Day Seven – Shack Experience – “Last Day”

shoveling-out-truck.jpgThe days had begun to run together but everyone knew what today was. Last day. Last day of the shack experience. One last day of walking the kids to school first thing in the morning, one last day of hard work, one last evening of cooking over the fire and one last sleep in the shack. Most people living this kind of life do not have the luxury of thinking this way. This is their life day in and day out. The Mexican workers we met throughout the week “were mystified with us, that a group of rich white people wanted to do a low-paying job and live in Mexico when their dream is to get away from here and live a better life” (Allie, School of Leadership Student).The students worked hard doing landscaping all day. This involved lots of swinging the pick-axe, shoveling, lifting rocks and raking. After a week of working outside they were a well-oiled machine even though after a week of labour their bodies were tired and sore. As they worked together they laughed, teased each other, encouraged each other and gave each other space when someone needed it. They were determined that the homeowners would return to find a nicely sloped yard instead of a drop off outside their front door. And they accomplished it.The leadership students accomplished a lot this week. Some were skeptical going in about whether they were going to survive – and here they were on day seven. They had learned not only about what kind of lives other people live but they also learned so much about themselves. They learned to be grateful that they had a shack to go to sleep in at the end of a day of work. That they do not need as many ‘things’ as they thought they did to survive or be happy. The students were grateful for the jobs that they have had in Canada. “Back home my last job was tedious work, packing books for a distributing company and I felt underpaid at $11/hour. Thinking back on that I feel quite silly and ashamed of my greed. I wanted more money…for what? More clothes, new shoes? I lived in a sturdy house; there was food in my fridge; parents that told me to reach for the stars” (Allie, School of Leadership Student). They learned they have so much to be thankful for.The students learned that they do not always have to be doing something and that they can have a good time just sitting around a fire chatting with friends. By the end of the week bugs were dealt with casually rather than calling in the troops. They learned that they could eat until they are full on about two dollars a day each. They marveled at how cheerful most people they met are despite the fact that they must be tired from the hard work. They learned to work together, to budget their money and make decisions together. And even though they do not want their parents to know, they learned how much work there is to do around the home after work but before bed – and that if everyone pitches in and works together it gets done much faster. There is so much more that they learned that cannot be captured within a blog. Finally they learned that they need to believe in themselves. That they can accomplish more than they think possible and that they are their own worst enemy. When they decided to say ‘why not, let’s try it’ they were surprised and amazed at what they could do.survivors-waiting-at-gate.jpgThat all being said, none were ready to take on a second week of living in the shack and were eagerly waiting at the house gate after their final sleep in the shack to return home. I am proud of the students for digging deep and pulling together to not only get through the week but for trying to get the most that they could from the experience. I hope that the lessons they learned will carry through to the rest of their time together in the School of Leadership and as they return home at the end of the year.Rose, School of Leadership Mexico Facilitator

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 29th, 2010

A Place To Rest Our Heads!

71766_442632259316_510834316_5369319_6778028_n.jpgOne of the most important things tour has taught each of us is the beauty of a bed – whether that means a foamy, an air mattress, a bay window, a couch or a box spring- if we can sleep on it, we’re grateful for it. Yes, we will lay our ten little heads down wherever our billets put us, and we will love every second of it! Speaking of both billets and sleep…our time in British Columbia has been sprinkled and stuffed with both. Sprinkled with sleep, and stuffed with billet love! Not only have we had a bed everywhere we go (even if it’s in a rock climbing cave!) we’ve gotten to eat (huge, delicious amounts of food prepared by wonderful and talented hands!), we’ve gotten to explore (downtown Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna…and more!) we’ve had adventures (like sailing!) and mostly, we’ve been shown what kindness is in every form. Although we had to get through some snow and some bus trouble to get there, we had a warm welcome to Vancouver Island.


Meeting Jacob’s parents was truly a treat (his Mom had no idea he talks about her every day!) and his friends all brought scrumptious treats to share, and our weekend only got better. We were privileged to have a native of the city and got to explore downtown Victoria, see a Hillsong United concert, drive in a seventies Volkswagen van, sail, and look out over beautiful Brentwood Bay all weekend. 62529_433813204316_510834316_5200121_1823177_n.jpgAfter the much needed recharge, we headed up the island for the week, where we met…MORE people! This is where sleeping in the bay window comes in – we were staying in a beautiful home on the edge of the world – or at least, that’s what all the ocean looks like twenty feet away and through the giant windows!


