After many days of laughter and tears, the house we build for this family for Christmas is finally complete.The family made us fresh duck with beans and salad for yet another meal together! It is pretty incredible to be on the receiving end of such generosity and sacrifice.During the dedication the crew from Canada presented the family with: beds, dressers, blankets, shoes, stove, propane, groceries, dishes and kitchenware, chickens, a bike for dad, two fruit trees, ten chickens and some other misc items. Needless to say, the family was speechless.Today is our last day in Mexico and we are heading out this morning to see the family for one last time. Even though we are heading back to Canada tomorrow, this family will always be dear to our hearts. This has been a Christmas like no other for all of us. It has been so amazing to be a part of giving the gift of a hope and a future to a family in desperate need. To all of you back home who helped to make this possible, thank you again!
Saying goodbye is hard. Airport farewells never get easier, letting go of someone that you love is painful, and even change can be difficult. There are many times on this journey that we have been on in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) when we have had to learn to say goodbye. Faces have changed and positions have shifted over the years, there have been some painful separations of distance and time, and there has even been loss that we have had to support each other through. We have had to wave goodbye to families as our truck is pulling out of a community for the last time, wave tearful goodbyes to kids we are leaving behind in a children’s home and we have had to let go of little hands that we knew we wouldn’t hold again. But through it all, one thing has helped me to hang on: knowing that I am not alone.Almost anyone will tell you that one of their favourite parts of an LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) Hero Holiday is at the end of the day. Not because we are done the hard work and not because we get to escape back to our comfort zone. Rather, it is because it is when we sit down and connect with each other and have a debriefing on the day’s events. It may not seem like much to you, but when your world has been rocked and you are realizing that there are way more questions than answers in life, sometimes it is really great to be able to have someone that has shared the experience with you to walk alongside of you and challenge your way of thinking.This past Christmas, we had two Hero Holidays happening: one in Mexico and one in Dominican Republic. In Mexico a family received a house for Christmas and it changed everyone’s life that was involved in the process. In Dominican Republic we helped two families get solid foundations on their homes, as well as worked in garbage dumps, helped at an orphanage and had a Christmas Fiesta with a community that had never had one before. I was in Dominican Republic and something happened that came up when I was talking one evening with some participants. On Christmas Day, we went to a village and played soccer with the community in the afternoon. It was a lot of fun and we made some great memories. But the memorable part for me happened when the sun went down and we set up the big white sheet on the front of someone’s house.Right there, in the middle of that little village full of stateless, impoverished families, the evening became magical as we all stood around together and watched Ice Age 3 in Spanish. For many of the people there it was the first time they had ever seen a movie, and as Sid the Sloth bumbled through his adventures with the woolly mammoths and saber toothed tigers, the crowd tittered and giggled non stop, elbowing each other and pointing at the screen. Children gasped in surprise when the action got intense and all eyes were glued to that transformed white sheet for a full 90 minutes. There was no crunching popcorn, no beeping cell phones, and no whispers, only rapt attention as each person wanted to drink in the whole experience.As I stood there among the crowd that night I was reminded of why I love to go to the movies at home. Entertainment is not about critiquing someone’s performance or about always needing to see the latest film. Entertainment is a privilege and it is a gift to be able to get lost in a story for a while, no matter what your situation is in life. In some ways, entertainment is as much of a human need as many other things. It may not have seemed like much, but to be able to offer that community something that gave them a lift out of the normal tedium of survival, it was a gift worth giving. As the movie finished and the crowd began to disperse in the dark, one little boy was walking by our team and they heard him say in Spanish, “This is the best Christmas ever!”. We didn’t come with gifts or anything fancy – we had no gifts left to bring. We came with our friendship and with something for all of us to experience together and that alone made that night special for him and for us.As we sat around later that night, debriefing over the day’s events and processing what we had experienced, each of us saw something different in the evening. We each appreciated different aspects of the day and how much this Christmas would be one for all of us to remember. And the next day, while many of our family back home would be fighting their way through the boxing day sales and finishing up their third or fourth Christmas meal, we woke up and smiled and laughed at the gifts we had received on Christmas: friendship, laughter, and a new appreciation for the value of spending time with people that are important.Today is the beginning of the rest of our lives. Each day is a gift and each breath is a blessing. What we choose to do with our time, energy and resources becomes both our offering and legacy that we give to the world around us. Saying goodbye to another year is bittersweet for me as 2009 was a great year for us in so many ways and we each experienced moments that we will cherish forever. But 2010 is full of exciting possibilities and you can be a part of it!From all of us in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) and on behalf of every participant and beneficiary from each of our programs, we wish you a Happy New Year! Together, we can make 2010 a special year for countless lives around the world!
