Carlos & Me

I loved watching him talk in his native language. He had so much to say and a mind full of endless potential. If only he had the opportunity. For Carlos school is not guaranteed, and even if he graduates high school he will continue to work in the fields with his brother. He tells me he loves the peacefulness of his country, the beautiful mountains surrounding his warm community. It’s amazing how the community works as a family. Eager to help out on the house in any way they can. We close the interview with a hug and a smile. I can see clearly that we have connected and have become amigos. carlos-and-i.jpg


Later in the afternoon the translator Angelina informs me that he wants me to meet his family. As soon as the words leave her lips a huge smile explodes on my face that just won’t diminish. It fills my heart and I grow anxious. But the working day ends too fast and I’ll just have to wait till the next day.

That night I try to share my excitement but it’s too hard to explain and I can’t captivate my feelings. I am anxious and nervous but I sleep through till the next morning.  

Finally, on the work site the next day I meet up with Carlos. He brings me to his house which is made up of cardboard, a dirt floor, and a sheet to cover the door. I am so honoured to be welcomed into their home. His family gives me warm smiles. I meet his sister, his mother and father and his father says that whenever I visit Mexico again, his home is my home. A tear of happiness forms in my eyes. It warms my heart that he can let me into his family without barley meeting him. He has such trust and love. I hand Carlos a drawing of me and him playing soccer. He smiles and shows his family. I feel that I have made a positive impact on his life but he will never know how much he has changed mine. Thank you Carlos, thank you Mexico, thank you Hero Holiday, you’ve changed my life.


Small summary of Hero Holiday from me:

Hero holiday doesn’t end when you hit the border in Canada; it’s a life changing experience that never runs out. You end up seeing the world in a whole new way. The walls that hide poverty are knocked down, and replaced with walls that house a deserving family. Layers that cover your confidence are peeled away, and replaced by layers of knowledge. Down in Mexico we have created everlasting friendships, but a special, rare friendship called family.


Hailey Withers

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 31st, 2010

Buzz Lightyear and colourful wigs!

I’m sitting in the Hero Holiday coach right now about to leave the place I called home for a month. I’m excited to go home and see my family and friends but at the same time I can’t believe I’m having to say goodbye to all these wonderful people I’ve met, the adventures we’ve been on and the last remnants of those memories made together. The past few days have been a blast, starting out with the always extremely moving dedication day and ending with time to relax, stretch out those sore muscles and lay on the beach for a while. Yesterday we got to sleep in a bit and enjoy a relaxing start to the day before heading to our mountain climb and then to this awesome oasis in the middle of nowhere. It was so nice to enjoy the refreshing water (even when I got thrown in a couple times) and just chill out for a couple of hours, eating hot dogs and lying under the sun. We had our final debrief when we got home, then prepared for a night of high-energy fiesta-ing! A group of people- including Andrew, Dawn and Anthonie – had birthdays throughout the trip so we wanted to celebrate them all with a true Mexican party. The night was filled with yummy burritos and ice-cream sundaes, taking turns bashing the pinata (Anthonie had picked a very life-like Buzz Lightyear) and dancing to Santi’s awesome remixes. We even got Julia and Momma D boogieing in these great colourful wigs! The fiesta was the perfect way to end the trip and I can’t wait to see the pictures from the past few days and the rest of the trip.44730_423975860325_95760375325_5104193_8222579_n.jpgI’ve had the privilege of being a part of four house dedication days so far, and there is truth in every word when I say that their power to impact me never fades – each one is as emotionally moving as the last. This trip my group dedicated a house to a young couple with a three-year-old girl named Paola. The moment I saw her she immediately reached out to give me a hug, I could tell I’d never meet anyone like her. I was amazed that she could have so much unbound energy in her, that her smile could be so wide and full of laughter, and that her eyes could be so bright and not seem to betray any sign of the harsh life she lives.44449_423975325325_95760375325_5104158_2504402_n.jpgMaybe there is some advantage in being naive, maybe being so young means she doesn’t have to bare the whole weight of such a life on her shoulders as her parents do. But it is still a wonder to me that she, and all the other children I’ve had the chance to meet here, can be so full of life and so eager to share that energy with even us, strangers who’ve just planted themselves in her world and who don’t even speak her language. And it’s not only the children. It’s every family I’ve met down here who has opened the door to their life to us, let us in with open arms and shared their stories and even what little food that had. They treated us as if we had been their lifelong friends. Where you live, which family do you know who would invite in a complete stranger and do all this for them? I certainly don’t know any. The hearts of these people are bigger and stronger than I could have ever imagined, and they have inspired me to make mine a little bigger and stronger as well. They have also inspired me to use the growth I’ve experienced and not just let it sit there as if it never happened. Before I came on this trip I knew who I wanted to be in life, but I honestly had little idea of who I was. And though I know this is something almost everyone experiences, the seemingly impossible ‘search’ for self-actualization, I still was so angry with myself for not finding what I was looking for, and so confused about what I was even trying to find. But going on a trip like this, and experiencing everything I have in a world many people don’t believe, or don’t want to believe, exists, has changed that. Maybe I still don’t have all the answers, but I have enough to feel confident about the person I am. Maybe I’ve helped put up walls for these families, but they’ve helped to take down mine. They’ve taught me that happiness can be as simple as loving another, as easy to find as those little things we take for granted every day.Maybe I’ve brought hope and change into their lives, but they’ve brought even more into mine.44730_423975845325_95760375325_5104190_6453334_n.jpg

