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Micro-Enterprise and Community Resilience on the Mexico/U.S.

A mere two hour drive east from the city of San Diego, California, you can encounter another world just south of the U.S. border. Mexicali, Mexico is a desert city of one million, juxtaposed with the U.S. city of Calexico and next to the rich agricultural fields of rural Mexico.

You will experience resilient communities, able to withstand this harsh desert climate while creating their livelihoods, often times, by linking together two or three part time jobs to cover the needs of the family. Small loan opportunities afford people the chance to create thriving mini-businesses such as beekeeping, catering, or cactus production. By working alongside community leaders called Promotoras, volunteers will learn how leadership is demonstrated at the community level.

A true immersive program, you will see the impact of globalization where many people now work in assembly factories or work to create products for sale in the United States. With salaries of approximately $8/day and with the price of a gallon of milk at $4, these communities demonstrate strong families and cooperative solutions to their social and economic environment. Opportunities abound to engage with locals, learn about migration, and steep in the richness of the relational nature of the Mexican people.


Typical Program

A true immersion into the local reality, you will work alongside community members in school improvement projects, green area restoration or community garden development. All of these initiatives are community driven and community determined. You will learn about Mexican education and the challenges of the underfunded system.

Learn about the promotora model of community nutrition and ecology education outreach. Mostly orchestrated with schools, you will meet and talk with community outreach workers and work in a local community garden or cactus farming initiative.

During your journey, you will have the opportunity to participate in a micro-credit initiative by donning a beehive suit to see the inner-workings of a beehive colony or be put to work painting and repairing hives. You will talk with the micro-credit participants and work side by side with the members of the local bee collective to learn the ins and outs of honey harvesting and related product manufacturing.

Traveling just south of Yuma Arizona, you will visit Los Algodones (a local border community) and participate in their brick-making collective. Learn how to make bricks and get a better understanding of how a collective works. Here you will have a chance to engage with the community through both work and play…impromptu soccer matches with the local kids are not uncommon here!

Gain a better understanding of the dynamics of immigration through a discussion led by the experts who run the Caritas Organization, then take an eye-opening visit to Casa Migrante, a shelter for recently repatriated migrants.

Visit the Museum of the Sun, become inspired by the majestic saguaro cactus native to the area and get a feel for the native customs and culture of the indigenous Cucapah people. For longer trips we can include a visit to the Sea of Cortez for an in-depth look at the nature of water politics and environmental restoration and a trip to the beach.

Duration and Directions

Visitors will fly to San Diego airport and be transferred to the Calexico border crossing, a bus ride of approximately 2 hours. Crossing the border by foot is a simple 2 block transit. Once in Mexicali ground transportation is included until departure.


Upon arrival to the facility in Mexicali and after a rest, an orientation will be provided including an introduction to the hosting organization including culture, safety, rules and expectations. Volunteers will also learn about the critical issues facing communities, including the impact of migration and globalization in this unique region. The orientation will provide an overview of activities for the week and background on the projects, people, and places where we will engage.

Via International is also prepared to offer a curriculum in support of this journey. This includes reading lists, pre trip seminars and post trip reflection modules.

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers should be adaptable and flexible, willing to work as part of a team, and respectful of local traditions, culture, and customs. Those taking part in community development projects need to be capable of doing physical work, although previous experience is not essential. Spanish language ability is useful, but not necessary.

Click here to view the packing checklist.

Check out a Sample Itinerary

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Food and Accommodations

The cuisine of Mexicali is unique. Most meals will be prepared by promotoras, who are outreach workers of Via’s sister organization. Using traditional recipes, these women are skilled at creating low cost and nutritious meals with traditional ingredients. While in Mexicali there will be opportunities to try tostadas ceviche de soya (a crisp corn tortilla with cilantro, tomato, onion and, instead of fish, soy), enchiladas (corn tortillas with tasty fillings), and some local Chinese specialities from the immigrant population. Due to the climate, refreshing drinks are always made available. Known as aguas frescas, these are invigorating mixtures of fruit and vegetables.

Mexicali has its own dorm accommodations in a middle class neighborhood of the city. There is space for up to 30 in a group, with three separate sections for men, women and group leaders. Via International also has discount rates at comfortable hotels, for groups seeking that kind of lodging.

