More Than Meets The Eye

gd-4.jpgIt would have been hard to see what was really going on that day. It didn’t look like much more than a group of people standing around a kid with a bleeding nose, wondering if he was going to be ok, and then slowly turning around and going back to work. Only he wasn’t really ok, it wasn’t a regular group of people, and we were all standing beside huge mounds of garbage overheating in the Caribbean sun. Not really a typical scene after all.His name is Ganasse. He is 10 years old. He lives in a quiet little village that I have many friends in. His dad died when he was only a baby. He has an older brother that works out of town and his mom is “in the hospital” two hours away. He is Haitian and he is without any proper identification papers. He works in a garbage dump and he is as tough as nails. I don’t really think his mom is in the hospital – I think she is never coming back to him. She has been “in the hospital” since I have known him and I think no one in the village has the heart to tell him she isn’t coming home. In all reality, Ganasse is a stateless orphan, and his future is largely determined for him at this point in time.One of the Hero Holiday students with me that day at the garbage dump brought me over to see him when they found him sitting to the side. He was trying to make his nose stop bleeding. Sitting down beside Ganasse with a pile of tissue and wipes, I tried to help him understand how to stop the bleeding. With one hand I held his tiny, dirty hand and with the other I wiped his tears that were streaming down his face. Liquid brown eyes searched mine and I could see the fear in them. He wasn’t just a kid with a bleeding nose. He was young boy who didn’t know what tomorrow would hold. He was a child without a mother or father and this garbage dump was almost all that he knew of life. He had spent most of his life being on the outside and looking in: wondering what it was to have a family, dreaming of what he would someday like to be and having to figure out how to survive I held his hand, he leaned his head against my shoulder, never saying a word. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to. Finally, I raised my arm around his shoulder and hugged him close. He snuggled in and didn’t move for a moment, soaking in the human contact. This was something I had failed to realize: the power of human touch to heal the heart. When was the last time he had been hugged? Did he have any memories of human tenderness and touch? Did he crave being noticed? Had he ever felt he was someone worth holding on to?His nose had stopped bleeding, and he had stopped crying, but my heart was broken. Sitting on the side, watching everyone around us working, I saw life from his perspective for a moment: adults rushing to find food and supplies to provide for their own hungry families, loud dump trucks roaring past us, flies buzzing frantically around the heated refuse, two lone palm trees with leaves barely moving in the near stagnant air, and the anxious faces of Canadian teenagers who were continually looking back and checking to see if we were all right. I realized how high the mounds of garbage looked from this angle and how focused and determined each of the adult workers were to find what they were looking for. This was no place for anyone to have to work in, let alone a ten year old boy. Like each of these workers that I saw in front of me, Ganasse deserves more. He deserves a me, the Canadian students with me that day learned many life lessons. Some of us are probably still processing those lessons even now. But that tender moment with Ganasse left us with something more than questions and frustrations: it deposited a resolve in each of our hearts. The resolve to continue to be a voice, the resolve to recognize the power of each of our lives and choices, and most of all, the ability to see how we can make a difference one life at a time. Today, there is a school in Ganasse’s village that we helped to expand to include more kids such as himself. Ganasse is in a home with a family and he is being taken care of. And today, like the Canadians that joined me in that garbage dump, I am determined to work harder than ever to make the world a little less scary for the Ganasse’s out there.You can join us on a Hero Holiday in Dominican Republic in July of 2010! To find out more, check out obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life. ~ Elie Wiesel

