We never really realize the power of what education can do when we are engulfed in the chaotic life that we live. But when looking into impoverished countries, such as Mexico, we can see how education can truly break the cycle of poverty.As I and the rest of the School of Leadership students drove up to the one-room school that day in Mexico, I couldn’t help thinking, what did we get ourselves into?! We walked into the class and you could tell how eager the children were to learn, with their big brown eyes staring up at us we started with the basics (“Hi, how are you?” or “My name is…”). As we walked around the classroom all the children slowly but surely opened their mouths pronouncing the few words we had taught them. There were a few that held back, but after giving them a high five their shy, covered faces exploded into a smile that spread from ear to ear.There would be times where we would get a little off-topic and the children would chase us around the classroom in a mass-tickle fight, but in the end we were giving them an outlet from the stresses of their daily lives. It is hard to think that children in a kindergarten class carry many burdens, but that became a new reality for us when the teacher asked us if we could come teach English at a later time of day so that the children who work in the fields could attend the classes too.When we worked in the fields during the shack experience, we saw a few children working in the fields as well, but they acted so mature that I often thought of the children working there as adults. It has become clear that children are being forced into taking on the daily challenges of an average adult in many countries like Mexico and are being robbed of their childhood. We have the power to end the cycle of poverty, but it all comes down to whether we stand together to make a change.It’s funny because we always think that we are only one person, and how much of a difference can one person make? But once one person decides to do something it creates a chain reaction and soon enough that single person turns into a large group.~ Laura, a School of Leadership student living, learning, and teaching in Mexico
Below is a blog from Bryan, a School of Leadership student living in Mexico. This is his description of a typical day of the students as they work through our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) Leadership Social Justice Curriculum…
Outside, the sun is climbing high above the clouds, where it will burn away the ocean mist in time for our twentieth day at the beach this afternoon.Inside our classroom, however, it’s all business.The flies are zipping by our heads, their ranks slowly diminishing as they land on our sticky spiral trap one by one.
Kelsey reads out the next paragraph about desertification from our Social Justice curriculum.Bryan throws out another random, somewhat relevant interesting fact.Brett relates it back to life in Alberta.Kelsey nods in agreement with him based on life in Saskatchewan.Such is the life in the School of Leadership in Mexico.
Adrian’s sporadic and worthy points capture the attention of every soul.Laura has attended conferences relevant to any topic, or at least can relate it back to her work with Tim Horton’s or UNICEF.Melissa wants to create changes in her life at home. Roxy thinks that is great!
Everyone has their place in our blue classroom and no topic is learned disinterestedly.I know we all look forward to it, and understand its importance.This is the stuff that will stick with us throughout the rest of our day to day lives.As we’re in line for a Timmy’s coffee, as we get handed our pay stub, as we question our life direction (as I find myself doing every day), and as we pass a retching homeless man in the street, we will remember.
We have the choice to live like we were never here, but unless we suffer catastrophic brain damage; we will never truly forget all the life changing, eye opening class time in our Mexican classroom.
I can’t quite put my finger on it: is it the sound of the waves slapping against the shoreline that mesmerizes us? Is it the sheer vastness of more water than we can humanly imagine? Is it the mystery of the deep, dark depths and what it contains? What is it about the ocean that has captured man’s imagination and fueled our industry and creativity since time began? It is the one thing we seem unable to tame as a human race, and it is the one thing that we all hold a healthy fear of.If you have never seen the ocean, I can understand that it may not mean a lot to you. Perhaps you have never had the chance to dip your toes in the water and be awed by the vastness of a globally connected body of water, or haven’t ever thought about the perplexity of so much water and power. The incredible amount of life that teems within those waters, the number of lives that are dependent on them, and the staggering power of the roll of waves may not seem like a big deal to you. But once you see it, you view life in a different way; the secrets of the world only seem to grow when you stand at it’s edge.For that little boy that day on a hot, January day in Haiti, the ocean was an overwhelming mystery that begged him to stop and stare, purely for the sheer joy of drinking it all in.He had been at the children’s home for a long time. No one could give us an exact date. Like many of the other children there he was a statistic of poverty: abandoned, alone, and without any means of survival. No one will ever know what evils he had experienced or what future crisis he was now going to avoid because he was there. But he wasn’t just an average, poor, abandoned child: he suffered with severe epilepsy, was given to grand mal seizures regularly, and somehow, before he came to that home, he had broken his arm during a seizure and it was never able to be set. He