How a Renegade Shoe Can Change a Life

FanoPerhaps you have had a moment like this, but in a very different setting: The air around you is heavy with anticipation, suspended by the anxiety of the unknowns – with everything inside of you praying desperately for this to work. This was exactly that kind of moment. Oddly enough, I never really expected that it would have happened in the middle of a garbage dump in Dominican Republic, with a crowd around us, and with me down on one knee in front of a little Haitian boy.It was the first year we had ever committed to something like this on Hero Holiday. Each day I found myself at this garbage dump, with different Canadian teenagers, all of us working alongside of these amazing people. Always, there was a new adventure, a new challenge, and a new face. Life here is very transient and often difficult. This garbage dump was a place that was full of stories, heartache, anxiety, and at times, resignation. Yet, it would also become the place where we would learn many valuable life lessons from those who were unaware that they were our teachers.Helping at the DumpThat day seemed like the perfect day to hand out shoes. Here, like most of the developing world, a pair of shoes is a coveted possession, never to be taken for granted. In a garbage dump, you are continually aware of the value of your shoes: Those shoes are what keeps you one step away from possible wounds, parasites, and diseases. Those same shoes represent the ability to work, to stay a little safer, and to be able to continue to provide what is needed for survival. When we show up at this place with a truckload of used shoes, we are not just showing up with castoffs – we are showing up with a valuable asset. Fashion is a luxury of the rich, and those whom are hard at work in this place don’t have the luxury of worrying about fashion. They are focused on survival.I was so sure I had counted the pairs before we loaded our truck that day. We had worked so hard to organize them into sizes and types, but despite our best efforts, life still happened. We had just finished handing out the women’s shoes, and many ladies hugged and kissed our cheeks in thanks as they walked away from our huddle. On their tired feet were their “new” shoes, and it somehow made life a little easier. Finally, it was time to hand out the shoes to the men that worked there. They had been quite patient up to this point, and I was humbled by their gracious smiles as we handed them shoes. Some pairs were nearly new, some were well worn, but all were better than anything else they could afford. I could hear a rumble from somewhere in the middle of the crowd of men around us. The volume was raising, and bodies were being pushed and shoved. Suddenly, from under the tangle of arms around us, a small face poked out. He had big brown eyes, looking into them made me sad. Angry and scared, he seemed to be daring those around him to try to make him go to the back of the line again. I loved him instantly.FeetMy translator was speaking quickly in my ear as we were trying to control the commotion, explaining this boy’s story, allowing me to understand who was standing in front of me. His name was Gregory, and he was an orphan – one of many at this garbage dump. He was 11 years old and he was living on his own with his cousin, who was 14. They provided for themselves by foraging at this garbage dump, eating what they could and doing their best to learn how to read and write. I looked at his feet. They were tough, calloused, dirty, and had broken and mismatched rubber flip flops, both meant for the same foot.  My heart squeezed as I hoped against all hope that we would be able to find a special pair of shoes for him; a pair that would not only fit him and protect him, but a pair that would make him feel special. I could see a shoe poking out from the now chaotic pile behind me. It was a white leather basketball shoe, and it caught his eye too. I pointed to it and he smiled in anticipation. But, to my horror, the unthinkable happened. As I pulled it from the pile, I realized there was no partner for this lonely shoe. Heartbreak. Awkward stunned silence. Deep disappointment…again.In a frantic effort to smooth over the feeling of defeat, I tried to offer him another pair of shoes, but they were too small, and were not white leather basketball shoes. Tears spilled over from my eyes and I caught a tiny glint of moisture in his as well. This was cruel irony, and the stab of injustice cut deep. I grabbed his hand, got down in front of him and looked him in the eye. With the help of my translator, I made a promise: I would find the other shoe, and I would return. I would come find him again, because he was worth the effort.When I returned to our storage room that afternoon, the search began. Digging under piles of clothing, shoes and gifts, I finally found the missing shoe. It was treated like a national treasure that night – it was not getting away again! The next morning, as we pulled into the garbage dump, I scanned the scene, looking for Gregory. I found him at the base of a mountain of garbage, still in his mismatched flip flops. I was so anxious to give him the shoes that I ran to him, and the people with me had to run to keep up. And it was here, on one knee, in the middle of a dirty and smokey garbage dump that I saw a miracle. I helped him put his feet in them, laughing and crying as he jumped up and down in the shoes, in awe of how white they were, how expensive they must have been, and how special they made him feel.That day, I was honored to be a part of something so simple yet so profound. Some may have only seen used shoes, but that day, I saw love.shoesLike millions of children around the world, Gregory is stateless. He has no papers, no official identity, and therefore no rights to education or a future. This summer, Hero Holiday is returning to his village, helping to improve the standards of living and together with the people that live there, working for a future for kids like Gregory.  Though the world may not know of his existence, we are determined that they will know of his need: that he is not alone, he is not forgotten, and that he has a future. You can join us! Check out our upcoming trips and see if one works for you. Why not try a Hero Holiday?

