Just over one month ago, eleven strangers met in San Diego. Within a few days those strangers became friends (practically family by this point) and drove down to Mexico together. And that is where the adventure began.

We all chose to spend three months of our lives in Mexico for slightly different reasons, but in the end there’s a small piece in each of us that is the same. We were drawn by the same call: three months of intensive learning, growth, exciting discovery, and an opportunity to do what we could to empower others and bring change. The past month has been a whirlwind of everything listed above.

Learning.

Lesson one: peanut butter can be added to hot chocolate (and pretty much anything else) and it tastes divine. Lesson two: twenty potatoes makes a lot of gnocchi. Maybe ten would have sufficed? Lesson three: H₂O is not on the periodic table. Lesson four: vegan whip cream can be made out of chickpea juice.

Apart from that, we now know the Spanish alphabet, can count to one million, and are able to introduce ourselves and conjugate verbs, all in Spanish. In social justice class we’ve covered topics from the structure of an NGO to statelessness to human trafficking. We know how to use the local bus system and where the best markets are. We’ve come to develop a small but ever-growing knowledge of Mexican culture and a few of us have even learned that doughnuts are seven pesos, not seven dollars. (We all agreed that seven dollars was a little excessive..)

Growth.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say there’s been amazing days and not so amazing days. Sharing a living space with ten other people takes a little while to get used to! Remembering to put your toilet paper in the waste basket instead of flushing also takes a while to get used to. New food takes a while to get used to. Sleeping through car horns, loud music, fighting dogs, and the next door neighbour’s rooster takes a while to get used to. Being an academy student has taken a while to get used to. But the harder moments eventually phase into brighter ones and everything we’ve seen and learned and experienced has helped us to grow into the people we are now – slightly better versions of ourselves than we were a month ago.

Discovery.

We have spent the past month discovering that our ‘normal’ at home is really pretty abnormal for the rest of the world. Not everyone has safe drinking water flowing from their tap. Not everyone has electricity or paved roads or a secure job or medical care. The truth is that there are children who can’t get an education because they don’t have a birth certificate. The truth is that there are elderly people living and dying on the streets. The truth is that many parents work for hours every day and still have to make choices that we’ve never even dreamed of having to make – do I pay for the medical attention my child needs or do I fix the roof that leaks dirty water on my family every night? Should I pay for child care so that I can go to work knowing that my daughters are safe, or should I save that money to buy enough food for dinner tonight?

Despite some of the disheartening things we’ve discovered, we’ve also been given the incredible opportunity to put our time and energy towards empowering others and bringing change. We are helping to build a Trade Center which will employ teachers to train local people in skilled trades, giving them an opportunity to find better and safer jobs. We’re volunteering at two abuelo (Grandparent) homes that take in elderly people, ensuring they are well fed and cared for. We are teaching English and art to local children at a community center, giving them a safe space to learn and create. We are working with organizations that make sure kids are fed and washed before going to school, organizations that offer homework help, and organizations that provide a healthy environment where women recovering from abuse can find healing. We are working with those around us to initiate growth in the community.

September flew by in the blink of an eye but we still have two amazing months ahead of us. There is still so much to learn from one another, from our teachers and our neighbours. The world is at our finger tips and we’ve only just begun to explore.
Claire – Current 2016 Academy Student 

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