Our team woke up to bright sunshine this December 25th and the knowledge of knowing that this Christmas was different. We had accomplished so much together and felt the true meaning of the phrase, “it is better to give than to receive”.After a hearty breakfast, we played what some call, “Yankee Christmas”. This is where each person brings a gift (between $5 – $10) and when your number is called, you either pick a present from under the tree or steal someone’s. Lots of good laughs as everyone decided that whatever gift Vaden chose, they would steal. Once all the gifts had been distributed, we opened them to find lots of fun souvenirs. Joy got a Monkey playing a guitar made from a coconut. Here is more of her thoughts from the rest of our day’s activities:Today we revisited one of my favorite villages that we have helped in many pasted Hero Holidays. The reason we keep coming back is because of the wonderful children that live there. Their community is so welcoming and well behaved that I feel need to visit each time I am in the Dominican Republic. After lunch, our group of 14 brought along soccer and baseball equipment to start a sports camp. As we drove into town in our open back truck, we caught the attention every child on the narrow road. We hopped of the truck and started picking up children here and there and skipped through the entire village. After collecting all the children we could find, we lead them to an open field to start our afternoon of games.We had the most amazing time blowing bubbles and coloring with the girls as a majority of the boys were playing soccer or baseball. It was a fun filled day but it did not just end with our sports camp. Later that night, after dinner, we returned to the village to show a movie. We had brought a projector with us from Canada so it was like being in an open air movie theater. Ice Age 3, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, was a huge hit, which we measured by the amount of laughter from both child and adult alike. The smiles on all the people made us proud of what we had accomplished on our trip. Every time we show up at a place with our arms wide open to hold the kids, it touches the lives of many individuals, including our own.
“My children have never had a Christmas gift.” – Mother of the family we are building for.As we sit down to our gift exchange this morning, these words still ring in my head. Last night the family we are building for made us a Christmas dinner. While we were there with them, sitting around a bonfire, the mother informed us of what a normal Christmas is like for them. The difference between ‘normal’ for them and ‘normal’ for us is incredibly unfair. We were all left in awe, amazement, frustration and yet still enjoyed a weird sense of peace and fulfillment at the same time. What we experienced last night is something that we will never find the right words to describe.Welcome to our Christmas Hero Holiday in Mexico. We have people here from ON, MB, SK, AB, and BC! Even though we all come from different provinces, are different ages and have different hobbies and interests, the one common unbreakable bond that we share is a heart to help a family who cannot help themselves. I could go on for hours explaining the challenges this family faces here. They have never known the simple things in life like justice, equality, opportunity or hope.This Christmas is not only one that this family will remember forever, it is one that we will all remember forever as well!To all of you back in Canada who helped make this possible, thank you! There are so many people that could not be here with us right now, but who have all contributed in one way or another to making this house build possible for this family. We are grateful for your generosity and the family we are building for also passes on their unexplainable gratitude.Check out more pictures here.