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 31st, 2009

The Shack

Mexican HomeLife is full of unexpected twists and turns. We are often thrown curve balls at the most inconvenient times, when we are least willing to embrace difficulty or instability. In the words of the great unknown poet, sometimes “Life Sucks.” There are moments when we can feel angered at injustice, hurt by cruelty, or even left alone in our despair. But for the almost 2 billion people on the earth that live in substandard housing, life is made more difficult than for most…because for them, tomorrow is neither guaranteed or taken for granted.There are over 100 million homeless people on our planet. They are not homeless because they are derelicts or law evaders; nor are they homeless by choice or poor money management. They are homeless because so much has happened beyond their control, and for some, each hour is an ordeal, and each day follows another in an endless blur of pain and suffering. To have a home at this level means to scrounge together what you are capable of finding and hope that tomorrow holds more promise.Inside of Mexican homeI have been in many homes such as these: cardboard for walls and ceilings, rusty tin for a door, abandoned posters to cover the holes to keep out the rain. These are the homes of those who were once homeless and have found some means of shelter. I have stood on the “floor” of such homes and have been able to stretch my arms to reach all the walls without moving my feet. I have held babies of mothers who have had to let them sleep on the dirt floor because there was no bed for them, and have seen the scars that have been left on their toes and fingers from rat bites in the night. I have smelled the stench of poverty: it is rancid, dirty, and stifling, and it takes over your senses in an instant. Yet, always I was a visitor: the one who was bringing the help and relief, and returning to my own world where, comparatively, things were much more stable.In our Hero Holiday base in Baja California, Mexico, life is sometimes hard and unpredictable. But because of where we were, we decided that it was time to give our students who work with us there a chance to experience life in a whole new capacity. It was time to understand our neighbours from an entirely new viewpoint. Two at a time, our students had the chance to experience what life is like for a homeless family as they built shelter for themselves, worked to provide what they could, and literally lived life from their perspective. The following is Nikki and Tara’s story of life in “The Shack”: 
The shackA few weeks ago, Nikki and I (Tara) spent four days living as a Mexican family in a cardboard shack.  We worked for eight hours a day, six am to three pm, with two ten minute breaks and an hour for lunch.  We were paid 100 pesos each day to provide everything we needed, including rent, water, food, soap, toilet paper, etc.  We were also expected to take two showers with a bucket and a cup, and wash our clothes by hand on a washing stone on the final day. The pitOur school of leadership class put this experiment together because we felt it would be very valuable to have a deeper understanding about the lives of the people we work alongside and build houses for.  We were fortunate enough to be chosen to go first for the experiment. Knowing we had a huge adventure ahead of us, we set off on an early Sunday morning to our new “home”. Our job for all four days was to dig a bano (washroom in Spanish) hole for our translator, Santiago.  It was exhausting work, with little to look forward to as the day finished because we knew it would be the same rigorous work the following morning (and that at the end of all our hard work it would become a huge hole full of poop!).  We got into a pattern, one person in the hole for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time, chipping away with a pick axe at the hard Mexican earth, and the other resting or pulling buckets of dirt out of the hole. Soon we began thinking in terms of only six more digs each until lunch…only five more digs each until lunch.  Usually though, it was safe to say, lunch was not going to be overly delicious.  With the amount of money we were making we could afford something to fill us and keep us working, but that was all.  One day we had plain, cold, white rice. (That was yummy!) Our budget was manageable though, because there were only two of us.  Thinking about what it would mean to feed ourselves and a few children, while planning for a future and trying to build a better life, is simply impossible.  People in Canada save money to go on a vacation, for a new car, or a relaxing retirement; basically for a future filled with more luxuries and fewer worries.  A Mexican family may be able to save all of five pesos one day (which is about 50 cents) which would probably be spent on food on a day when there wasn’t anyone working.  It wouldn’t be enough for an emergency trip to the doctor, or a new tarp when the one over your head got a tear in it.  They are trying so hard to survive right now that saving for retirement isn’t even a question: the minimal savings of an average Mexican family is an accurate reflection of their hope for the future.Looking across the street we saw our house, and longed for it and all the comforts we would be missing for four days…but it was only for four day. The hardest thing was wrapping our heads around the idea of hopelessness, because it is something that we will likely never be faced with, and it is something that is hard to create with a cardboard shack, or any other type of scenario. This experience did, however, bring us closer to that feeling than anything else we have ever done before. Those four days gave us a small glimpse of the life of a person who struggles to simply survive.  So many people we meet here on a daily basis are working long, tiring hours to fulfill their daily needs, with hardly any thought in mind towards their wants, mainly because what they want is to be able to simply fulfill those daily needs.  Every task of the day was complicated; suddenly making dinner, changing our clothes and doing laundry became work.  Living should not be that difficult for anyone.It is plain to see why relationships are valued so much in this culture. Because, to put it bluntly, sometimes that is all you have.  Talking with a neighbor became the highlight of our day. Now when we meet people at the grocery store, or on the street here in Mexico, we have a slightly better idea of the struggles they face daily.  With one exception: our understanding comes from four days – four days that must be multiplied by a lifetime to truly understand.Building a HouseEach year, Hero Holiday participants from across Canada and other nations join us to help build houses, schools, and hope. Why not join us? We need each other to make a difference!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 24th, 2009

