March of 2012, I had the incredible opportunity to embark on a journey to Mexico lead by the organization “Live Different” with my Global Initiatives class. In four eventful days, our large group of sixty students built four houses for four very deserving families in Vincente Guerrero in Baja California.
As our bus crossed the San Diego-Tijuana boarder, I recognized the sudden change in my surroundings. It was an interesting feeling being in an environment in which you cannot speak the language, and it was a first for me! After a long bus ride down to our destination, anticipation fulfilled me, as we were told that we were going to meet the families we would be building for that very day upon our arrival. The nerves kicked in when the bus pulled into the dirt roads heading into the worksite. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When we finally were introduced, I met a wonderful family that was living through the hardships of poverty. I saw that they lived in a small one-room house made of scraps of wood, cardboard and plastic, and I knew that this trip would make me feel honoured to contribute to what was to become the foundation of their lives.
The next few working days just flew by! The moment our building group began establishing relationships with our beautiful family, many attitudes were altered and a deep respect for everyone lay within the group
The family my group was building for consisted of the Ma and Marcelino, and their three boys, Juan (12), Larencio (9), Freddy (3). The parents work tirelessly in harsh and tedious working conditions picking strawberries for less than the Canadian hourly minimum wage per day. I admire their enormous amount of strength through their adversity.
The family had lived on a farm in the United States prior to living in this community on the Baja, which explains the two elder boys abilities to speak English. This truly allowed us to create powerful bonds without the language barrier that the other building groups were faced with. Throughout the five days of building, I was overjoyed to be able to get to interact with the boys, and the other neighborhood children. I couldn’t stop smiling after I taught Juan a new card game, played soccer with Lorencio, and while laying on the ground peeking out from under a car, stealthily spying on neighbors with Freddy. The boys often reminded me of the children I babysit back home. Very fast, it became very evident to me that it was I that had gained much more from these relationships than I had first anticipated.
We worked hard every day hammering, painting, and roofing! It was awesome to see that the boys were super keen to help us, and be a part of the building process of their new home. There was one day where the parents were not working, and they too, worked tirelessly on the house alongside our group members.
When the final day arrived, and the house dedication day was an emotional roller coaster. The simple gift of security, as we handed over the key to their new home was simply touching. The feeling of seeing a family step inside and see the furniture, the groceries, and other living necessities was overwhelming. The boys ran into their room to find some toys awaiting them. Juan’s favourite pastime is reading magazines. I made sure to leave a National Geographic Magazine on his bed. I’ve never seen anyone so eager to read!
As a group, we noticed that the Mexican culture is very much relationship based, meaning not only did they welcome us with open arms into the community; they welcomed us into their hearts. The families we built for graciously prepared feasts for us every day, including preparing a meal with Mole sauce for each of us, which I was told is their equivalent to our Christmas dinner, in order to show their great appreciation.
I recall overhearing a friend in my building group asking Lorencio if he liked living where he did. He curtly replied with a “No.” It’s simply called the lottery of birth. Where you’re born decides your life path, and it isn’t fair. On our last day in Mexico, we visited a local cemetery. I walked through the rows and rows and rows of newborns, infants, and children, and many were new graves. It wasn’t until I listened to San Tiego’s (a man who works with Live Different) story of the death of his baby girl, that I could put faces to the high child mortality rate in developing countries.
I am so insanely privileged that I am blindly handed everything. I realized that most things I take for granted are wants not needs. I strive to consume less, simply out of respect for my family in Mexico. I strive to live simply. I strive to “Live Different.”
How do you say goodbye to friends who have changed your life completely? Ma, Maercelino, Juan, Larencio, and Freddy helped me gain perspective and I will never ever forget them.
It was amazing to be able to create, and further strengthen friendships with the group of beautiful people I had the great privilege to share this experience with. I am very grateful that I had such an awesome team around me!
Juan in his new room. I think he had dibs on the top bunk!
- Date: March 2012
- Location: Vincente Guerrero, Baja California, Mexico