Expectation is a funny thing. It can move you to action anticipating one outcome, only to find that what you finally experience is something quite different. This was the case in my experience with the Live Different Build trip.
I didn’t expect hard labour. Wouldn’t they just put the unskilled gringos on shovel-washing duty or something trivial like that? Despite this, I wanted to experience the amazing feeling that would come from being a part of something that would impact a family’s life so significantly. I wasn’t quite accurate on either account.
Yes, there was some shovel-washing. But there was also shoveling, cement mixing, sifting mounds of sand, and applying cement to the house. It was real labour. Add high temperatures, children weaving about constantly, and the odd animal roaming underfoot, and the challenge grew. But that was the easy part.
Our “day-in-the-life” excursion gave us a chance to visit a family in their home, to help with some chores, and make a meal with them. Accompanied by Live Different volunteer trainees Katie and Mark, my colleague June and I visited the home of Lulu. She lives with her husband, Ollie, and adorable three-year-old daughter in a small, two-room house. One room is used as a kitchen/living room/hair salon (Lulu is a hairdresser) and the other is a bedroom where the three of them sleep on a mattress held off the floor by cinder blocks. The walls are draped with sheets to cover the spaces between the wooden boards that act as walls.
The washroom, a small concrete structure outside of the house, consists of a shower and a hole in the floor which, we presumed, was the toilet (us Canadians were too shy and proper to ask). June and I were lucky. We visited a family that was doing relatively well. Some of our other colleagues had quite a different experience.
Seeing people live that way was hard, but it was surprisingly harder to see the love, warmth, and appreciation they had for each other – and for us! – despite their difficult lives. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, and what they lacked in “stuff” they made up for tenfold in their relationships. Why was this hard to see? Because, suddenly, this trip didn’t make me feel like a good person at all. I complain about trivial things daily though I have everything I need and more, and I often catch myself valuing the wrong things. Many of their most basic needs go unmet, yet they would happily share all of what little they have. The secret to their joy is something we already know, that, as Live Different so eloquently puts it, “life is about people, not stuff.”
Knowing something on an intellectual level can only take you so far. Experiencing the reality of it is quite a different thing. After I was through feeling like an arse, I started to feel amazing getting up each morning knowing that what I was about to do that day mattered to somebody else’s life. I feared this feeling might be short-lived. I might come back to Canada and fall into old patterns. It’s not a perfect path, but something has definitely shifted and I don’t imagine there’s any going back.
– Lucy – Live Different Builds Volunteer, Spring 2016

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