Scars into Stories

Air Band Rock-offI think there are moments in each of our lives when we wonder if we are really making a difference anywhere. Many of us dream of leaving our mark on history and of somehow leaving a legacy of lives that were touched by our existence. When you have a passion to see lives changed, sometimes this question seems to lack resolution, as you are not always able to hear what has happened as a result of your effort. But in so many ways, Melanie has given back to us more than we could have ever wished for…RachelWhen Rachelle walked into that room to get ready for a presentation with one of our road teams, she did not expect to leave there with a renewed sense of focus and resolve, but Melanie gave her a gift that changed her. Melanie is a beautiful young woman,with brown hair and large brown eyes. She has seen much in her short life: years of heartbreak, abuse and loss have matured her beyond her years and have shaped her life perspective like few other people her age. She caught Rachelle’s attention when she approached her and said, “I have always wanted to write to you, but I thought that you would be like everyone else, and not care about my story. You need to know that you are the reason I am standing here right now. If it hadn’t been for your show, I would not be alive.” As she shared what LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) has come to mean to her, tears ran down both their faces. A life that has been filled with loss and grieving, a life and death battle with anorexia, and the entrapment of a physically abusive relationship brought her to the brink. However, in her own words, she attributes her survival to something that gives us hope, and when she met Rachelle that day, she knew she had to take the opportunity to let her know her story, because her story is why we do what we do. Melanie was a story hiding in the crowd in the darkened room during each presentation she sat in on, and she has given us back the gift of sharing what that has meant to her:JesseTwo years ago if you asked me where I would be now, I honestly wouldn’t have ever imagined what I have gone through or how far I have come. LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) was breath-taking and inspiring to me each year that I saw it. The effect it had on me stayed dormant until I really needed it most. Each year, something about each story, each person, each experience sent shivers down my spine, and left me close to crying. How can one person’s story have such an effect on a complete stranger? Most importantly, how could that one person have the confidence and strength to share such a deep part of their life with a room full of perfect strangers? What I didn’t realize at the time is that they can do it because they know they are not alone: they can share their story because the one thing that connects us as human beings is the fact that we have all become stronger from the weakest points in our lives.Life changing, influential, inspirational, and simply a reason to believe in holding on, this is what LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is to me. I saw LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) every year I was at my high school. After leaving high school behind I used LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) as a reminder to stay strong. In one afternoon, I realized that on the stage in front of me there stands someone who simply understands. Someone who knows what holding on really means; but most of all, someone who was able to give me back the strength to once again have faith. I told Rachelle LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) changed my life. How? Well it isn’t a matter of having the exact same experiences as the people I saw on stage for 3 years – it’s about breaking the silence and finding beauty within yourself. It’s about being confident, assertive and strong.It’s about knowing that you can get through it. LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) changed my life because I knew I wasn’t alone. I learned that we have all been affected, that I am far from alone. I have learned to breathe, see, love, and trust again. I hope that no matter what I can do in my lifetime I will always have the courage and conviction to lend a helping hand, help others, and share the spirit of LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute). You guys gave me the power to turn my scars into stories.AdamStorytelling has existed as long as we have had languages. It is what has preserved legends, given moral values to the next generation, and is what helps to shape our world view. When we share the story of our lives, we are acknowledging that the events have happened, but we are also acknowledging that we are still here as a result: it is our gift to those who need to know that there is hope and that they have a story of their own. During our high school shows different members of our teams share their stories. Some of them are stories of tragedy and triumph, some of abuse, hurt, and loss, and some are of choosing the right choices from the beginning. No two stories are alike, because no two people are alike. They only have one common denominator: they are all true. Each of us has a story, and though its value remains hidden until it is shared, the impact can resound forever in the lives that are affected by it.Rachel and band members(The Ocean Buried)Many of you have been a part of our success in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute). You may have sat on a gym floor and heard our stories, you may have been a part of the result, or you may have been someone who has helped to provide us with the means to continue doing what we do best: reaching a generation with hope and purpose. Thank you, because you are now a part of our story.”It’s my reminder of why I’m doing this thing we call LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute).” ~ Rachelle

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 17th, 2009

“Going home is going to be difficult”


I think it is pretty safe to say the time LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)ly flies by without stopping. I am starting to feel like if I blink, I could open my eyes and realize that I have missed it all. It’s almost impossible to believe that we have been living here in Mexico for almost three months now. It feels like it was just the other day that I was sitting at home packing and trying to prepare to leave home for the SOL program, four months on the road, living in a bus and then living under the Mexican sun for another four months.

When I say that time is escaping me, it is not to say that we aren’t doing a lot, because simply put, it is quite the opposite. I have come to realize that the largest numbers of activities that can be crammed into a day, the more hours you are awake for and the more time spent with amazing people makes the days slip away so much faster.  Looking back at our first three months here, we have witnessed, experienced and laughed so much together, and it has made our friendship so much different and stronger than most. The five of us have had such amazing opportunities, we have learned to make tortillas, lived in a typical shack, slept on the beach, hosted Hero Holidays, watched and helped to put a new roof over the heads of many deserving families, met incredible people,  swam in the ocean, and tanned in the sun.  It blows my mind to think that in a few weeks we will all be headed on our separate paths and I can only hope that they will cross again somewhere down the line.