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 27th, 2010


One. The number one can be seen as any old insignificant number or it can represent life. One dollar: the amount people make working in the dumps for an entire day. One, the number of  meals people can  maybe afford to  eat per day. One. In every one day 30 000 children die of preventable diseases.  It is unimaginable to think that this number can represent so much hurt and suffering yet also represent incredible hope. One, the number of thoughts it takes to imagine a change. One, the number of people it takes to believe in a cause. One, the number of worlds we should live in.People, including myself, live in a individualistic world where hard choices seem unbearable. Have you ever had to choose which of your children eat tonight? Which of your children need to not go to school in order to help bring in income? These are obstacles that challenge others on a daily basis, yet seem like a different world to us.  Today we went to a public garbage dump where adults, teenagers and children were rummaging through for what I had to assume was gold. It was gold; it was  a single slice of dirty bread or a half eaten decaying fish. This was gold. This was their gold.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 26th, 2010

On the DR Medical Trip.

“A picture is worth a 1000 words” is a common saying that most of us have heard throughout our lives, and many of us live by it. However, being a part of Hero Holiday has made me realize that sometimes this is not the case. There is nothing like having the first-hand experience, meeting eye-to-eye with the people that we would normally see in these pictures. After just one day of being on the Hero Holiday, I have already learned and experienced more then I could ever have dreamed of.   Our first work day started off with a visit to the Public Hospital, where each and every one of us realized how grateful we are for the health care system we have back in Canada. The health care here is not even comparable to what we provide and receive, and what we most often take for granted. Just by walking into the hospital, you can tell how un-sterile the building is, how crowded and unorganized the health care system is, and how it can all be improved through a little education and help from others. The files containing patient information and medical history are thrown in garbage bags lined up along the floor, people are piled together waiting to get into the emergency and see a doctor, and at times the maternity ward is so crowded, women have to deliver their babies on garbage bag covered tables. Here there are not enough nurses to tend on the patients, so family members must stay with them. Each family must provide the patients with bed sheets, food, water, any prescribed medications (right down to gauze) and anything else they may require throughout their stay. This often places a burden on the family, not only because they have a family member in the hospital, but they lose the day of wages because they must take care and provide for the patient throughout their stay.  Also, the main thing we realized while visiting the hospital, was how un-sterile all of the equipment and the building is. The walls often contain mold and residue, and the procedures carried out by doctors and nurses, including the equipment used to perform these procedures, are often done without being properly sterilized. This poses a huge risk to the patients, and this is often something we do not recognize when we go to the hospital, since we think it is common sense and comes as a second nature to us. The hospital experience was completely unexpected, and I could have never imagined it to be as different as what we have.   Our second task for the day was to help build a wall at Cangrejo between a school and a wood shop. The wall had to be built in order for the school to be a recognized place of education by the government, and we were there to help! We had to make cement without any machines, and carry the buckets of cement and blocks for the wall down over an incline. It was very hard work, in very hot weather, and we were very tired only after a couple hours. The Dominican workers whom we worked along side of, however, did no complaining, and when asked if they were tired, they laughed and said “No!”. This experience was amazing, and really made me appreciate my jobs back in Canada. These people do strenuous work every day, for very little, if any, money. I cannot express the appreciation I have for these individuals, and by helping them for just a couple hours, they appreciated us.Just one day with Hero Holiday has already changed my life forever, and the things that I have experienced I will take back to Canada, more specifically Newfoundland (where I am from), and I will make it my priority to make as many people aware and involved as possible, since just a little bit of help can go a long way!~ Samantha

