One student, Hector Hernandez, recalled how he used to “walk five kilometres to school” just to take lessons “under a tree that got wet when it rained”, and would often be bitten by mosquitoes. He expressed gratitude that he now has a proper classroom with shelter and windows.
But it isn’t all about the children: welcoming the entire community is part of the vision of the Kaxan Naát School. The community hub also offers a wide range of adult educational programs, workshops and development programmes (with a real focus on implementing a culture of caring for the environment, supported by a new organic community garden).
Yet, this is only the beginning. The ambitious plans for the Kaxan Naát School development includes plans for expansion, with a second classroom on the horizon, as well as potentially adding a pre-school and finding environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity.
There is no doubt that the Kaxan Naát School project has already been a success, but there is so much more to be done for the people of Santa Cecilia. With each new development, we take one step closer towards a brighter, more equitable future for all.
The Kaxan Naát School project is supported by Banyan Tree Mayakoba, where guests are invited to donate US$1 per room per night to support the project. This donation is then matched by RLH Properties.