It wouldn’t be hard to see that this experience has changed all of us in different ways. It has become normal to walk down the street and share the dirt road with stray dogs and chickens, it has become a routine to walk passed people gathering wood to make a fire and cook by it, it isn’t unusual to see a Mexican riding a horse, wearing a cowboy hat, riding along-side the cars. All of these things have quickly filled the void of the normalities of home. Thinking about going back and wondering what it will be like is something that we do frequently.  Being here and spending time with people who are so grateful to have a bed, a safe place to sleep at night and maybe an even meal, is the extreme opposite of spending time with people in Canada who have a burning hunger for more things, and more belongings, the desire to fill a certain image and look a particular way. What is it going to be like going to a place we used to call home and re-adjusting to such a material world? Things that mattered before seem to be trivial now after experiencing these things and seeing what we have.  There are the big things like seeing so many children with one set of clothes, only rice in their bellies and hope of going to school tomorrow and then there are the smaller things, like deciding not to put on make-up in the morning, all of which have become common to us. Going home is going to be difficult, I have realized that a one week trip is never going to feel like enough to me again.  I have realized what is important to me and I have reaffirmed in my mind what I want to do with the rest of my life.  I can say that some days I wake up and think about how lucky I am to have been here and remind myself not to blink to long. I remind myself to enjoy every moment of the time we have left. Going home we can’t let these thoughts, experiences and memories drift away from us, instead we must carry them with us and share them with the people in our lives until we have the chance to make more.

Nikki – School of Leadership Student currently in Mexico

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 15th, 2009

60 Seconds of Love

All around us, artists are always actively at work. Our lives are touched by their creations of beauty, interpretation, and expression; and without them our world would lack color, passion, and beauty. Art is hard to define, as so much of it is completely dependent on interpretation. What may seem like random lines and splashes to one person, is seen as a work of passion and depth by another; what may seem like jumbled thoughts and actions to one may appear to be a brilliant method of communication to another. Like the old English idiom declares, “Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder”.We have seen beauty, and though those around us may have missed it at the time, much like a flower opening up even when no one is looking, this moment of beauty happened nonetheless. Heather pointed it out to us, and I’m so glad that we caught it.PleadingOn a bridge between Thailand and Myanmar lies a place of complexity: things are not as they seem. A busy place full of dirt, grime and human life, its true character is easy to miss without meaning to. First you notice the extreme number of children running around without any parents. They are dirty, unruly, and they often have small babies strapped to their backs. They grab at your hands, charming you with their cute smiles, all the while desperate to have your attention – and your money. Behind them and off in the background are the adults that oversee their begging efforts. They will stay out of your sight, so that you don’t realize they are there or what these children face if their attempt to extract money from you fails. Walking among them are the tourists, many of them not sure what to do with the circus going on around them. Some of the tourists are groups of friends, clearly going shopping in the market just over the border, some of them on their