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 25th, 2010

As The World Turns

    Everyday is a new day for everyone every where. Life goes on; you do what you need to do to satisfy needs and then hopefully wants. I did say every where which is true but here in Vincente Guerrero obtaining “wants” are months of saving pay and having all of your necessities  is a blessing.In relation, there was a moment yesterday while at our work site. While playing with the youngest boy of the family we are building for (Adrean is his name), he unfortunately obtained a cut on his heel. Whether this was from playing in the dry brambles or from his ill fitting shoes I cannot say. In an instant of finding his wound he said something in Spanish and ran towards is home leaving me to finish building our project. With a piece of tissue in hand Adrean came back to join me in fun while dabbing away the blood from his cut. It was when he started showing my co-builders his “boo boo” that one of them offered a Band-aid. As soon as it was applied my little friend stopped cringing and went on playing.Would you consider a Band-aid something you will always have around your house? Unfortunately it’s not that easy for everyone…~ AmberEveryone is different in their own way. Whether its from your personality or what language you speak, everyone’s different. During this trip I have noticed how different people are and how much they are willing to step out of their comfort zone to try and adjust other people and to their personalities or even languages.Yesterday at our work site, I noticed how much even the kids try to adjust to us being there. I met two boys, who asked me what my name was, I told them it was Paige and they tried for about 5 minutes to pronounce it right. But every time they said it, they pronounced it “Peach.” It was really cute and it made me realize that they are trying just as hard as us Canadians to learn parts of each others languages.So, whether people have different personalities, or live in different country, or even speak a different language, we shouldn’t and we don’t let that be a barrier for meeting new people.~ Paige

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 22nd, 2010

Loving the Second Day in Mexico

After many hours of driving from Vancouver to Vincente Guerrero, Mexico (including my flight from Winnipeg), we are on the morning of our second build day. Its amazing to see how much Hero Holiday involves growth. Growth between people, growth in the the house we are building, the relationships with people, and our knowledge of what we can do to make a change. My relationships between people has definitely sky-rocketed in the past couple days, seeing that everyone is comfortable enough to crack jokes about my Winnipeg location. Still, what I love is that it doesn’t matter where we’re from out here and no matter how much people will kid around, in the end everyone is equal and we are all here for the same purpose. Yesterday was our first day of building and it was amazing. Just to see the love and appreciation in the family and communities eyes. People here base their happiness off of love and the relationship between each other which is so refreshing coming from a society whose happiness comes from money or the things we have. I played my first game of baseball with a few of the boys from the community of the build site and the whole time I’m sure I just had a huge smile plastered on my face. Another highlight so far was the chalk wall that we created. Almost all the participants and kids filled it with names, peace signs, hearts, suns, and illustrations of each other. I love how willing everyone is to interact with us, even though they have no idea who we are, and do not even speak the same language. It truly is the people that are making this experience so special for me, and I can’t wait to interview some of the people today on the build (an assignment given to each of the Hero Holiday participants). In a country that’s foreign to me I can’t believe how incredibly safe I feel. Yesterday we all went for ice cream which was on the side of the main road. When the cars would come by honking and staring, the guys of our group would wave and yell hello back. The love that the community is sharing with us makes me feel at home. I already have decided I want to come back next year, and I can’t wait to continue the rest of the week even though I don’t want it all to end!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 20th, 2010