cradled the atrophied appendage against his side, always walking slowly and carefully, always quiet and looking down.When the guys had decided to offer the kids from the home a day to party, they pulled out the usual “LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) style” party routine: fried chicken, swimming, and ice cream. Fifty kids and workers loaded on to a dilapidated and tired school bus and made the long trek to the “good beach” well outside of Port-Au-Prince. Stopping along the way to buy bathing suits and get supplies, they continued on until they reached the quiet stretch of beach, where it was safe for the kids to play in the water. Despite living only a couple of kilometers from the shoreline, very few of the children had ever swam, much less experienced seeing the ocean up close like this. This was going to be a day like no other for them and they were ready to live it up to the fullest!When they arrived, all the kids began to tumble out of the bus, eager to get suited up and jump in to the warm ocean water. All except him. He just stayed back, timidly waiting for everyone else to go running in, and then he followed slowly behind. A few meters away from where everyone was playing he found an old cement step on the edge of the water. He sat there for what seemed like an eternity, quietly looking out over the water, watching as the other kids waved at him to come in, cradling his arm and trying to process what was in front of him. I wonder what he was thinking? Was he dreaming of what lay beyond the horizon? Was he imagining what he would do if he could run and jump and play like the other children that day? Was he missing his mother or family that no one knew of? Was he taking a moment to allow the dream to sink in that he was finally touching the ocean? In that place, on that day, for the first time in his life, he was allowed to sit there and be free to think about what he wanted, to drink in the experience, and to know that today it was going to be okay.I don’t know what tomorrow holds for children such as him. There are millions of disabled children around the world who like him, need to have proper medical attention before it is too late, need to be given proper medication to ensure a quality of life, and who just need to know that they are worth celebrating and that they are not forgotten. Their voice may be weak, but their spirits can be strong – if only we will help them to believe it. This year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) will be returning to Haiti to work with the children’s home that is mentioned in this story. We will be helping to better their living conditions and increase their resources for success. We need your help to make it happen and we are looking for people to join us in the experience. To find out more check out the Hero Holiday Haiti section on www.livedifferent.com
On each of our Hero Holidays, participants have a chance to become a member of our Hero Network. The Hero Network is a collection of people who are passionate advocates and champions for LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute).org’s cause. The Hero Network exists to cheer each other on and to motivate each other through communication, opportunities and support. Once becoming a member, participants commit to the following:
Not to go back to “normal” life.
Always remember the plight of the poor.
Do whatever is in my power to help those that need it.
Continually educate myself on issues facing our world.
Since the start of the school year, it has been exciting to hear all that amazing things our 34 members have been doing in their local communities. Many have contacted their local newspapers and got their stories of the summer out for everyone to hear, or made sure that their school had our high school presentation, Think Day, visit for all the students to hear our life changing message, others have gotten involved in all kinds of social justice programs offered at their school. One common theme among our members is that they can not just sit back and do nothing.One student who I would like to highlight is Chantal. Chantal is the kind of student you meet and know she has a heart of gold. She is full of compassion and truly loves to help those in need. Since traveling to the Dominican this past summer, Chantal has gone home with a passion in her heart and memories of those she met and helped during her travels. She has used this as fuel in stepping out raising $400 through a garage sale fund raiser for a community project in the Dominican Republic. She does not plan to stop there and has many other fund raisers to come. Feel free to click on the attached news articles to read all about her exploits.A BIG Thank you to Chantal and all of our Hero Network members who have worked really hard to reach all of their goals.”Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try”.If you are interested in becoming a Hero Network member please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I walked through the gates into the senior citizens home for the second time, I looked around for a man that I had only met once but had made an impact on my heart forever.His name was Leo and just like everybody in this world, he had a unique story. Leo had a loving wife and family but with a single signature he lost it all. He got ill and while he was in the hospital, his wife gave him papers to sign. Thinking that they were medical papers, he signed them and when he got dropped off at the police station because he couldn’t pay the hospital bill, he realized that he had gave his wife a divorce, signed away his life savings, house and car. The police brought him to the senior’s home and that’s where this story begins.On a bright and sunny Thursday, we started prepping food for lunch for the seniors. Earlier in