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 29th, 2009


JoHo and Friends“My real name is Johnston Ho but you can call me Jo Ho. People know me as an outgoing, friendly, funny and random individual, which can be proven on numerous Hero Holiday trips. From dressing up as a girl, to dressing up and singing as Taylor Swift, to dancing with the father of the family who I helped to build a house for, to creating my own secret handshake in the community I built a house in, I love life…”Social anxiety sucks. What if fear plagued you every minute of every day? The fear of the unknown, the fear of people, the fear of new situations. Every day you feel the same pain coupled with sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and nerves worn raw and thin. What if the simple act of taking the next step forward seemed too difficult? When you are paralyzed by depression, anxiety, or any other number of mood disorders, the pain of feeling judged or isolated by others can sometimes be so intense that there can seem no way out but to end the pain at what you perceive to be the source: you. But there can be relief from it, there can be hope, and there can be freedom. Johnston is living proof.Johnston can point back to the summer of 2007 as being where things had reached their worst. By the time he had reached his 16th birthday that day in August, he felt so alone, so rejected and so paralyzed with depression and anxiety that there seemed no hope left. His list of options seemed to grow thinner. But somehow, at that lowest point is where he began the climb back out. As he sat home, alone on his 16th birthday, out of desperation to find help, Johnston began to research his problems. Slowly, through what he read and studied, he began to realize that he suffered from social anxiety. He wasn’t the problem, nor did he bring it on in any way. Life happens with or without our permission, and he now recognized his feelings for what they were: a mood disorder.But recognizing something and following through with a game plan can be two very different worlds. When we suffer with mental health issues, it can be very difficult to separate ourselves from the disorder. It’s hidden inside of us and quite frankly, it would prefer to stay that way. That’s how it thrives and succeeds at convincing its victim that there is no escape. But like any lie, sooner or later it must be exposed for what it is, and Johnston found out how to do that.The GymnastOne week after his birthday, Johnston found himself on a bus, headed towards Vicente Guerrero, Mexico. Having already endured the two hour ferry ride to Vancouver and arriving at the hotel in Abbotsford by himself, Johnston was at a bit of a loss. Could he handle being away from home for two weeks? Could he handle being around 15 other strangers and what he was about to encounter on this trip that he was unwillingly signed up for?”I was late for the bus and when I got on I said LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)ly nothing to the person beside me for about 4 or 5 hours. Then someone started a poker game at the back of the bus and somehow I began to relax and had the chance to be myself. I won the game and I actually started to relax and felt my SA (social anxiety) slipping away. During the trip I started talking more and didn’t stop; I got to be myself and not what my SA wanted me to be. And that was just the beginning…”House BuildingDuring his time on Hero Holiday, Johnston was a part of a 15 member team of participants who built a house for a family that desperately needed it. Together with that family, nail by nail, they forged a new future and hope for each other. For the family it was about shelter, safety and being lifted out of paralyzing poverty. For Johnston it was about a hand up to hope and freedom. Both came empty handed and both left full of promise. This is what Hero Holiday is about: succeeding together.”I have battled with anxiety most of my life. This trip has changed my life, but probably not in the way that the organizers thought it would change me. I used to keep all of my emotions inside and after this trip everything changed. I even wore a sombrero from Abbotsford to Victoria on the ferry! I would have never done that before.I used to get extreme anxiety using the phone, going on msn or Facebook, knocking on people’s doors, saying hi to anyone, walking down the hallway at school, going to social events, using instructions, getting responsibility, and many other things. Now, I am not the same.The reason why I am so open about my past mental problems is that I lost track of what was most important: the value of life, what every day means, what one day can bring and what you have to show. Your potential is limitless. Risk everything for what you truly want. You only live once so stand up, speak loud and live your dream.”For more information on how you can be a part of a life-changing trip like the one Johnston was on, check out We would love to have you join us. You belong here!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 22nd, 2009

School of Leadership House Build in Mexico

Have you even been so shocked that you didn’t know what to do or say? Well, that happened to me when my mom and her friend decided to surprise me when my team and I went to San Diego for some “grocery shopping”. I thought it was great that they got to visit me but then my mom told me they would be with us for a week helping us with the house build. I couldn’t believe it! I was very excited that I could share a wonderful experience with my mom and that she could see how much I’ve changed since being in the School of Leadership for 2 months. I was even more surprised though that my team and leaders could keep that secret from me.We built a house for a single mother who has 2 children, a 12 year old girl and a 13 year old boy, and we were told that just this August, Misiel, the 13 year old boy was riding his bike with his father when a drunk driver hit him. His foot was crushed in the accident which later got infected and the doctors needed to amputate most of his leg. His leg is no longer infected and he now has a wheelchair. I was very sad when I heard this story but felt better to know that we were going to help and try to make his every day life a little easier. Misiel is a boy who has lots of energy and just loves music. It made me really sad to see him watching all his friends play, because you could see in his eyes that he wanted to run and play with them.When we started building this home we could tell there was a lot of love for this family from the community, we always had lots of kids who wanted to play football (soccer) with us and some kids just wanted to help us work. The girls especially loved the paint because it was pink and purple and they would put it on their nails to make it look like nail polish. We also had help from our friends, Mundo and Danny. Mundo is our translator for our English class and Danny is a friend. Together they dug a hole for the bano, they worked really well together and learned a lot from each other. Mundo told us that when he was in the hole digging, he would tell Danny some of his life stories, and when Danny was in the hole digging it was his turn to tell stories. The kids were so happy and playful; they were a constant reminder to us why were there helping out. I really connected with a little girl named Maria, she lived close to the house build. Her father made donuts and pizza so he could make some extra money for his family, but mostly to support his other daughter who has a disability. My team and I made sure to buy donuts from him everyday to help them out. Maria was always happy and excited to see me, she made me realize that it’s the little things that matter in life.While we were building the house we started thinking of ways that would make it easier for Misiel to get around in his wheelchair. So we built them a shower and also bigger bano so he could easily get his wheelchair in and out. Brett, my leader, also thought of putting bars around his room to make it easier for him to start walking again. When we gave the keys to the house to this amazing family, everyone said some inspiring words and welcomed them to their new home. The mother and daughter had lots of tears, but they thankfully were tears of joy. My mom and her friend decided to buy big bags of rice and beans for them as well, and also at the end of the week we went around and gave little bags of rice and beans to families in the community. So far, this has been my favorite house build. I love that I got to build it with my mom and my new School of Leadership family.~ Melissa, a School of Leadership student living in Mexico and painter extraordinaire.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 18th, 2009