Reunited Friends and the Second August Mexico Begins

After many hours of pleasant, but admittedly long travel, we have finally spent a beautiful, entire day in Mexico! Armed with sunscreen and water bottles and precautions and messages of love ringing in our ears, we stepped off of the bus to begin building a a new home.

There were children, the family eager to help, and a couple other curious onlookers, all there waiting for us. But the first thing that jumped at you, was the bright colours of something like nine full vending stalls, filled with bags and bracelets and necklaces and of course, those beautiful, warm, “ponchos” or hoodies that are soft and keep you warm during the cold Mexican nights. I walked around, hoping, that maybe a Lady I knew from last summer would be in one of these stalls.

I rounded the corner of the bus and saw two women that looked quite familiar sitting by the table. And then I saw this woman, a simple vendor, who changed many of my perspectives in previous times I’ve enjoyed this trip. She saw me and remembered me, and I ran to her for a big hug after a year of separation. We talked a bit, despite the language barrier and my ineptness at speaking Spanish. I asked how she has been, how business has been and her kids. I showed her the bracelet I bought from her last year, and tried to convey that whenever I saw it I thought of her and hoped she and her family were doing well. I wanted to have more a conversation with my friend so I brought over our interpreter, Santiago. Through him our conversation became much easier and my friend reminded me of the loonie I had given her last year. She told me that she kept it and thought of me when she saw it. This immediately melted my heart and I nearly got teary on the spot. I keep thinking how insane it is that you can spend two weeks, just in the same vicinity as someone, someone I was not building for, someone I was not particularly there to help, someone whom the most I had done for was contribute a few dollars to and talk to every once in a while, would still remember ME. It was an incredible moment, finding out that being here truly does affect more than just the one family receiving a house. I found out that, Yes, every single individual can make their own difference within the group. She wanted to know about my year, and asked how I had been and we smiled a lot, and I feel like it was a very empowering moment for the both of us.

That particular moment is one of many that this experience has etched in my mind. One I will be able to look back on if doubt ever finds its way back to me. Even as this is my third Hero Holiday, I continue to learn from the families we help, the people around us, the other participants and LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) staff. After my encounter with Michaela, we built and painted walls and roof panels, and I haven’t any idea what the rest of this trip will be. I do know that I look forward to every moment, to every experience, and for every opportunity to spread the love.

Author: LiveDifferent


Happy World Humanitarian Day!


  1. having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people.
  2. a person actively engaged in promoting human welfare and social reforms, as a philanthropist.
  3. a person who professes ethical or theological humanitarianism.