the week we decided we wanted to volunteer in some way, so we decided to cook them a yummy tasting homemade SOL lunch. While the chicken was cooking, I headed out to where the seniors were sitting to visit them. Well I don’t really know if visit them is the right word seeing as there is a little bit of an issue called a language barrier, but I’ll go with it. When I walked outside I saw Leo shuffling with his walker towards me. He told me that he hadn’t seen us show up because he must have still been sleeping.Leo worked many years of his life in the United States and can speak very fluent English, so the conversation seemed to easily flow. He told me about his life and all the things he enjoyed doing while growing up, he told me about his past jobs and showed me the ring he was wearing that he made. While remembering his past tears came to his eyes, and I couldn’t help but tear up as well because I felt privileged to have the opportunity to meet such a caring, gentle man that would forever change me. Leo said he wanted to sit down, so we sat down at a table and started coloring. He had to stop half way through because his eyes were in pain and he had trouble focusing, so as I continued coloring a picture for him, he continued telling me a little bit about himself. When I gave him the picture he was so excited because he told me that no matter what he will always have a picture that his new friend gave him. He said that he didn’t have many friends in the seniors’ home but knew that I was a true friend because I took the time to listen. Leo said many kind words that day to me but as we were leaving the center he hugged me and started crying. He told me that I will forever be in his heart and he will be forever grateful for the time we spent together. I told him not to worry; that we would be back to visit and that put a smile back on his face.You may think your life is too busy to sit down and take the time to get to know someone and what they have been through in their life, but when you realize how precious life is, you may think twice. Leo’s face will forever be engraved into my heart and mind. He told me I have changed his life, but he has changed mine just the same. He has taught me that life is too valuable to live without a purpose, to live each moment to its fullest and to truly be grateful for the people you have around you.
Well, almost a year later and I am finally posting some pictures! Thank you to everyone who was on this trip with us for your patience. Going through these pictures again have brought back many fond memories of our time together. The families from the two houses that you completed are still doing really well. I am sure they would LOVE a visit from you all again one day.Please click here to check out some more pictures! Feel free to post any comments to this blog for everyone to see, or send me an email anytime. I would love to hear from you.Sincerely,Charles Roberts
Currently, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is touring across Canada speaking in high schools and middle schools doing our multi-media presentation called: THINK DAY. Hopefully they have been to your school. Team #1 is out east having a blast in the ever welcoming Maritime Provinces and Team #2 is on the adventurous west coast. Both teams are composed of 2 fearless leaders, a super cool band, and our School of Leadership students. Here is a brief update from the students on how their tour is going…Team #1:It has almost been a month since we have left for our tour from our base in Hamilton (aka the Hammer). Nine very individual people set of to somehow to change the world. Our team is filled with four superb band members from Hundredfold (Terrence, Jon, Alex and Réjean), three wonderful School of Leadership students from Penticton B.C (Kayla, Cory and Bri (which is me), and two of the best leaders imaginable (Adam and Lindsay). Our tour has had many ups and only a few downs (especially in temperature, Newfoundland is cold!). But the amazing thing is, when a downer occurs not one of us didn’t make the best of it. From our first challenge as a road team, the bus getting stuck on the side of the road in Ottawa for seven hours, due to an accidental gas/diesel issue, to playing drums in the middle of the boonies in New Brunswick. We have stuck together and had a blast doing it!We have been through it all, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else I would want to go threw it with. We currently only have two more weeks on the road, and honestly I don’t know if I can go back into my routine. Once you get used to the company of nine people there’s definitely a good chance of withdraws. Life on the road is well….unexplainable, quite the adventure. But one thing is for sure…we’re a family, and road trips wouldn’t work without the right people.~ Brianna, a School of Leadership StudentTeam #2:Our team has been touring western Canada for about 3 weeks now. We have had many adventures so far: breaking down in the mountains, finger painting, CSLC, and bowling in churches. You may be thinking… bowling… in a church? What’s wrong with this picture? We were playing in their gym and found these little plastic bowling pins and a baseball. So for the rest of our time there, whenever we had free time, we bowled, and got quite good at it if I don’t say so myself. We have met so many awesome people along the way, and I am really excited to see what’s going to happen next. We have had the chance to perform in some pretty awesome towns and cities, at some pretty amazing schools that seem to be stoked on us being there. I have already learned so much about myself in such little time thanks to this tour, it has helped me learn to try new things, and to be open to new and exciting opportunities. Being on this tour has showed me what my true calling in life is, to help people. I have had an amazing time getting to know my team and the people supporting us and I am really excited to keep going and to see what comes next.