We See What We Want

Clowning AroundI hate my contact lenses. I hate that I have to remember to take them out before I go to bed, that I have to wrestle with them on early mornings, that I sometimes put them in backwards (yes, you can put them in backwards!) and most of all, I hate that I can’t see hardly anything without them. But if I had to be honest with myself, I should count myself fortunate to not have to worry about my vision. They are called corrective lenses for a reason: they are able to correct my vision impairment. Like you, I have the gift of sight.The night that Vaden and Charles met with the group of parents from her school, they were preparing for the regular questions for Hero Holiday: how much does it cost? Where will they stay? Will they be able to call home? But they weren’t expecting her parents to ask what they did. Kelsey’s* parents came forward after the meeting and asked them one last question. They wanted to know if we would allow her to join us on our Dominican Republic Hero Holiday trip the following summer. Of course we would, why not? And then they pointed out which daughter was theirs: the one quietly sitting down, staring straight ahead, with her hand on the collar of her guide dog, both of them patiently waiting for the answer. The simple question, “Would it be possible for Kelsey to be a part of the trip?” was met with a simple answer, “We would love to have her join us!”.True FriendshipThat summer was a first for Hero Holiday. We started building our first school that is now the education centre for almost 100 young children, we began a life long friendship at a garbage dump with a group of people that we have grown to love and respect, and for the first time, we had a new pair of best friends, Kelsey and her dog, Kaylie. Together they helped carry cinder blocks, apply mortar on the bricks, mix cement, and most importantly, play with the crowds of kids that surrounded them in fascination, eager to learn more about what life was like from their perspective.Guide dogs for the visually impaired have been recorded as being used as early as the 16th century; they are not a new concept. Yet, like so many other limitations or disabilities, those with impairments can be held back by perceptions, lack of opportunity, and even by public stereotypes and stigmas. That year, Kelsey proved to us and to the people that were a part of the experience that not only was she a true hero, but there are many around the world who are capable of doing far more than anyone thought possible, if only they are given the opportunity. We were proud to have Kelsey as a part of our trip, because she was Kelsey and because she belonged there.Team 2 RocksChances are, if you are reading these letters right now, you are part of those of us who make up the population that have our sight. Many of us may never know what it is to be limited by stereotypes, perceptions, and ignorance, yet that means that we can reach and dream even harder of what can be done to make the world a safer place for all of us, without exception.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) welcomes people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to join our Hero Holiday trips and experience the power of making a difference. We are able to do what we do because of our staff, volunteers and participants, and because of the finances raised through our fundraising endeavors. Currently, we have an exciting way for you to help and have something tangible in return: purchase our 2010 Calendar, “Together” and help us to continue to see lives changed at home and around the world through compassion, love, and action. Go to to purchase yours.2010 Calendar“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others” ~ Jonathan Swift*names have been changed