They are everywhere I look:HaitiThey are the Davids and the Frantzos in Haiti. The ones who live and work among the world’s forgotten orphans. Each day, working to make sure there is enough food, safety, love and trust. Together with their wives and the tireless staff that surround them, they work to make sure that hundreds of children are safe from the dangers of slavery, exploitation, starvation and disease. They do it on a budget that is almost inconceivable sometimes in it’s limitations, and they do it with grace and love – always motivated by kindness. They reach out to restaveks, earthquake orphans, street children, and abandoned kids. They are true humanitarians, living out the fullness of the human existence each day.Humanitarian DayThey are the Garcias in Dominican Republic. The ones who pick up their family and move to a community because they realize there is no other hope for those people to ever be educated and move forward. They recognize the challenges and frustrations, and yet they choose to stay rooted there, believing that hope and compassion can change a community and that education that free them for the future. And they are right. They work hard to build something that will last and will shape the future, and their commitment is not forgotten.Vantage PointThey are the Kru Nams in Thailand, fighting the tide of human traffickers each day, continually working to free stateless children of the bondages of slavery, sexual exploitation and abandonment. Inspiring their fellow workers to be dedicated and always motivated by love and compassion, they work quietly and tirelessly to bring freedom and hope to hundreds of children, one precious life at a time.They are the Andrews and Dawns in Mexico, selling their possessions and moving to the middle of nowhere because they believed that they could help to shape the future for countless migrant workers in a forgotten corner of the world. As part of the LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) staff there, they work tirelessly to find families in need of adequate housing and hope. Each day they pour their hearts out and do so with kindness and grace, unknowingly challenging many people to aspire to the same end.They are the staff I work with, like countless thousands in other organizations around the world, that are motivated not by a pay cheque, but by something much more intrinsic: they are motivated by a passion for change and the compassion to see it happen.True FriendshipThey are the hundreds of incredible people that join us on our Hero Holiday trips, volunteer on our road teams in Canada, and are motivated by love wherever they are. This is what it is to be a humanitarian: to live in the fullness of one’s human experience by living a life motivated by hope. Some of us are specially qualified and trained, some of us are willing to do whatever it takes, all of us are part of a bigger picture that is making a difference.Thursday, August 18 is World Humanitarian Day. If you are motivated to bring hope and change to the world and are actively doing something about it, then Happy World Humanitarian Day. Have you hugged a humanitarian lately?”By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.” ~ Thomas Browne, Sr.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 19th, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