~ Chad, a School of Leadership StudentI can honestly say, this past Thanksgiving weekend was the most eventful of my life. Now imagine this, you are driving through the beautiful Rockies in BC and you are having the time of your life with the best team ever. When suddenly you start to feel a little sick, you just think “OK, I guess I am getting a little car sick – nothing big.” You try and get past that because you are on your way home for thanksgiving dinner with your family (Our tour bus stopped in the town where I am from for the weekend). I was dreaming of turkey and stuffing my face with pumpkin pie when I heard a noise coming from the bus. A noise you never want to hear in the middle of no where… especially when it is -10 outside. As our bus come to a clinking stop, instantly pictures from the movie, “Alive” popped in my head. Ek! Our driver gets out of the bus to see what’s wrong and he finds out we have a broken belt that is a main part of the engine. The bad news is we cannot get help until the morning so we have to sleep on a freezing cold bus in the Rockies. Remember how I said I was feeling a little sick, now I was a lot sick. What ever I had eaten before we went threw the Rockies was coming out fast and out both ends (sorry everybody but its true). That was happening all night and into the morning and three pairs of boxers later, it was not the way I had pictured my Thanksgiving weekend. I was finally able to get some sleep but was up very early. In the morning our bus was honestly like a freezer, at one point I had five blankets on me! Luckily there were a few houses near where our bus had broken down and Chad and Ken went and asked one of family’s if they could take us in for a few hours while the pit crew (JP, Ken and Hiona) fixed the bus. On that Thanksgiving weekend we met one of the nicest and generous family’s ever. They took us in and treated all nine of us like family. In the long run I was “OK”. Thanks to the whole team and a great family. Even though it was an intense 20 hours, I will never forget our eventful trip through the Rockies.~ Brandon, a School of Leadership Student
She has an infectious laugh, and when she smiles, it spreads across her face, lighting up her eyes and giving them a mischievous glow. She loves to knit and crochet. She makes scarves, purses and other small items and sells them to tourists at the Friday night market in the town. With the money she makes, she gives some to her two younger sisters at the children’s home and sends some to her parents back in Burma, just over the border. She is a mother at heart and loves to take care of the other kids there and make them feel at home. She is 15 and two weekends before I met her, her parents had sold her to a tourist for yet another weekend of sex and abuse.The children’s home had given the family the option to leave their children there – they are never taken from a family home unless they are in known danger. The family had consented to allowing the younger two sisters to stay there, but they said the older sister was a help to them as she worked in the home and they promised that she would go to school. Even more than that, they promised that she would be safe. But in the end, whether it was through desperation, lies, manipulation, or a lethal combination of all three factors, she was sold for a small, insignificant amount of money. Had it not been for the workers in the home that we partner with, she would have been labeled as another statistic in the endless abyss of trafficking and sexual exploitation; she would have been dragged deeper into the trap.But the miracle happened when I was there. The miracle of her smile. It wrapped itself around my heart, and made me feel blessed by just being able to witness it. It was a gift to the world because it was a sign that things were somehow going to get better. Although no one knew how, there was a confidence residing in it that gave us all something to hold on to. As my fingers type out these words, I feel that same confidence: somehow it will get better. Though life is shaky, plans can fail or change, injustice is somehow inevitable, yet there is still hope. Her smile was an olive branch that she held out to the world, and especially to the kids around her, wrestling with their own demons and hurt. Though it may have been small, it was a loud shout in the face of everything that had happened. She was choosing who she would become.I have never forgotten her. I sat beside her, as she giggled and tried to teach me how to crochet (I am still a crochet dud!) and I hugged her as she leaned into my shoulder, hungry to be reassured that she was valuable. Wiggling her finger and laughing at their antics, she would mother her two younger sisters who ran around with the other children. They were oblivious to what she had been subjected to in the years that they had been apart, and I think she liked it better that way. It made it easier to stay a child just a little bit longer.What do you do for a hurt so deep that words or comfort can’t touch – when the action has been done and the memory lives on? If you are her, you choose to smile. Bravely and boldly, you look into others’ eyes and you smile. It was that smile that broke my heart and yet made me feel courage and determination all at the same time. With the help of our financial partners, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) was able to help build one of the safe homes there and many of us were able to play a part in making that home a safe and better place. Perhaps it was a home that she is now living in. This is what love, hope and faith can build: the ability to smile again.