Community and Region

Mexicali is the the capital of the state of Baja California in Mexico and is located just across the U.S. border from Calexico, California. The city got its name from combining the two words: MEXI-co and CALI-fornia and is known as the city that captures the sun due to the long, hot summers and short, cold winters. Once an agricultural center for cotton and cereal production, it has also experienced rapid growth as a border town with extensive construction of foreign-owned assembly plants called maquiladoras that rely on abundant low-wage laborers to produce consumer electronics and high-technology products for the U.S. and global marketplaces.

Over one million people call Mexicali home. The extremely resilient indigenous people, the Cucapah, continue to survive in the desert region. A thriving Chinese community, descendents of railway workers deported from the United States, account for over 100 Chinese restaurants in the city. Natives of Mexicali are called Cachanillas, the name of a plant that thrives in this harsh climate. Mexicali residents are certainly that; people that continue to be resilient in the face of any obstacle.

Via Local Partner Organizations

Los Niños de Baja is a Mexican based NGO that has been working in the border region of Mexicali since 1975. Los Niños’ programs address the basic needs of communities by building the capacities of the residents to become agents of positive change. The community members in turn create opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities.


  • Discover the realities of border life and globalization in this desert environment
  • Learn about the issues related to food security, education and economy in both urban and rural areas
  • Analyze different methods of social movements and educational systems
  • Understand how leadership is demonstrated at the community level, through community-based programs
  • Participate in community-defined service projects supporting beekeeping, cactus production, and school improvements

Your service will impact the following long-term initiatives: micro-credithealth and nutrition

You will observe, listen and engage with local community members, hearing their stories and learning from their ingenious ways of surviving in an extreme climate. A microcosm of the elements and realities of globalization, you will come away with a heightened understanding of the issues facing the human family and the planet.


  • Loyola University Maryland “I highly recommend Via International as a great host agency for meaningful immersion programs, both domestic and international. They are rooted in the community with years of experience and relationships, organized and offer great educational input for the participants. They have everything you need for a comprehensive experience.”
    Andrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International ImmersionsAndrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International Immersions
  • University of Colorado Boulder
    “Via International is an excellent partner in engaging students in grassroots community development. During our recent service-learning trip to Bolivia, they proved responsive to our needs and adept at working with community partners and navigating local realities. The students came away with a remarkable understanding of local issues and global interconnectedness.”
    Karey Sabol, Director of International ProgramsKarey Sabol, Director of International Programs
  • Stonehill College
    “Our first experience working with Via International was exemplary.  The communication with the organizers was thorough and timely.  All aspects of the trip were carefully considered and taken care of with great respect to our group needs and the needs of 
    the receiving community. Our students walked away with a heightened commitment to learning about indigenous peoples, immigration and migration into the United States and a desire to educate their peers, friends and families regarding the information they learned.  We are definitely partnering with Via again and are grateful for such an educational, fun and life changing experience.”
    MaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion ProgramsMaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion Programs


Cate School – March 2013

Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

Adams State University – March 2015

Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

San Diego State University – January 2013

Photo Credit: Alonzo Lucero

Francis Parker School – March 2013

Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

San Diego State University – January 2013

Photo Credit: Alonzo Lucero

Adams State University – March 2015

Photo Credit: Will Rattigan

Program Fees

Program Development

Is a key expertise of Via Staff providing faculty and student leaders collaborative input to refine itineraries. We create unique access to local partners and coordinate all pre-trip activities.

Travel Services

Provide 3 meals-a-day including snacks and clean water, lodging at community site, adventure activity and museum entrance fees, first aid supplies, and 24-hour supervision. (Via transportation optional)

Educational Services

Create dynamic cultural exchange through a full-time Regional Coordinator and translator, presentations by local experts and partner organizations, discussions on regional issues and initiatives, community preparation and participation support.

Community Support

Covers the cost of volunteer work projects, bringing vital resources to community-driven initiatives, and funding the purchase of tools and materials that facilitate the visitor experience.

Sustainable Development Support

Provides an important donation to mission-based initiatives for year-round program development of micro-creditnutritionleadership educationecology training, and sustainable development initiatives.

Via's Integrated Model

We’ve designed our programs to provide high-value, affordable travel while maximizing volunteer and educational impact. Via provides full-service support and coordination to simplify logistics for group leaders and engage seamlessly with community-driven initiatives and local community members. Via’s regional facilitators and educational program development provide and integrated approach that offers visiting volunteer groups a deeply immersive, inspiring, memorable, and transformational experience that is safe, stable, reliable, and impactful.

We are very proud to offer this level of access and impact. A group of 14 participants can volunteer in Mexicali for a 5 day immersion at an estimated cost of $550 per participant. To receive an exact quote based on your organization’s specific needs, please complete the form below.

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