From Hamilton all the way to the edge of the West coast, we have been welcomed with open arms. Canada is where many call home, and that’s where we are always made to feel – at home. The truly special thing about this tour and the billets is just that. We are not only fed and bedded, we are welcomed home. As we prepare to leave the Westest of the West, (even with all our recent bus troubles) we say goodbye to oceans, mountains, the Malahat and Kokahola highways, and to people we now consider our families, because that’s really what it’s all about. Family is where you go to feel accepted, safe, and welcome. As Sarah often says, accompanied by her famous laugh…the West is the best. Our tour bus is home to our little LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) fam jam, but our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) family now extends across this great country. We’ve seen mountains, the two J’s (Jacob and Jenna Lane) have jumped in lakes, the prairies were flat, and we’ve logged too many miles to count – but we know we’ve always got a place to go home to, even if we aren’t exactly sure where or who it will be next. And that’s something each and every one of us values more than we value our beds.




Leah, a School of Leadership Student on the Road

Author: LiveDifferent


Day 6 – Shack Experience – “Only One More Day”

shack-groups-in-doorways.jpgDay 6 of the shack experience, day 56 of living in Mexico and I think that I’ve started to go a bit crazy because I didn’t think twice about the rooster that just walked by me in the yard (we don’t actually own roosters). I’ve started to be able to tell the time by how far the sun is away from the power lines across the road from us and the only music I whistle is the jingle from the gas truck that drives by every hour blasting the music through a speaker on its roof.We got to sleep in, even if it was only till 7am. With our backs trying to stop us with every move, the team managed to crawl out of the shack one more time. On this morning the sun had just woken up itself to give us light for breakfast. We ate quickly as we still need to walk our “kids” to school before meeting the van for 7:30am.We arrived at the beach and met a man with his wife and five-month baby boy who every day comes to this same part of the beach and looks for what ever rocks were in demand. Today he instructed us that we were going to be looking for medium to small black rocks, which need to be smooth and rounded. We thought it would be reasonably easy considering we were on a rock beach, kind of like what you would find on the East coast of Canada. But we soon found out that it was no easy task. rocks-shane.jpgWe got into pairs and picked a spot on the beach, sat down and started looking for black, smooth, round rocks. We dug and threw unwanted rocks out of the way to hopefully find one we were looking for underneath the one being tossed. As soon as you were about to go nuts from not finding anything you would see one that fits the bill. You would quickly throw it into the bucket and keep searching.Lunch consisted of two hot dogs wrapped in tortillas, hard boiled egg, one carrot – and five cookies which were the best part of every lunch we had. Once lunch was over we continued to pick rocks. Mid-afternoon our team combined all the rocks we had picked and put them on a tarp so the man could sort through them to see which ones were good. Our combined effort was only about seven, five gallon buckets full. This is only worth 70 pesos of income. A regular day for the family we worked for is about thirty buckets between the two of them. Even though we worked hard we still didn’t even meet the quarter mark. It was our first day…When we got home we started our routine of going to the market to get groceries for supper that night plus breakfast and lunch for the next day. Some people washed clothes that were in desperate need of cleaning, some took cold water bucket showers, and others wrote in their journals. Around 5pm we started the fire and got the water boiling for supper which was going to be pasta with tomato sauce with carrots, green peppers and onions. Plus five cookies for dessert with some saved for a late night snack; and by late night I mean 7pm.Around 7:30 we all crawled into our spots in the shack for bed and hoped that the bugs will not intrude into our sleeping bags during the night. We all talked to each other until one by one open conversations were replaced by closed eyes, ready for what ever sleep would come that night. Our sleep was not only interrupted by lumps in the dirt digging into our hips and ribs, or a sore arm that has been laid on too long, or the snoring of someone that was getting sleep besides you. But this night was special because it was not only interrupted by all these normal things but this was the night it rained. By rain I mean spraying the hose on the roof of our shack for twenty minutes. The sound of water hitting plastic that is three feet above your head is a sound I will never forget. Its the sound of “please don’t leak, please don’t leak” to “push that low spot up and get rid of the pooling water“. Then came the sound of screaming from the girls side of the shack because the water that had pooled in the corner of their roof, gave out and flooded their room. Its also the sound of Shane and Matt talking to each other saying that we were thankful we put cardboard and strips of wood across under the plastic to reinforce the roof. No leaks for the dudes, but for the dames it was another story. After it rained the girls dried off as best they could and went back to sleep. As we closed our eyes to get back to sleep, all that was in our minds was that there was just one more day in the shack and we could pull through. We also thought about all the people who deal with this every time it rains, which is more than you think when you think of Mexico. I’m thankful for just having to go through it one time, and will never forget that night.Matt and Shane, School of Leadership Students living in ‘The Shack’