Final Thoughts from the SOLs on Their Shack Experience
Final Thoughts from the SOLs on Their Shack Experience
Bryan: As a believer in the benefits of adversity, I was excited for this new experience. When deprived of our orderly lives, comforts, hobbies and things to fall back on or rely on, a person can do one of two things. They can struggle alone. Some of us find the strength within ourselves to necessarily reassure ourselves, be it hope, confidence, wisdom or experience. When these sources of strength falter, downward spirals of confidence or motivation can be quick to arrive, and consume the soul. Another option, should the situation allow it, other than struggling alone, is to do it with other people. Adversity brings people together, like the poles of a teepee (or our shower), creating a strong bond and structure. By trusting and relying on each other, any task can seem surmountable. When one person falters, the others have the power to bring them up again. An everyday example of the power of numbers was in the matter of our incomes. By the end of the first work day, our pooled incomes allowed us to get all the groceries we needed. Individually, we could never have afforded both the peanut butter and tortillas, the main staples of our breakfasts and lunches.Personally, being deprived of my lip chap worked to limit my experience for the first couple of days. It was irritating, affecting my personal mood, and distracting, taking my attention from important things like chatting around the fire. Luckily, Kelsey brought some “Vas” (Vaseline), which she had no problem in sharing with me, effectively solving that problem for me.I came to be aware of a state of mind during the shack experience. It was a familiar state to me, one that I remember from ill-conceived camping trips and long road trips. I would describe it as being halfway between contentment and survival-focused. Contentment would be the stereotypical North American life, waking up, doing the morning routine, going to work, coming home, doing housework, enjoying leisure time (TV, reading, video games), the nightly routine and going to bed. In this state of mind, one does not necessarily strive for, or long for a whole other lifestyle, but maybe for an improved one. This is not limited to the wealthy or comparatively fortunate, as even slaves have been known to find this kind of contentment in their lives. A survival state would be what is seen in the movies, or in stories of disaster survivors, where it is obvious that the current lifestyle is not desirable, but living is the focus of every action in the day, and stability in life is longed for for the future.This new state that I have come to acknowledge during the shack experience would be half-way between the two, and is what I imagine the majority of the world to know. There are facets of the daily routine that one would never want to change, like spending quality time with family or friends, or a particular hobby like fishing on Sundays or Friday nights at the pub. These positive moments can make life worth living, despite the day being full of intolerable labours like ridiculously long hours at work, a consistently aching body, or the chilling cold that can never be truly escaped. I think that the wealthy managers of mighty corporations that employ impoverished people, strive to keep their employees in this state, where they are kept minimally satisfied, just enough to get them to come back to work tomorrow.Adrian: Whether it is clams, rocking, or planting strawberries, it seems to have quite the impact on how I live my life and how fortunate I am to be born in Canada. During the School of Leadership Mexican Shack Experience we had a chance to do all three of these jobs and each one pulled on different strings in my heart and caused me to do something I have not done in awhile … think. I had been on a few Hero Holidays before but never had I understood the full impact of my actions.As we drove to the clamming, I had a chance to talk with our translator he said that we were lucky, the sky was so clear that day so if there were any problems they would be able to see us from shore. Now we didn’t go deep enough for the current to take us anywhere but as I looked out into the ocean watching the waves crash over the other men. Out further where the dangerous waves were is where the best clams are and in order to make enough money to feed there family they needed to risk their lives. The more clams you get the more money you make. All together the students made 90 pesos or less than $10 for that day which seemed about average to what the other men made alone. It is hard to make a living clamming and the job carries allot of safety risks along with it.Field working is probably the hardest work that we did all week working along side people as young as 12 and about 70 plus. While standing in dirt rows, you get a line to yourself and you put the strawberry plant into predetermined spots with a forked metal stick. There is no room to squat or kneel down so you are forced to be bent over the entire time. After some time, your back is in agonizing pain. It hurts to be bent over but it hurts more to stand up strait. At this point I gained an enormous respect for these people because they have been doing this every day for about 12 hours a day and only making about $10 a day. It didn’t seem like they complained about it. This made me realize just how much I complain about my easy stand around 8 hour day.Rock picking was probably the job that effected me the most as I was told for every 2 foot by 3 foot bag they were paid 8 pesos or less than a dollar. They were then transported to the United States and Canada to be sold for much more than that in hardware stores. Decor rocks that’s what we called them back at home at the hardware store, which sold at about $5 per palm sized bag (the math is pretty clear). It amazes me on how much money companies make on something a simple as rocks and the people who are doing the hard work are the ones who are paid the least.Through the whole week, I saw the