way to visit the few famous sites in this nondescript city, and some of them just crossing over for the stamp on their passport. However, those tourists are the minority. Most people crossing this border are the men who have come here for a specific purpose: to rob children of their innocence, to abuse them, and to exploit a nation’s desperation. They are literally wolves among sheep, looking for their next prey.We were standing in this place because we were here to help out for the day. Through LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s partnerships, we are able to bring Hero Holiday participants to work with an organization that reaches out to these children. In their own subtle, yet determined way, they are working to undermine the efforts of trafficking and exploitation at this border. They have safe houses for children that are desperately in need of shelter, they have a drop-in centre that reaches out to families in need of food, care, and shelter from the predators on the streets who have their eyes on their children, and they have workers who are out on the street, looking for ways to bring help, healing, and safety. We were excited to be able to help out in any way, but we never imagined it would be like this.FingernailsHer name is Shophil. She brought us there that day and showed us how to love in that place.  She sat amongst the street kids and opened up her very basic first aid kit (a small plastic box with a few basic medications). She pulled out a pair of protective gloves, put them on, and surprisingly, pulled out a pair of nail clippers.  Starting with the smallest child, barely 1 year old, she clipped his tiny little fingernails with great precision and love. With a beautiful smile on her face, she then went on to his toe nails with equal meticulousness. As she came close to being done, another street child would be waiting in line, in most cases anxiously, to get their nails done. She went from one tiny dirty fingernail to the next with great care and love, giving 60 seconds of love to each and every child. The hugs and kisses came her way endlessly, and without hesitation she reciprocated every one. These tiny, filthy and yet beautiful human beings craving love, even for just 60 seconds of it, would come soak in what they could. She continuously gave. With a few more hugs and many more smiles thrown to each one, she went on.Soon the children would return to the bridge to beg in their torn up clothing on their dirt laced little bodies; but now it would be with a memory of love. Even if only for a brief moment that day they were loved like every child should be. They trust she’ll come back, as she always does. She comes here all the time with the other staff, offering simple help and dignity to these lives that need to know there is a safe place when they are ready.We were honored to work alongside of her that day because we saw an artist of compassion at work, and it was breathtaking.Heather, who was there with us that day, helped to define what it was we saw: “Each time I reach for my nail clippers, I see them differently now: they can be a way into someone’s heart and they can be the first step to building trust to bring about change.”Playing on BridgeBuddies Along the Border are one of our partners in northern Thailand. They work amongst these children, providing them with a safe place and a trusting adult when they are still on the streets. They work on behalf of the children, advocating to get them out of that place and into a safe home. Hero Holiday currently works with them each year, helping to build their facilities, and working amongst the children and families that are being helped by this valuable effort. You can be a part of this! Please consider joining us on a Hero Holiday, or joining with our efforts to continue to work there and support this worthwhile effort.”In this life, we can’t always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 10th, 2009