I have never seen so much rain! The second, third, and forth day of our Dominican trip has been filled with mucho mucho rain. Unfortunately, our gift giving day in a local town was postponed until Jan 7th due to roads being washed out on December 21st. So, instead we did an assignment that our teams do on many of our Hero Holidays. Participants get into groups of 3 and pick a chapter from the book, ONE: A Face Behind the Numbers. Each chapter deals with a different cause and/or effect of poverty and has lots of pictures, quotes, statistics, and stories. With the information that the team learns from the chapter of their choice they devise a plan to help fight this injustice. Participants often think of some pretty amazing and attainable ideas which they often put into action when they return home. After this activity and lunch we all snuggled up, away from the rain, and watched Ice Age 3, then when we found some umbrellas made a soggy trip into town to the grocery story for snacks and phone cards.Our second day (Dec 22) we awoke to rain yet again, but decided that this was not going to hold us back. We went to our work project and worked happily in the rain. On the way to Agua Negra, we stopped at a store and all bought rain coats and boots. People laughed because we looked like one big group of giant bananas (and it was true we were laughing too)! That day we completed one of the cement floors and built up the walls for new roof for the other house. What we all found to be cool was that the single mom of the house getting the new roof and floors, was right out there working with us. She worked so hard and was so grateful for the things we were doing for her family. After dinner and debriefing, our team played a very fun and expressive game of shuraids.Here is a blog from one of our Participants, Melissa, on her second day at Agua Negra (December 23rd)Today was the most rewarding day of the trip so far. In the morning we arrived at the Agua Negra community centre to be greeted by countless children all jumping, singing, and smiling. Each one of them filled with excitement for the Christmas party that was about to begin. We were able to play and dance with the kids as we helped to hand out lunches and a gift to each child (approximately 200 children!). Being able to bring happiness to the childrens’ day was a major highlight of the trip and also brightened our otherwise rainy day.We were also able to see the concrete floor that we had completed the day before all dry and ready for the owners to move back into their house. It looked like a completely different house! In the afternoon we finished the second house we were working on, with the help of local contractors and friendly neighbours. The people of Agua Negra were so welcoming and greatly appreciate of our work. It was a bitter sweet day because although we finished our two projects, we also had our last trip to Agua Negra. The smiling faces and generosity is something that will be remembered by each member of our team.I am happy to tell you that the rain has stopped as of 7pm December 23rd. On Christmas Eve our team enjoyed a day off. We took some time to go the markets on the beach to purchase $5 – $10 gifts for our gift game tomorrow morning. In the afternoon, our team got the chance to hangout on the beach and get some sun. Now we can come home to our friends and family with a tan and proof that we were somewhere warm!Merry Christmas everyone!
Hey everyone! Or shall I say, “Hola!” Our Dominican Republic Christmas Hero Holiday has begun. All 14 of us arrived safe and sound to our tropical paradise on Saturday without any delays. This is amazing because they were canceling flights left, right, and centre because of some storm going on in Eastern US.Today, Sunday December 20th, we went on LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s awareness tour. We got to see some past projects they have completed over their many trips since 2005. We also got to see our projects for this trip too. We are going to be putting a new roof on a home that needs one really bad and also give the family a cement floor because right now they have a dirt floor. We are also going to give a cute elderly lady a cement floor too. I had never really thought what life would be like living with a dirt floor but it would be really hard to keep your house and items in it clean. I am glad that we can help them out.We we got back to the resort after our tour, we pooled all the gifts that we brought with us on the trip. There was lots of toys, candy, school supplies, and bars of soap. We all took a station and was in charge of making sure that item got into each bag. In total we made 212 bags! That’s a lot of gifts to handout. We are going to be giving them to all the children at our Christmas party at Agua Negra. Can’t wait!I am really happy I am on this trip this Christmas. I really want to help others and it is a great time of year to do it. Tomorrow we are suppose to be handing out gifts in a village near Sanitago, but it is suppose to rain. So, we will see…
We are so excited to be back for Werx-The Sequel…back to Mexico!!!! Throughout the year we have been living in the moments of last year’s Christmas trip…reliving our highlights…thinking about the people who touched our hearts and changed our lives. So, it is no surprise to us that we can’t help ourselves…we are going back for ‘the Sequel’!!! We can’t imagine not being in Mexico for Christmas and we are so thrilled for the amazing support we have gotten from our families and friends. We are so excited about how amazing our team is… Kerry & Barb Brandt, Jackson, Savannah, and Ashton, and Danae Plett are coming back for more…just too many awesome memories from ’08 that we can’t imagine missing in ’09 (the people, the work, the dogs, the fireworks)…and then we are very excited to have some new people join the Werx team…Brad and Kathryn Penner and their children, Riley, Zach, and Hannah as well as Kyle Parkinson (a ‘friend’ of Danae’s). The days can’t go by fast enough in between now and Saturday…we can’t wait to get into our 15 passenger van and head south for a 50 hour road trip!!!! Our hearts are already there…
Here are some things we are looking forward to…
Hannah…I am looking forward to meeting the family…climbing the volcano…building the house…and moving the furniture into the house!!
