This July, from the 1st to the 11th, I had the privilege of embarking on a ten day Hero Holiday to Mexico hosted by the organization Live Different. Accompanied by about 15 other teens and parents, we set out to Vicente Guerrero, an hour or so away from Ensenada, to build a family a house. I was asked to write about my experience on the trip for a newsletter, so I thought I would share what I wrote:
While I thoroughly enjoy mission trips like Montreal and Churchill and I appreciate the impact of volunteer work, I have never seen myself as someone who would take a year off of school and give up my own way of life for the chance to improve that of others, like my sister did. Don’t get me wrong – I revere my sister and the others who have worked with Live Different for the time, energy and emotion they have put forth, both in Mexico and elsewhere – but I simply could not fathom how a person can be so generous.
Going into the Mexico trip, I was unsure of what the experience would be like. I had no idea what kind of house we would be staying in, what sorts of experiences we’d have, or what the family we were building for would be like. And I’d have to say that was my biggest fear – the first impression we would have on the family, the way in which we would interact with them – the concept of trying to connect with someone who does not speak a word of English is daunting. Then there was the fear of building the actual house. I, personally, have never used a single power tool in my life, let alone built a whole structure (at least, not one that was supposed to last for a while).
I am proud to say that, coming out of the trip, I have successfully used a table saw, and I still have all ten fingers.
As for the family, I was surprised. While I initially believed that the language barrier and significant lack of similarities we shared with them would keep us apart, I soon learned that this would not be the case. Our amazing translator, Santiago, helped us to speak with the family, but I personally found the more enlightening experiences to be ones where we found a way to communicate without words. I learned that the youngest boy, Santi, loved playing with bubbles. Martha, the family’s mother and grandmother, was keen on helping with the house, particularly by painting. Angel was very ticklish.
The most important thing that I learned through this whole experience (apart from the fact that beef tongue tacos are delicious) was that the family is not so different from us after all. Going into the trip, I was focused on the poverty that plagues these people and the living conditions of the family, but after being there and experiencing it all, that is not what truly matters. Martha is still a mom. The kids still love playing and drawing and laughing. The family is still a family, much like mine, and the amount of money they possess does not change that.
So while I still don’t foresee a year long expedition like my sister did in my near future, I do see myself going back. Not only is the idea of building a family a permanent home exciting and fulfilling, but the relationships and experiences that I had with the family are ones that I will never forget. Paisley has said this before, and I absolutely agree with her – Live Different calls these trips “Hero Holidays”, as if it is us doing something heroic for someone else. While we are helping a family enormously, I truly believe that we gain more from the trip than perhaps even the family does. This family gave more to me than I can describe, and I hope that we as a group impacted them as much.
“And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.”
-Mumford and Sons, After the Storm