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 28th, 2010

Day Five – The Shack Experience – ‘Inga’s Story’

starting-work-at-sunrise.jpgThis morning we woke at 5:00am to do our regular morning routine by flashlight – fill our water bottles, brush our teeth and eat breakfast. We walked a few blocks to our designated ‘bus’ pick-up point. As we walk down the streets we usually see other people also waiting for their bus to head out to the fields.When we got to the field it was still very dark so we got to relax for a few minutes until the sun rose enough that we could see. Our job in the field today was to go along the bottoms of the tomato plants and tear away all the leaves so the tomatoes could be exposed to the sun before getting picked. We started tearing away the leaves and realized that once again the Mexicans were way faster than us.working-together-in-field.jpgWe were all working on a row together to try and catch up to the others when we began to talk to Inga. She has a story that I wouldn’t have ever expected to hear. Inga is the mother of four daughters; they all attend school. She gets up early in the morning to prepare breakfast and lunch for her family. She goes to the field by 6:00am and the girls rely on their oldest sister to take care of them before and after school. We then asked if she had a husband. She told us that she does but that he goes to the United States for six months at a time to work as a landscaper in Utah. He comes home for two weeks at a time and then goes back for another six months. He sends them money and tells his wife not to work – but she doesn’t like to just be at home all the time so she comes to work in the field. warming-tortilla-on-coals.jpgHer husband got his papers to work in the States in 1980. Inga and their girls could possibly get their papers in the next year and then hopefully move to the States so the girls can get a better education. As we listen to her story I think to myself, “Why would anyone choose to be in the field when they could be at home?’ They go home with sore legs, knees, and backs and blistered, dirty fingers everyday.It’s hard to believe that for decades people can live seeing their loved ones for only four weeks out of a whole year. It really makes you realize that you shouldn’t take for granted the time you do have with the people you love – even when it is for more than four weeks a year.Jessica, a School of Leadership Student living in ‘The Shack’

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 27th, 2010

Day Four – The Shack Experience – ‘Share Some Love’

allie-journaling.jpgEm woke me up by yelling “I hate the shack! I hate bugs!” in her sleep. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. As excited as we were rolling into a day without work, we all wondered what exactly does such a busy nation do with spare time? A ‘sun’ day it was indeed! Our plastic insulated shack keeps us warm at night but boy oh boy, as the sun hit that morning it became much to warm to sleep in.cracking-eggs-into-frying-pan.jpgWe made scrambled eggs over the fire so the first people to eat had a clean pan and the last people had very burned eggs. Some of us had a bucket shower and washed some clothes. Almost dreading a whole day of what we thought would be excruciatingly boring, we soon felt the true spirit of being Mexican. On our day without pay we worried we would be eating another day of rice and eggs. But how wrong we were! By living in a warm climate culture the saying “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours in mine” is quite literal.eating-noodles-around-fire.jpg Our next door neighbours invited us over for a lunch of ceviche and pop (not to mention some American television but shhh, don’t tell the LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) staff). We played with their puppies and baby boy. We picked up some groceries for supper and then other friends up the road invited us over for carrot cake. We played la loteria (bingo) and won chocolate coins.walking-home-from-grocery-store.jpgAs we headed to bed around whatever time the sun went down, we realized how important it is to appreciate and share love with those around you. It doesn’t matter if you have no money or all the money in the world – everyone has some love to share (and great memories to create).Em and Zoe, 2010 School of Leadership students living in “The Shack”