3 years ago, on August 17, I started my first Hero Holiday. It’s amazing how my life has changed in the last 3 years because of Hero Holiday. I would like to bring you back to the school year of 2006 – 2007, my grade 10 year. Throughout grade 10 I was bullied and harassed by my fellow students. This had an effect on me. I had problems with low self esteem, I was depressed, I was suicidal. The more depressed I got, the more social anxiety I felt. The best thing that happened to me in high school was when LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) did a presentation at my school in the spring of 2007. After seeing their presentation I immediately signed up for the Mexico Hero Holiday.When the school year ended, I was so depressed and so anti-social that all I wanted to do was stay in my room and play video games. Day in and day out, that is what I did. I became comfortable in my own environment. I was afraid of the outside world. Answering the phone, opening the door to the house, and even going on facebook became the hardest tasks for me. I would do whatever it took to avoid anything social. This did not help me, the more I stayed in the house the more depressed I got. I thought this was normal. It’s what all teenagers do. That’s why I kept this to myself. My 16th birthday was special. No, I didn’t get a get a car, a new tv, or new clothes. Instead, i found out I had social anxiety from doing online research. Lucky me huh.? A couple of days I visited the doctor and was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. I remember the night of August 16, 2007, the night before my hero holiday trip. I was a nervous wreck, I could not sleep. I did not want to go to Mexico, I did not want to leave me room. The only reason I followed through with the trip was because my parents paid for the trip. I took the greyhound form Victoria to Abbotsford to meet up with the hero holiday group. This was was a BIG step for me. I was so nervous, so far away from home. When I met up with the other 27 participants, I barely spoke, even though we had a group dinner and orientation together. On the 18th, we headed by bus down south to San Diego. On the bus, I’d didn’t say a word til 7 hours into the trip. Not even to the person next beside me. A game of Texas Hold’em became my haven. I got lucky and played well, I actually won. My confidence grew, I started to open up. My true colours started to show, and by the time we hit Mexico no one could shut me up! For me this is what I call social high. This is when your surrounded by people who make you so happy that there is no way you can ever feel bad. I thought that feeling would only last for so long, and then I would revert back to my anti social, depressed self, but that didn’t happen.In Mexico I saw what poverty looked like. Poverty surrounded me 24/7. I realized how lucky I was not to worry about my needs, like water food and shelter. During my house build I became attached to the kids on my site. The family welcomed me with open arms, just like everyone on the Hero Holiday trip. By the time my trip ended, I realized I could never go back to my old self. I had to change. I had to be more confident, more social, and more importantly I had to be happy with the person I am.During the first week I got back I told everyone about my mental illness, and I wrote a blog for LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) about my battle with mental illness. I became a role model in my school for mental illness. During my grade 11 year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) did another presentation at my school. I was part of the presentation. I talked about my trip for 2 minutes in front of 700 people. A year ago this would have been my worst fear, but a after my life changing experience, it was as easy as waking in the morning. I didn’t stop there. I did presentations for my friends, for the church I went to, and high schools in Victoria as well. I became a role model among my friends. In January of this year I shared my story on the local news. It’s only been 3 years but I’ve changed so much.At this very moment, I’m in Mexico. I’m a summer intern for both hero holiday trips in Mexico this August. A couple of days ago, I just finished my 6th house build, and I’ve been on 5 hero holiday trips so far. Even though I’m not the best builder, I try to be the most welcoming and social person on every trip. Since I’m loud, random, entertaining, caring, and Asian, I stick out like the great wall of china! During my stay in Mexico I try to make friends with everyone. My Mexican friends and I share a special bond: we have a secret hand shake. Every time I meet a nice person I do the secret hand shake which turns into a hug. Because of my experience with Hero Holiday, I have friends all over the world. I have friends like Duncan from P.E.I, to David who works at grocery store down here in Mexico.I encourage everyone to come on a Hero Holiday. You meet people your age, and become close friends. You will build a house for a family, whom you call your own. You will cry when you give them a house and say goodbye. When it’s over, you will never regret it. Your life will be changed, and you will always want to go back to visit. That’s why I’m back for the 4th consecutive summer. You only live once, and life is too short. For me, I never lived untill I went on a hero holiday trip. For me, today is my 3rd birthday. Happy birthday to me!~ Johnston

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 18th, 2010

Norberto, You will be Missed.

If you have been a part of any of our Hero Holiday D.R. trips, you will probably remember Norberto (some called him Norbertico). At the age of three, while on a motoconcho with his father, they were hit by a drunk driver and from that point forward, he was confined to a wheelchair and had paralysis from the waist down, with permanent damage in some of his organs. This past spring, Norberto contracted dengue fever and his body began to shut down. In need of many blood transfusions and almost continual hospitalization, he continued to inspire many of our Hero Holiday participants and staff with his gentle spirit and incredible smile whenever we would see him.On August 14, at 7:50 AM, unable to have the strength to defeat his illness any longer, Norberto passed away with his grandmother by his side in the Santiago hospital. He will be missed by many of us and his story is now written on our hearts. We will miss his soft brown eyes smiling and beckoning us to sit beside him for a minute or to smile back. We will miss his presence at all of our community gatherings at the school, and most of all, we will miss the opportunity to see him in the years to come.One of six children in his family, Norberto lived with his grandma in Arroyo Seco, as his own parents couldn’t care for him. His grandma loved him deeply and would often thank different team members for the gift that the school was for him and all the children in the community.Many of you have been a part of bringing hope to Norberto, his grandma and an entire community that only a few years ago, dreamed of having a school in their community. Today, their lives are a part of our legacy together.Some of you helped out financially when Norberto needed medical care and for that we are grateful. Some of you even took the time to travel and visit him in the hospital, and your kindness will never be forgotten.It’s our hope in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) that lives like Norberto’s will remind us all of why we do what we do – because no act of kindness, compassion or generosity is ever wasted.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 16th, 2010