Riley…I am excited about building the house.
Zach…I am excited about being able to build a house for the family.
Brad…I am excited to be a part of this group as we bring joy, happiness, and peace to the family in Mexico as we build them a new home. I am also looking forward to building stronger relationships with the group.
Kathryn…I am very excited to meet the family! I am looking forward to loving this family and everyone else we will meet on this trip.
Savannah…I cannot wait to make a difference in these people’s lives and see the change that we can be in the world!
Ashton…I’m excited about tons of stuff….driving down to San Diego, building the house, meeting the family, climbing the volcano, seeing our family from last year, seeing Santiago, Roberto and Charles and his family again, meeting the 4 girls that are joining us in Mexico… etc.
Jackson…I’m excited for another adventure…I am excited to meet new people…to have a long-lasting impact on the family…to utilize my photography skills…and party!!
Barb…I am excited about so many things…building a house for a family and starting a change in their lives from this Christmas on…we are excited to give them hope for the future…I can’t wait to meet them and love them…I’m also looking forward to seeing some of our friends again…can’t wait to see Santiago and Roberto and ‘most’ of the Robert’s family…I also can’t wait to get a hug from the family who we built the house for last year…they touched our lives and I just want to see them again!!
Kerry…a million things…seeing our efforts and money multiplied…spending time with old friends…making new friends…our team being brought together in a way that will last for a lifetime…the drive…the scenery…the beaches…the culture…the food…
Danae…I am excited because I am looking forward to escaping all the materialism of the Christmas season to give a family the Christmas gift of a lifetime.
Kyle…I am excited to go to Mexico because I do construction every day but now I have an opportunity to do this for God and for people who are really in need.
Last week, the School of Leadership students who are touring Canada in our high school assemblies, had a break in their touring schedule. So, what better way to spend their downtime then volunteering at a local charity, the Good Shepherd. Good Shepherd assists thousands of people every year with emergency programs that provide the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, and rehabilitative programs that offer guidance, give hope, and restore dignity. They serve troubled youth, abused women and children, the dying, the mentally and physically challenged, the hungry and the homeless. Their ultimate goal is to support people through crisis and assist them in reestablishing healthy and productive lives in the community. (www.goodshepherdcentres.ca)I was lucky to get to join the students as they worked together to pass on the Holiday Cheer. Our first morning, we were working in the facilities kitchen where they prepare meals for all their volunteers (and it was yummy!), and serve a hot meal to anyone in the community who needs it. We were told that they can serve between 275 – 500 meals a day. Now, keep that number in mind when you think of how many potatoes are needed in one week to feed that many people because we peeled it! It was not really that bad because it was a great time for us to talk and have peeling contests (Cory was the fastest, but Kayla was close behind). After we finished, in record timing, we were in the kitchen cleaning carrots and wrapping sandwiches.That afternoon we worked in the Good Shepherds “Christmas Store Program”. The Christmas Store, now in its 17th year, is a valued Good Shepherd program. For 14 days the Food Bank at the Good Shepherd’s Warehouse is transformed into the Christmas Store, where more than 2,000 vulnerable families can collect a Christmas Hamper containing special Christmas groceries, winter hats and mitts, and toys for the children. Us girls (Bri, Kayla, and I) joins some lovely elderly ladies in pre packing some grocery bags. We had quite the assembly line going and were singing while we packed. The boys (Cory, Brandon, Chad, and JP) help each of the customers pack all their goodies and bring it out to their taxi or rides. They were the happiest “bag boys” I have ever seen.Our second day at the Good Shepherd was spent upstairs in the warehouse organizing toys, gum, and clothes. We were really impressed with the donations that the Good Shepherd received. Companies really showed their generosity to the people of Hamilton who need help. We finished the day off with working at the Christmas store again. At the end of the each of our days we walked home with smiles that could not be stolen. Each of us felt the necessity and joy of helping others and loved every moment of being able to help.Here are some things that the SOLs had to say about their experience. All with huge smiles on our faces, the energy of the other volunteers and the clients, made our days go by fast. Not only did me meet a lot of awesome people, we all grew and learned new things about ourselves. I’m hoping if i ever