2717262094_e1f01f77e0 For three  summers in the Dominican Republic, Hero Holiday participants worked their butts off to complete our Arroyo Seco school project. In 2006, we finished the first floor, 2007 the second floor, and 2008 completed any final touches on the building including a fence around the building and a safe play ground for the children. This work site was always, by far, a favorite among our participants for one main reason: the CHILDREN. Everyday you were greeted by cheering bright faces, and by the end of the work week one child would have claimed you as their “Gringo”. Most participants dreamed of visiting the school again someday, and one past Hero Holiday Participant got to live this out. Nikki is currently living in the Dominican Republic for the next few months, and yesterday she was able to return to see her favorite school. Here is her blog entry about her visit:

At Arroyo Seco Today was a day I will remember forever. The four of us hired a driver to bring us into Arroyo Seco, my favourite place in the world. Being in Puerto Plata now instead of Sosua, it is quite a bit further and I was really nervous about how I would manage to go out there. I was so excited when we heard that a group was in there today running a clinic. The group is led by Phil and Donna, of Servant’s Heart, an organization that we know well as they work closely with Hero Holiday and help us plan most of our work. Liz decided to come with us and it turned out really well as she was able to network with them and get to know more about their organization- which is a great way to learn and team up with each other.I was trying not to get too excited this morning as we were getting ready. It is a weekday and so the kids, I knew, could be in school. I have only been in the DR during the summer and did not know that (like Ethiopia) kids go to school for half days here (this was a great surprise!) As we drove up Bella Vista road to the school, I saw Danny standing in front of his aunt’s house. I stuck my hand out the window and waved, and his mouth dropped open and he started screaming and running into the house Arroyo class calling Frangelis. We continued down the road to the school and parked. Within a minute I could see Frangelis’ aunts and cousins peaking down the street to see if it was me. We were waving from down the road as I walked up to their house, and all the sudden Frangelis came out of the house and came running at me with a huge smile and jumped into my arms. It was such an amazing moment- I missed her so much and to be able to hug her and kiss her and tell her how much I missed her was so wonderful. Frangelis is a shy girl. That is sort of what drew me to her two summers ago when we met. Last year when I saw her first again it took her a little while to warm up to me. This year, she just ran and jumped into my arms and was so happy and excited and took no time at all to warm up. We stayed at the school for several hours and it was just a fun and happy time, walking throuhg the village and seeing all of ‘my’ kiddies again.At Arroyo Seco I had made photo albums for several of the kids from the village with photos from the past few years. The kids took me around to their houses, showing their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, their cousins, the photos. They were SO excited about them. Frangelis, like most of the other kids, goes to school in the afternoon, so I was able to see and spend time with her, Elise, Hernardo, Tata, Minerva, Danny, Luisa, Noberto, Jennifer, Andony, and Alessandra. Juana, one of the girls who I became very close to, and Jessica, another one who is very special to me, were both at school (they are too old to go to the Arroyo Seco school so go down the road), so I didn’t get to see them. I left their albums with Frangelis so she could deliver them this afternoon when they get home. We walked through the village and toured the school and it brought back so many memories. It was LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)ly amazing to see kids in uniform sitting at the desks I had helped to paint in the room I had helped to construct, singing and learning and calling my name through the window. That village is just such a special place for me and it was amazing to see each child again and see how they are doing. Such a fantastic day… I am just so happy from getting to see those kids again.You can read more about Nikki’s adventure in the Dominican this summer from her blog site:www.heroholiday07.blogspot.comor her experiences in