way that poverty gives you no choice but to do this hard work just to put food on the table and pay the rent. I now sleep well knowing that I have done something to help these people make a little more money at the end of the day. I thank them for letting me experience this work because it has defiantly changed my life.Kelsey: When starting our week in the shack, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure I knew it was going to be hard and challenging but I never thought that one week would change my life. I realized just how little you need to actually survive. The things many of us take for granted such as food and shelter are the necessities of life; not iPods, the latest fashions or the new video game that just came out. I had been told that fact many times and I knew that people didn’t live the luxury that I have lived back home but actually living like them made the reality clear.Working in the fields was the most impacting day of the whole week. When we arrived in the fields we got to work picking cucumbers. We soon learned not to load our bucket to the brim because when you had to walk the full length of the field with the bucket on your shoulders, it tended to get sore. The workers were wondering why five white people would want to work beside them but after the strange looks wore off, they started helping us when we would fall behind. These people are part of the most accepting and caring culture I have ever been involved in. This became a reality to me when we were planting strawberries. We were slowly catching on how to plant them when two older ladies went over to the other SOL’s and started helping them so they wouldn’t fall behind. They stayed with us pretty much all morning; doing their row and then helping with the rest of ours. The same thought kept crossing my mind while I was bent down and my back aching; we had the end of the week to look forward to but what do the field workers have to look forward to? I asked Santiago (our translator) that question and he said that there aren’t promotions in the field. Once they are older they get to stay and pick the easier vegetables, such as cucumbers. For many who have been working in the field their whole lives, that is what they look forward to. It took a really long time for my brain to process that statement because if in Canada we feel we aren’t getting paid enough or want a raise we can usually obtain our wishes.On our last day of the shack experience, we went to a senior citizens home that was for the abused and the abandoned. We cleaned the home and after we were done we got to talk to these people and visit with them. Although there was the language barrier and we could only understand a little bit of each other, we somehow made them smile and laugh just by taking the time to sit beside them. This is when I came to the realization that I may not be able to change every wrong thing that is going on in the world, but by using my time for a good purpose I can change one person’s life by making them smile and taking the time to get to know them and their story. Melissa: I would love to tell you how I felt during this shack experience. I won’t lie when I first found out about this experience I was scared. I thought that there was no way I could ever do that. What if I smell? What if I don’t like the food we are making? That’s all I could think about. I was only scared about how I would look, what others would think about me. I knew that Mexican’s and other people that live in shacks don’t have it easy but not until I experienced this week did I truly understand it. The Shack made me realize how good we have it in Canada. Ã¢â¬Â¨Back home I work in a grocery store and my department is the salad bar. I cut up fruit and vegetables for hours and hours, I could not count how many times I would throw out food because I didn’t want to cut it or it didn’t look good enough for the customers. When I found out we were going to work in the fields for one of our work days, I knew I had to get myself physically and emotionally ready. When we were driving towards the fields, I was thinking of all the people who had to work to in the fields because there are no other jobs around here for them. They work really hard to feed their family or to have a roof on there head. When we finally got there, I thought it was just a dream because it looked like one of a scene in a movie. I wanted to cry but I also wanted to stay strong. When we finally got to work, they told us that we would have to collect cucumbers. Now when I look at a cucumber I think of all the faces I saw that day. We worked there for 2 hours and then it was off to work in the strawberry fields. Yes, it does sound really easy but it’s not that easy when you are doing it for 6 hours. I have never experienced such pain in my back! I was looking around and I could see 2 Mexican woman helping us because they saw we were in pain. When it was time to eat our lunch, I could not help but cry because I could not imagine doing this kind of work for the rest of my life. That evening back at our shack, all we could think about where the new friends that I made that day. Everytime I hear a truck, I think of the cucumber truck and when I see fruits and vegetables I think about all the people we worked with that day. I now have so much respect for the people who work in the fields. This experience has changed me and the way I look at life.