have any more time off to go back and visit and help where we are needed! ~ Kayla I met a lot of really nice clients of the Good Shepherd who were some of the most grateful people I’ve met so far here in the HAMMER. All though these people have been down on there luck and have to resort to a shelter. It was so amazing to see how gracious people can be and how lending a helping hand can make someones Christmas an enjoyable one. Helping out at Good Shepherd has actually helped me remember that this Christmas there is more happiness in giving than in receiving. ~ CoryIf you are wondering if you should volunteer some where this holiday season, then believe me, you will love it! It is a simple way to make a difference in the lives of others and to bring back into focus the true meaning of Christmas. GIVING!Hope you have a Safe and Happy Christmas and New Years!Nettie BrownSchool of Leadership and Hero Holiday Administrator
I only knew her briefly, but my friend, JK, told me all about her. She was 17 and ever since as long as anyone can remember, she was passionate about anything that was pink. In fact, although her real name was Bu-Tomb, she quickly got the nickname of “Pink” when she was first found on the streets as a young child. She was one of the first children that Kru Nam had ever rescued out of the horrors of the brothels, and she had been at the home since 2001. She had a mom who was still on the streets and recently made it through a drug rehab program. She had three other siblings, yet she had no official existence. She was stateless, she was at risk, and she had a smile that would melt your heart.It had gone unnoticed for quite a while, slowly and quietly stealing her strength, her health and her future. Like a stealthy thief it may have laid dormant in her body for years, but no one will ever know for how long. She was one of 3 kids from the children’s home to ever make it to the 11th grade and she was sponsored by kind foreigners who cared about their future. She loved school and she had hopes of what she wanted to be when she graduated. Although she owned nothing of any material value in this world, she was loved, she was valued and she was among her family in that place. It was a large family full of other kids like her and full of caring adults who worked tirelessly to help them let go of the past and embrace a future that could be free from exploitation and shame. Her life was a bright light and that light was stolen by an enemy that no one saw coming: cancer.Pink was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year. By the time she received the official diagnosis, the cancer had begun to spread to her stomach and she was unable to digest food normally. Her young life was quickly slipping away and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Because she was stateless, there wasn’t a lot that anyone cared to do about it -anyone except her family at the children’s home. Together they located her mother, found support to help cover the medical costs and together they made her last time on earth beautiful and full of dignity. Different staff members would stay beside her bed. Although she wasn’t supposed to be there according to the hospital, her birth mother would come and sleep under her bed each night, trying to be as close to her as possible. Kru Nam made sure that Pink was treated like a princess. Despite the fact that she shared a hospital room with 8 other patients, she was in her only little world of pink: pink headbands, pink pillowcases and even a pink robe.Pink’s birth mother was Burmese and Catholic, and as the priest was located and brought to give her her last rites, they hooked her frail body up to adrenaline. Her heart monitor steadily beeped as the priest prayed and her mother started to cry and sing the songs of the dead. JK and a small group of friends stood by in silence. Slowly the monitor went flat, and as Pink’s spirit left the earth JK’s cell phone rang. It was Kru Nam. “What just happened? I know that something just happened.” She somehow knew. I think a mother’s heart always knows, deep down inside, no matter how many “children” she has.Pink was a gift to the world and her life was worth the effort. She left the earth knowing that she was loved and that there were people who cared deeply about her. Like countless millions of young lives at risk around the world, she needed to know that there was a safe place to grow up in and there was a safe place to live out her dreams. Pink’s memorial service was sweet and beautiful; just like her. She was dressed in her favourite pink shirt.Kru Nam is one of the heroes that LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) has had the privilege to support and work alongside of through our Hero Holiday programs in Thailand. We need your help to be able to continue to do so. We are returning to work with Kru Nam in August of 2010 and we would love to have you join us. Your life can be a part of the picture of hope that we are endeavoring to draw for kids such as Pink who need to know that someone believes in them. Please consider playing a part in creating that picture.