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 6th, 2009

More on “Life as a School of Leadership Student”

IMG_2367Life has been interesting the past couple weeks. We welcomed a very enthusiastic and amazing group of teens from Newfoundland. Myself and the other students helped out as much as we could, both on the job site and off. From helping Dawn make lunch for the group, to digging holes for fence posts, and of course playing with the kids. Being an SOL is very interesting.  You really get to see what is done behind the scenes and be a part of it, sometimes it may seen like your not doing much at all but in the scheme of things it all contributes to the big picture.It’s not all work of course, we get to do fun things like go to mikkaza cafe for frappes and thrifty’s for delicious ice cream! There are markets to explore everywhere and always new and interesting places to see. The beaches are beautiful and Andrew always livens it up when he brings out his dune buggy.  We find a good balance between work and play, still keeping our focus on why we are here and that is for the people. I personally gain fulfillment in every new person I meet and every family I am a part of. Having the opportunity to show my love and passion for people to groups that come down is extremely rewarding.  Helping them grow and learn is something I am deeply grateful for. We get to see the connection that is made between the groups and the families that they build for.  We also make incredible lasting friendships with these families as we are here long before the groups arrive, and stay after the groups leave.  We get to see these people weeks later, still with smiles ear to ear, so very thankful for what a few Canadians did for them.Josh (student 2009 – currently in Mexico)

Author: LiveDifferent


Life as an Absolute School of Leadership Student

IMG_2264So far, being in the SOL program has been incredible.  Helping facilitate humanitarian trips for high school students is something I always imagined would be amazing, yet never actually thought it could happen.  Being a participant on a Hero Holiday in the summer of 2007 was definitely a life changing experience for me.  I discovered what truly matters to me and how helping others makes me happier than anything else I’ve ever experienced before.  It was an experience I will never forget.  And now, to be a part of those experiences again and to see the same changes happening in each one of the participants I meet, is incredible.  So far we have had three groups, each of them unique, with something different, yet equally special, to offer.  Our first house build was a public group of five.  The second was a private group of 75.  The third was a school group of 14. They definitely had their differences.  The level of relationship I was able to build with each was also different, but after an experience like Hero Holdiay, and at least a week together, I think I can safely say I’d have many options for couches around Canada if I ever decide to go traveling!  And thank you to facebook for allowing everyone to stay in touch!IMG_2307I love meeting so many incredible, deserving families that are receiving a new house.  I get to witness so many lives being changed, both Mexican and Canadian alike.  The hope that is created on both sides is worth more than any house, and being a piece of it is one of the best parts of this whole experience.The work that goes in to a program like this is definitely a fair amount.  And it’s the little things that really seem to add up.  But being able to help out with such an amazing cause makes all the salad making, grocery buying, errand running, paintbrush cleaning, (and blog writing 😉 … just kidding!) worth it!  The house building, friend making, life changing part is pretty great too! …… Along with the taco eating, sun tanning, garbage picking, puppy saving, off roading, horseback riding, market shopping, ocean swimming…………Tara (SOL student currently in Mexico)May 5th, 2009