Ã¢â¬Â¨ We were only in the shack for a week, some people are there for there whole life! They don’t have something to look forward to like a hot shower, clean smelling clothes, perfume, and a bed to sleep on. When we opened the door to our house we were just so excited to see all of our stuff again. I was the first one to take a shower and as I got out of the shower I looked at my side table, put on my dioderent and perfume, brushed my hair, and looked at myself in the mirror. I could not help but get a little emotional, I had to take a moment to sit down and be grateful for everything that I have. To me this was something I did everyday, I wasn’t able to wash my hair everyday in the shack or to make sure I looked and smelt fresh. I realized how much stuff I have and realized that I should be grateful and thankful for everything.Laura: Ã¢â¬Â¨When I think about work, I generally think back to my previous jobs. I usually worked 8 hours dealing with customers who were unsatisfied with a microscope hole in a shirt or were frustrated with the return policies that had just been updated. Ã¢â¬Â¨As I sat at work on one of my scheduled 15 minute breaks I would think about how boring and tired I was from just standing around doing pointless things. Ã¢â¬Â¨When we were told about the shack experience, I was thinking that we were going to do some random jobs and live in a shack. Ã¢â¬Â¨But as the start date slowly crept up to us, I started looking at the packing list realizing that this was not going to be as easy as I thought. We weren’t allowed to bring deodorant, soap or any of the things that seemed pretty essential to me. Ã¢â¬Â¨If we wanted any of those essentials we would have to buy them with the money we earned from working. Ã¢â¬Â¨The first day seemed like an endless job of shoveling gravel in and out of the back of Brett’s truck. Once the job was done we were able to go shopping for supper, knowing that we weren’t working on Sunday (bringing in no money) we decided to save most of our money and only buy the staple dinner consisting of rice and beans. Ã¢â¬Â¨The second job we were assigned to do was clamming, we started at 11:30pm at night and we’re going to be standing in the ocean with pitch forks in hopes to find some bulky clams.Ã¢â¬Â¨The moon lit up the starry night which was reflecting off the endless waves; a mere understatement to the reality of how beautiful this image was. Ã¢â¬Â¨The six of us worked for about an hour, finding maybe a dozen clams that we considered to be acceptable for the clammers, but as they started measuring them the dozen dwindled down into a pathetic few. Ã¢â¬Â¨By 4:30am they called us in so we could do a final count of how many we collected. The six of us had been able to collect around 3 dozen clams, while ONE man had collected 4 dozen on his own. Ã¢â¬Â¨The people get paid for the amount of clams that they collect, each dozen they get 30 pesos ($2.50CAD) meaning that out of the 5 hours the six of us made 90 pesos ($7.50CAD). As soon as we got back, we hit the sack exhausted from the cold, laborious job.Ã¢â¬Â¨Ã¢â¬Â¨The next couple days we were given jobs that were just as difficult as the last, but I look at those days as days of preparation for the day working in the field. Ã¢â¬Â¨Down here in Mexico there are many ranchers down here that grow quite a few varieties of fruits and vegetables. The rancher that we would be working for sent us out to pick cucumbers for the first half of the morning and plant strawberries for the rest of the work day. As we drove up to the fields, my stomach started turning and all I kept thinking was man these people probably think we’re crazy. Ã¢â¬Â¨Once we were given a barrel we were told to walk up a field and pick the cucumbers, once our bucket was full we would have to walk all the way back down the field dump it out and hurry back to finish up your row before they moved the truck. Ã¢â¬Â¨Bending down and sticking our hands in the prickly bushes seemed to go by really fast, but at around 8:30am a new bus came up to the field and they started calling us in. Ã¢â¬Â¨Santiago (our translator) told us that the bus was filled with older people who got to do the easier jobs, thus being their form of a raise; once you hit a certain raise you get the easier jobs. Ã¢â¬Â¨Once everyone had boarded the bus, we headed off to the strawberry fields. Now, when we arrived at these fields all you could see was endless rows of brown dirt. Ã¢â¬Â¨The job seemed like fun at first, but then the novelty wore off when we stood up and realized how much it hurt our backs from being bent over for the entire shift. Ã¢â¬Â¨I felt like I was the slowest person, but there were these two ladies who would finish their rows in record time and then come and help us finish up our rows. Ã¢â¬Â¨I thought it was so sweet of them, when they could have been taking a break from being bent over they came over to help us out. Ã¢â¬Â¨The whole day was the biggest reality check I have had in a long time, something that was well needed.Ã¢â¬Â¨The last day of the shack experience, we went to a nursing home to do some cleaning. It started off as a regular day but once we started to finish off the work we had more of a chance to talk to some of the people around us. Ã¢â¬Â¨All the people there were so grateful that we had even come to clean, while shaking their hands they beamed at us with glowing smiles. Ã¢â¬Â¨After this week it has really helped me realize that there are so many amazing people around us, but why don’t we ever take the time to get to know them? Ã¢â¬Â¨All it takes is a hello and a smile to be able to turn someone’s day around because you took the time to acknowledge them. Ã¢â¬Â¨The entire week I was considering different concepts and this being one of them. Ã¢â¬Â¨Another one was that we were anticipating for the 7 days to be up, but what we were living was the reality for over half of the worlds population. Ã¢â¬Â¨After being in the shack and coming back to the normality of life I feel awkward and out of place. It’s weird to wear a new set of clothes that I haven’t worked in 3 days in a row, and when I go into the grocery store I don’t want to flaunt the fact that I have enough money to buy something other than rice and beans. Ã¢â¬Â¨When I sit and relax it feels weird because I feel like I shouldn’t be, that I should be working or helping those around me. Ã¢â¬Â¨So lately, I have been trying to be more productive with my time, even just bringing a smile to someone’s face makes me feel 100 times more productive then me just sitting on my computer.Ã¢â¬Â¨We are affecting people’s lives every time we step out the door, it can either be in a positive way or a negative its up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have on people.