The stage lights are coming back up as Jon walks out to the centre of the stage. Flashing a smile, he puts the microphone close and begins: “Me da mucho gusto estar aqui con ustedes, ojala te diviertas y te esta gustando la presentaciÃÂ³n! My name is Jon and I am a drummer for the band Hundredfold. It’s really great to be here today with all of you.” Seeing his confidence and hearing it in his voice, you would never guess the story that lies beneath it all.Racism. It’s ugly, it’s offensive, and as a Canadian, I want to believe it doesn’t happen in my country. But to our shame it does happen and often in the place where a generation should be safe to be free from it: it happens in the schoolyard, in the hallways and even in the classroom.Jon was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Mexican parents. When his family returned to Mexico City, he quickly adjusted to his new life by playing soccer. Within a very short period of time he and his brother were discovered for an elite team that was famous around the country. Traveling to compete all over Central America, becoming a young celebrity in the world of soccer, he even began to do TV commercials for products, enjoying public admiration. His future in the world of soccer looked extremely bright. He was young, he was promising and he was loved. But when Jon was 10 years old, his family decided to move to Winnipeg, Manitoba to start a new life – and everything changed. Their parents needed to find better employment opportunities for the future of their family and John and his brother had to come to terms with leaving behind their dreams of a bright future of professional sports.As he entered junior high in the public school system in Winnipeg, Jon went through extreme culture shock. Not only were the city, the weather, and the language all foreign to him, but he quickly realized that there was something he had never considered: that “Mexican” was a dirty word. Each day became a routine of torturous racism and bullying as Jon was victimized in the schoolyard, in the hallways and in the classroom. Jon recalled moments of being held down, kicked, spat upon and being viciously verbally assaulted – all because he was different. In the midst of all the shock and pain, he began to withdraw, turning inward and entertaining dark thoughts.In their vulnerability, many students like Jon search desperately to silence the pain – and he was no exception. Fueled by pain and self-hatred, he began to spiral down into a haze of drug abuse, depression and suicidal obsessions. Dreaming of escaping the pain seemed so much more comforting than crawling back up. After a failed suicide attempt, Jon had a reality shot. He needed help. His brother recognized that Jon needed an outlet to express himself and talked his parents into buying Jon a drum kit. A drum kit may seem like a random thought, but it turned out to be just what Jon needed to let out his frustration and discover something he was really gifted in. As he began to realize his abilities and passion for music, Jon also began to trust again. Shortly after he received his drum kit, Jon met Gord, a middle aged man who ran the local youth centre. Gord began to give Jon opportunities to be a part of something he could feel excited about and something that helped him find his way out of the pain of rejection and school violence. Through his kindness and encouragement, Gord gave Jon the ability to believe in himself and to believe that he could do something significant despite his history.Today, Jon is touring with Hundredfold, a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba that tours in high schools with our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) road teams. Jon has the opportunity to stand in front of students every day, sharing his story and his heart. Through his courage to be honest with students about racism, pain, and rejection, he is able to give them an even greater gift to hold on to: the gift of hope.Because Gord took the time to believe in Jon, thousands of Canadian high school students have been given the chance to hear about hope. There are many youth like Jon in our schools and communities, but there are also many “Gords” – the adults who are willing to take some time out of their own lives to believe that they can make a difference. I may never meet you, Gord, but I want to say thanks for all the long hours and love you put into that youth centre. Many lives are changed because of your willingness to see the potential in someone else. You are a hero.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) has the privilege to meet thousands of students across the nation each year, and each of them is unique and full of incredible potential. Many of them are like Jon and many of them just need to know that someone believes in them and they are going to get through the pain that they are feeling right now in the middle of their circumstances. You can be a part of what we do! Check out www.livedifferent.com to see how you can get involved.