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 15th, 2009


Joy and the Paint BrushHer name at birth was Yi-Ting Yu, but if you met her you would understand why her parents chose “Joy” as her English name. There was no option, really. When you first meet her, you immediately know that you won’t forget her. Gregarious and outspoken, she is full of life, naïvete and laughter. Like every student that comes on Hero Holiday, she has a story, and like every student that returns home from the experience, she is never the same.Joy’s family is Chinese, having immigrated to Canada when she was a young child, and settled in Richmond, BC. As she began to grow older, the cultural divide began to spread between the world she wanted to be in and the one in her home. Feeling that her two “lives” couldn’t connect, Joy began to withdraw from her parents and home life, creating a further disconnection between her and her parents. As she entered high school, like so many before her, Joy began to wrestle with who she wanted to be, falling short on both sides and within a short period of time she began to roam the streets of Richmond late at night with a group of friends out looking for violence, and out to steal. Pain and confusion can be difficult for any of us, but when your home life is unstable, when you feel like you don’t know where you belong, and when you are driven for acceptance, it is difficult to find your anchor.But Joy wasn’t forgotten, nor was she unwanted. Leslie Dell, a student advisor and leadership teacher at her school, was working hard to help the students in their school to change the core of their school. Slowly, the students that she worked with began to draw Joy out of the dangerous choices she was making and involve her in their initiatives. As she entered her Grade 11 year, Joy was now a member of the leadership core, active on sports teams, sitting on the student council, and involved in influencing her student body for change. She was beginning to find her place and understanding her value. In September of 2007, Joy and the rest of their school’s leadership core sat in an auditorium, experience an LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) presentation, and heard about Hero Holiday for the first time. She knew that this was something she wanted to do; something that she needed to do.Joy began to fundraise to go to Dominican Republic with Hero Holiday. Sometimes working 2 or 3 jobs at a time, she slowly pulled the money together. Although her family still refused to support or help her in her efforts, she managed to raise enough to join her school group on Hero Holiday in July of 2008. Her life was never the same from that experience.Agua Negra“Going there was the best decision I ever made. I believe in everything that we do there and I only come back home to realize that I haven’t done enough and I will always need to do more for others. I can’t be the selfish person I once was. It changed my life because I see the world with a different perspective and I approach life with new aspects.I always ask myself what can I do to better the lives of the people around me, and what can I do to reach out to the people who don’t understand. I want to live my life to the fullest and seize every moment in the day because life is too short to hold grudges and hold out on dreams. I want to do everything now because I have it so good and so easy. We complain and complain about nothing. We say we need things that we only want. I need to see change, I want to be an influence for change, and I am making a difference.”Joy's TeamI wonder how many “Joys” there are in the world? How many youth get overlooked because they are acting out, seem unstable, or simply because they don’t have the courage to speak up and ask for help? Who will be their voice, will seek them out, or will give them the faith to believe that things can change?In LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), our mission is to deposit hope and purpose in each life that we work with. Hope is what gives us the ability to change and it is what gives us the ability to hang on when life lashes out at us. Pain can blind us, isolate us and lie to us about our worth. But hope is what frees us to dream, to believe, and to reach out. Through our ThinkDay programs in schools, we work with schools to hold out hope to their students – the hope to hang on and to realize that they can see past where they find themselves.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 8th, 2009

2010 Calendar

2010 CalendarWe’re excited to announce our 2010 Hero Holiday Calendar, “Together”. This calendar is full of incredible photos taken on Hero Holidays around the world by some of our very own photographers. Included in the calendar are excerpts from our blog, “52”, as well as some great quotes and thoughts on how to make a difference.The calendar costs $20 and proceeds from the sale of each calendar go towards LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) and Hero Holiday’s charitable projects.Order Now

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 6th, 2009

Keys, Pens, and Paperclips

Rock and RollThey are only the elite, specially selected few.They parade across our stage brandishing their weapons of choice. These are no ordinary instruments of torture, unusually, they are in the form of a broom, hockey stick, and a severed pool noodle. These ‘creme of the crop’ are showing us their rock and roll moves like never before (literally, I don’t think any of them have ever done this before!). They head bang as in the days of their youth, and while doing so there are generally three items that come spilling from their pockets.Keys, pens, and paperclips.Once in a while there will be an unlucky individual who flings their glasses inadvertently across that glossy hardwood floor not caring a bit, because they need to rock harder than their students did. They will let nothing stand in the way of their ETERNAL GLORY!  For that is what they will receive if they can rock harder than a bunch of high school wussies!Teachers Know How to RockThese are the teachers who have bravely sacrificed eyesight and dignity alike to participate in our “school of Rock” and no matter how many teachers we see on stage we are always shocked at how well they perform!Canada has some of the most amazing teachers, many of which end up on our stage and its their students who choose them because they know that these are the teachers who know how to have fun. These are the teachers who are trusted and liked by their students. They are the elite only because of the dedication to their students, dedication that is clearly seen when they rock out no holds bar to make sure their students get a laugh! we congratulate you teachers who are chosen for our air band rock off because you are the teachers who care for their students. We did not preselect you, you were chosen by the students you teach. In fact its almost as if you selected yourselves. How you ask? By being there for your students, approachable, and friendly. You selected  yourselves when you decided to love kids and not just teach them. Our country is full of teachers and administratorswho love their students, who only want the best for them and their futures. A lot of the time you are the elite, the specially selected few, who will humbly rock out with us, and for some reason you are always carrying in those magnanimous pockets of yours:Keys, Pens, and Paperclips