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 26th, 2010

Light Along the Road

Light is made up of both waves and particles and its incomprehensible speed is what the basic measurement of distance is based on. It’s all around us and it is way more than what it seems. When we look at the world, science has proven that it’s not actually the objects that we are seeing – it is the light that has left those objects and reached our eyes. The truth is that light is the only real thing that we can see in the world, and that is kind of mind-bending when you first consider it. But when I look at the world around me, perhaps the most incredible property about light is something I discovered when I first encountered the beauty of a flashlight in a dark place: light is never overcome by darkness. Never.light-along-the-road-3.jpgAt first glance, Aguas Negra can seem like a carbon copy of hundreds of thousands of communities around the world. There is the endless clamor of human life in close, unhealthy proximity: children calling out, babies crying, shouts of laughter combined with outbreaks of rage, and TV’s and stereos blaring. There is very little privacy anywhere, and the unceasing noise and chatter is combined with the smell of tepid water, human waste, mildew and garbage that threatens to completely overrun the community at times. And then there is the black water, the Aguas Negra that the community is plagued by when it rains or the river floods. It is there because, essentially, the community of about 7,500 people are living on top of an old landfill – and it’s a ghost they can’t ever get away from.But for me, that’s where the similarities end between Aguas Negra and many places around the world like it. Because in Aguas Negra, there is light along the road – literally. The Light Along the Road is a Dominican based foundation that is run by the people of Aguas Negra with the help of organizations such as ours and many others around the world. It is a women’s cooperative, an adult education centre, an elementary school, a community outreach centre, a medical resource centre and even a church. It is the product of many people seeing the bigger picture that goes beyond the limitations of their poverty right now. At the head of it, steering the vision, is a woman named Sandra. A single mother who has lived in Aguas Negra for a long time with her four kids, Sandra believes in her community and in the potential of each person she encounters within. Sandra knows almost each person in that community by name, and she works to continually inspire them to live past where they are right now in their lives and dream and work towards what they believe can happen.There are a lot of models for development around the world that are working and that can be touted as being highly successful in accomplishing their measurable goals. They are doing amazing, ground-breaking strategies to help conquer poverty’s pain and death grip. But none of those strategies ever reached Aguas Negra. They were a community getting sicker and sicker, whose children were going without an education because they couldn’t afford the $15-$20 needed for school uniforms and books, and who had nothing to focus on together but daily survival. All they needed to start to find a way out was someone like Sandra, someone who was one of them. People like Sandra are lights, and they will always shine brighter when they are surrounded by others like them.Light Along the RoadLiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s Hero Holiday groups have done many projects with Light Along the Road. Many Canadian teenagers and adults have seen the power of change for themselves as they worked among the people that call Aguas Negra ‘home’. We have helped to build homes and structures that are giving hope where it is needed – and in the process, we are changed.In a perfect world, there would be no poverty, sickness or exploitation, and in a perfect world no one would need us to believe that we can make a difference for those unable to do it for themselves. But we live in a very imperfect world, and in this world, in our lifetimes, we can shape the future by our actions today.The way out is not easy, to be honest, many may not make it. Disease, sickness, violence, hunger and pure poverty will take many of their lives and destroy their futures. But it won’t get them all. It can’t when there is light along the road because that light shines in the darkness – it is never the other way around.Light Along the RoadThis Christmas, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is returning to Aguas Negra in Dominican Republic, and we will be building homes for families who need it most – and we will have the best Christmas of our lives! You can join us! Check out for more information.Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 25th, 2010

Day Three – The Shack Experience – ‘New Appreciation’

It’s about 4:30pm and I’m currently sitting in front of a pot of water waiting for it to boil for my instant noodles…We woke up early to work with a family who picks rocks to sell for landscaping. We had to pay for a babysitter to take care of our ‘kids’ while we went to work. The family we were supposed to work with did not show up. Our neighbor pointed out that this happens often, people show up for work but are then told that there is no work for them that day. So people have to go without pay and are left wondering when the next day of work will be. In our case today, we were fortunate enough to find work doing landscaping and odd jobs.  After a hard days work, I struggle to understand how people do this on a daily basis, yet get paid so little. How do they still have enough energy to function – to cook supper, care for their families, and prepare lunch for the next day. At home in Canada after a shift at work I would go straight to bed or to the couch for a nap and then do nothing for the rest of the day. And now I know the true meaning of exhaustion and have a whole new appreciation for people who are stuck in a cycle of poverty that forces them to get up and do this every day of their lives.- 2010 SOL Student currently living in ‘The Shack’