The loud smack of the small white tiles hitting the rotted piece of discarded plywood had become a familiar sound. The air had become punctuated with the music of loud, raucous laughter joined with finger pointing, good-hearted teasing, and muttering under the breath. As the children ran around the group, teasing each other and giggling at each other’s antics, the chickens clucked at our feet and the cows munched on the grass fifteen feet from our gathering. Clothes pins hung off of ears and loose arm skin, signifying who was losing the battle. This was an all-in event and it was a part of the late afternoon ritual here in this memorable Dominican village. Yep, it was dominoes – Haitian style.In so many ways time seems to stand still when you are there. Life is at a different pace: food is cooked over an open fire, families sit around and chat, most transportation is by foot, and even water is carried by hand from a distant pump. Neighbours are only a conversation away and the walls of each house are shared, often only with a tin sheet or a cardboard chunk between the two families. Any electricity used is tapped into, and cell phones are the only mode of communication, as all incoming calls are free. There are no luxuries such as newspapers, books, or even pencils lying around waiting to be used, there is only survival on so many levels. Most of the people who live in this village in Dominican Republic are Haitian, and of those, most are stateless. They are without citizenship, without protection, without basic rights such as education and health care. Most of them work in the garbage dump 4 kilometers away, working long hard days in the Caribbean sun, providing for their families on less than a dollar a day.If you think about it for a moment, you realize how incredible it is that these people let us into their world. Our Hero Holiday teams work alongside of them, helping to improve their community, helping to build schools for their kids, even helping them to increase their income. It only seemed natural that sooner or later, we would get to be a part of the really important things in life, like dominoes tournaments! Dominoes have been around for almost one thousand years. It is rumoured that they were created by the Chinese, and quickly spread around the world. Dominoes is a fun, challenging game of strategy, and easily accessible to most. It is a great party game, and it is wildly popular among Caribbean and Latin cultures. Our little village was no exception, only the rules here were slightly different: when you lost a round, you were forced to hang a clothespin on your skin somewhere: lips, ears, eyebrows, lower arms, even the skin on your calf was fair game and in order to get rid of the clothespins you had to win a designated number of times in a row.As we sat around on three-legged resin lawn chairs, huddled around old pieces of plywood resting on stumps, leaning into the small amount of shade provided by overhead branches, it was hard to suppress the laughter and giggles amongst ourselves. The game began, and within moments, many of us were covered in clothespins, smiling as we smacked down our domino for the next move against the fierce competition, teasing our opponents and reveling in the incredible gift of camaraderie. Despite all the immense barriers: language, wealth and education, we really were in this together. Sure it looks different in my world than it does in theirs, and of course we need to level the playing field of life on a global scale; but sometimes the best things in life are not only free – they are freely shared. And for those few sweet moments at the end of each work day, we got to sit across from each other and just be simple opponents in a humble little game called dominoes.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) works in Dominican Republic throughout the year and we will be taking teams this Christmas. You can join us! If you would like to find out how to be a part of a Hero Holiday in Dominican Republic or any of the other countries that we work in, please check out www.livedifferent.com. Who knows? Maybe you can find your fame in a dominoes tournament after a hard days’ work?