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 5th, 2009

Maria’s Front Step

Children on front stepBy definition, a house is really a building; a place of residence. Somehow, that word falls totally short of what it means when you say the word, “house”. Your mind automatically goes to your attachments to that definition: what it was like growing up in your own house, getting home from work and being able to relax, coming in from the cold and finding it warm inside, security and what it’s like to feel like you are home. Across all cultures, no matter where we are from or what our experience has been, there is an innate desire to know where home is, and for that home to be a place we can take refuge in.Almost daily, CNN, BBC, CBC, CTV, and every other possible acronym bombards us with images of homes destroyed, people running in search of shelter, and lives being wounded and scarred from loss. Quite honestly, it is really numbing: if just becomes too overwhelming. I can only process so much; I need to know that there are lives within those numbers. I can’t feel attached to a number; a number is unable to look into my eyes, hold my hand, make me laugh or move me to tears. A number will never fully represent reality; only a life can do that.Building HouseWhen we walked up those front steps that Christmas day, I was filled with anticipation. Earlier that year, Hero Holiday had poured the cement that I was now standing on. Over 200 different pairs of hands had helped to put this house together in some small way throughout that summer in Dominican Republic. It was bigger than the normal house that we had built, as we wanted to be able to fit the whole family in there and we wanted it to be built to last. It was built for Maria. Maria was the mother of 7 children, two of them mentally challenged and living with her as adults. There was no father in the picture. I was never quite sure what happened to him and did not want to be too nosy. Clearly, this family was no longer his concern and he had moved on and left Maria to pick up the pieces.Mother and ChildMaria was a gentle but strong woman. She was intensely grateful for this home, as it changed everything for her family. The family had been living in a tin shack, sandwiched in between other buildings,  in a muddy sinkhole just off of a busy street in this small city. They had very little income, and there was never enough to eat, let alone get a proper house. The children were getting sick all the time and there was no way to avoid it. Until now. By the end of that July, when we came to say good bye and present the house, Maria’s family was standing on the front step of a new home that was clean, safe, and equipped with proper sanitation. It was a dream come true for them.Though they were left without a father, they were now living in something that gave them hope.However, when the door opened up that Christmas day, I was not prepared for what I found there. One of Maria’s older sons answered the door, and when he saw the Christmas gifts in our hands, tears came to his eyes. He reached out and hugged me and began to murmur in Spanish in my ear. His voice was so low I could not understand what he was saying, and had to get my friend to help with the translation. It broke my heart.When Maria’s husband left a few years earlier, he failed to leave them anything to survive on: no money, no food, and barely a home. However, he did leave Maria with one thing: he infected her with HIV. After moving into her new home in July, by the middle of the fall, Maria’s life was slipping away due to a virus she was unaware of. She died later that year. Maria was a number: 1 of 2.9 million that died that year of AIDS. But Maria was more than that. She was a mother. She was a woman of courage and determination. She was a respected member of her church and community. She was loved by her children. She was filled with hopes and dreams. She had been a part of many of our lives. And now, standing on her front step, I realized that the world was a better place because she had lived. A disease may have ravaged her body and taken her life, but her legacy was looking back at me from the doorway as I stood there.Through tears of loss, he smiled sadly. “Thank you for all that you have done for our family. Please tell everyone how grateful we are for the gift of this home. She was so proud of our new home, and it gave her hope for us. We are working together to honor what she has given us.” Together, they were working and building a business that will provide better for the rest of the family. This home was invaluable to them, as they based it out of there. This was what a mother’s love could do: it could hold a family together in a home that still held so much of her.A quiet life has left a strong voice for us to hear. She wasn’t just a number to me because I knew Maria and I knew where her house was. I stood on her front step on Christmas day. 
BuildingEach year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) takes hundreds of people just like you to areas of the developing world, and we are able to help many family’s like Maria’s. Through building homes, schools, and other much needed projects, we are choosing to add our voice to theirs. Your help is wanted and needed! Please consider donating to one of our projects, joining us on a Hero Holiday, or helping us come to the schools in your community.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 3rd, 2009