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 5th, 2009

Row upon Row

8320_147824185325_95760375325_2810750_6514669_n.jpgLife is ironic. So much of our understanding of a concept is based on our cultural context, past experience, and personal bias. “Hard work” can often be a very relative term. Some of us work hard at labour-intensive jobs, some of us carry the weight and stress of being the decision makers for organizations, some of us do what we can to avoid work altogether. In our culture, it can almost even seem that we sometimes work hard at our play and invest our time, energy and resources into our toys, possessions, and experiences.9925_152259260325_95760375325_2848313_2055111_n.jpgIn our School Of Leadership, we have an incredible experience that is now fondly named, “The Shack”. The Shack is our own version of what life would be like for the millions of people that live well below the poverty line, and basically exist on less than $2 a day. In their world, home ownership is often a pipedream, school is a privilege often denied, and healthcare is non-existent. These are the working class poor, and they are what keeps our consumer costs low, our food picked fresh, our electronics affordable, and our closets full of clothes that we can afford. The Shack is a 7 day experience that each of our leadership students get involved in, and they eat, sleep, and work among the poor, learning how life and survival happens at that level. It is a life-altering experience, and we are proud of how compassionate and inspired each of them become as a result. This year, however, there was something new in store for the students: they were able to go to work with the migrant Mexican workers and join them in the fields and labour alongside of them to help see life from their viewpoint.Brett, one of our School of Leadership Staff Members, filled me in on what life was like that day…brian.jpg“Shack Work Day #6 started out with an early wake up at 4am. After cooking their breakfast over an open fire, the students were picked up at 4:45am at the highway to be brought to a local ranch to work in the fields. The minute the students stepped out of the truck, they got all kinds of looks from the Mexican workers, they could not figure out why these “Americans” would want to work in the fields.“The day started with the students picking buckets full of cucumbers and hauling them to a big truck. They worked on the cucumbers for a couple of hours and by the time they were ready to move on to planting strawberry plants, they had picked two huge trucks full of cucumbers. It was only 9am but it felt like they had been out there for a really long time, and they were already feeling sore. They were then taken to a strawberry field where they were given a tool and a bucket full of strawberry plants. They used the tool to help push the strawberry roots deeper into the soil. They were constantly bent over, and they got so used to being bent over that it hurt a lot when they had to stand straight up. They all worked really hard. In fact, some of the old ladies working there said that the “little white girls” were hard workers, and out of an effort to encourage our students, the older ladies finished their own rows and came back and helped the girls finish theirs as well.“It’s really hard to believe that people do this their whole lives. Working row upon row are children who should be in school alongside of seniors who should be free to relax and rest. The students were also thinking that a lot of these women would go home after a really hard day out at the fields to make supper, do laundry, and clean. The Mexicans work so hard, day in and day out, for a mere 110 pesos. There is no pay increase here – they all work for the same amount of income. The only incentive offered is easier jobs for the older workers. Not much of an incentive, really.8320_147310795325_95760375325_2807717_6568021_n.jpg“The students didn’t really want to talk to me after because they said they had no words to describe what they had felt towards these extremely hard working people. They were feeling humbled and overwhelmed by the sadness of reality. For the students, after tomorrow they get to go back to their beds, warm showers, and a warm home, but the people whom they worked alongside will return to their own shack, left in their own poverty, only to repeat it all tomorrow.”9925_152259195325_95760375325_2848306_4956101_n.jpgRow upon row, hour by hour, the world’s working poor labour to make our world easier and more comfortable. We cannot escape its effects on our lives, but we can work to make it better. Through our conscious choices, our efforts can help to change things. In LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), we make every effort to be conscious of what we are adding our voice to by our consumer choices. We encourage each of our students, our Hero Holiday participants and our staff and volunteers to do the same. During each of our Hero Holidays, we take time to help educate our participants about how they can add their voice to change and make a difference where they are at. The possibilities are endless; they are only limited by our own willingness to make the effort. We may not be able to single-handedly change the world, but little by little, as we dream and take action together we can make the world a better place for those who need to know that it can be.To find out more about our School of Leadership or Hero Holiday, check out

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 1st, 2009