Author: LiveDifferent


Day Two – The Shack Experience – ‘Whole New World’

It’s a whole new world in Mexico when you wake up at 5am. There are people walking to work after cooking breakfast and lunch for their families. There are buses driving up and down the streets to pick up the workers and take them to the fields. Who knew this was all going on while we are usually cozy in our beds? But today the students joined the workers waiting for transportation to the tomato fields.By the end of the day we didn’t even recognize our own hands. Stained purple from the twine we used to tie up tomato plants and green from the leaves. We worked from sunrise until the middle of the afternoon. Boring, repetitive work as we bent over the plants and tied twine to posts to hold up the tomato plants.We were fortunate to be able to talk to each other the whole time so that was nice. All the time together these past couple days has actually been really fun. We’ve all had lots of nice chats and it’s nice having the time away from the internet. I really haven’t been missing it at all! Sleeping in the shack last night was warm. I didn’t see any bugs so I’m just gonna pretend there weren’t any.  I cannot believe people live like this for their entire lives!  A man we met today in the field had been working there for 12 years on 165 pesos (14 dollars) a day and a ranch before that for 20 years for 110 pesos (9 dollars) a day. Day in and day out for 32 years….and I console myself knowing this is over in a week. This is hard work – manageable for a week but hard. I know this is the point but I really am even more amazed that people go through their lives like this.2010 SOL Student living in ‘The Shack’

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 23rd, 2010

Day One – The Shack Experience – ‘Generosity’

It ended up being a beautiful day for the first day of the shack experience which was a relief after a few days of rain at the beginning of the week. The students dropped their small bundle of belongings off at the shack first thing this morning and walked their “kids” to school.The morning was spent doing odd jobs around the house and yard. After a lunch break we headed off to meet the clamming crew. We were grateful for the warmth of the sun and surprisingly enjoyed the job more than we thought we would. After a few hours we had a total of 43 clams that were big enough to sell for a total income of 120 pesos (10 dollars). The rest of the pile that we had worked so hard to gather were chucked back into the ocean.The students went grocery shopping after work and were pleasantly surprised at what they were able to get with their money and still had some to spare. Some local friends came by to check on them and gave them a hand with some plastic they brought from the ranch he works at; they helped them get a fire going and showed them how to clean the clams they brought home from the beach. Later that evening another neighbor stopped by with fresh tortillas for a snack. We experienced the amazing generosity of the Mexican people. These people have only met us a few times and yet they wanted to do what they could to help us. People pitch in and help each other here, that’s how they survive. Makes me think about what I’d be willing to do for strangers or people I just met.- 2010 SOL Student living in ‘The Shack’

Author: LiveDifferent


Real Mexican Life.

73466_445418965325_95760375325_5528848_1755317_n.jpgMany people in Mexico live in what we call a ‘shack’ – a shack is made up of any random things you can find. Cardboard, crates, plastic, garbage, etc. Let your imaginations wander, because what you can imagine…is probably correct. This has become something that I’m very used to seeing, as when I look out my window I see them all over. Never did I think that I would get to live in one of these shacks.Starting on Thursday (Oct. 21st) the seven of us are moving out of the house to experience real Mexican life. We went into stores’ garbage dumps and walked along the highway to find pieces of cardboard, wood and plastic to make a house. By house I mean shack. Our shack is just across the street from our house, in a lot that has a smaller house on it.67318_445417925325_95760375325_5528830_2636948_n.jpgTo experience real Mexican life, we will be working jobs that Mexicans here would work, such as clamming (finding clams in the sea at whatever hour of the day…or night…the tide chooses), rock picking (literally…picking nice rocks on the beach for landscaping), working in the fields, or lawn/maintenance work at houses. We’ll earn 300 pesos a day in total (just under $30) and will be deducted randomly on some days various bills that a Mexican might face, like someone stealing their frying pan or unexpected medical bills. We have to pay rent and for our own clean water, firewood and food. We have a very limited packing list…and it all sounds very scary! I am a bit nervous – just because I’m unsure what to expect. But I am excited. It will definitely be an experience to see what people here in Mexico, here in our neighbourhood even, go through every day. Go team!!71986_445420255325_95760375325_5528871_4885071_n.jpgJessica Maynard and Alex Pearce, School of Leadership Students living in Mexico

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 21st, 2010