December 9th, 2010Every year, a day that’s usually filed with gifts and celebration was completely different for me today. Today was my seventeenth birthday, and instead of spending it in Canada with my family and friends, I spent it in a garbage dump in the Dominican and made a new special friend.Right when we got to the dump, a young girl approached me and she was going to be the person I worked along side with for the day. She was a beautiful girl and the whole day changed my life. She showed me what garbage to collect and what was no good. Every time I’d ask her if something was good or not, we exchanged a smile, one that I will remember always. It was hard to see her pick up one of the used water bottles we just collected, fill it up with the clean water we brought and then drink it. She introduced me to her family and even offered me a piece of the small portion of bread she had. I knew she cared about me and I cared about her. She watched out for me and made sure the way when a truck filled with garbage was coming so I wouldn’t get hit.She told me her hopes and dreams were to go to school and become a doctor to help people. It amazed me that someone who can barley help herself still wants to help other people. I could tell she had a big heart and she truly inspired me. She picked up some used socks that had holes in them and put them on her feet. There I was wearing rubber boots and there she was in sandals with used socks on her feet. We found a small football and it was fun to throw that around with her. It reminded me that children like her should be playing and not slaving away in a garbage dump.She seemed kind of confused when I took my gloves off to hold her hand, she hesitated a bit at first but I noticed a big smile on her face when she grabbed my hand, I wanted her to know that I cared about her. She told me she liked my boots and it felt good to give them to her before I left. I didn’t even care that I had no shoes on for the bus ride back to the hotel. As long as her feet are protected, I just hope they fit! I was so overwhelmed that I truly forgot it was my birthday. It felt way better to give on my birthday then to take.Nettie and her niece colored a beautiful picture for me and that was better than any materialistic gift. I’m so gratful to be here right now, surrounded by the most beautiful people. Today was a very special day. I can’t say I remember any of my past birthdays, but this one I’ll never forget!Lots of Love,Rebecca
Today was our second day of work in Agua Negra and even after such a short time being in the village, I have already grown so attached to all the people I have met there (especially the little kids). In the morning, my group was in charge of all of the games we were playing with the kids, so we brought out the skipping ropes and parachute. I can honestly say I have never seen so much excitement over a skipping rope in my life. These kids just LOVED them! We spent all morning playing games with them and I had such a good time playing with them and getting to know all the kids better. Even though there is a language barrier, we are able to communicate through actions and by piecing together words. One little boy showed me all these cool shapes he could make by twisting elastic bands together, and another boy showed me all of his Silly Bandz and taught me the names for them in Spanish.In the morning we also sang songs like the Canadian and the Dominican National Anthem, and played the Hokey Pokey which seems to be a favourite. Some of the children tried to teach me a song in Spanish and were laughing at how badly I pronounced all of the words. I think the only part I got correct was “Chi Chi Wah Chi Chi Wah Chi Chi Wah Wah Wah” which I say multiple times while they sing the rest of the song! There was this one little baby girl who completely made my day just by jumping into my arms and hugging me. She would fix my hair and then lean back and check to see if it looked good, fix it some more and then smile REALLY big and hug me. I just couldn’t believe how much love this little girl was showing me when I barely knew her, it just felt so good. And really that’s how all of the kids are, they just give you their hearts and you can’t help but love them from the moment you meet them.In the afternoon we switched to work mode. I can feel my shoulder blades still aching right now, and I’m glad that they are like that because it means I put a lot of effort into the work we were doing. The entire group gave it their all. The house we are building is coming along really well, and it makes me smile when I see so many of the community members jumping in to help out wherever they can. We were mixing cement and it is tough work, and this one teenage guy comes over and grabs a shovel and finishes mixing the cement without even breaking a sweat. He was laughing and calling us all weaklings, which made all of us laugh a lot. Later we were all watching and trying to learn how to throw cement on the walls and smooth it over for a smooth coat, and it took ages to get the hang of, but finally two of my group members got really good at it and it practically looked like it was done by professionals! It feels so good to be helping out this community because all of these people are so in need, yet they always manage to greet us with warm hellos and make us feel so welcome into their community. I can’t wait to finish the house and see something permanent that we have helped change. I can’t wait for the rest of the week to come so I can have more experiences and really just make a positive change.~Rhiannon
Currently, St. Aloysius Gonzaga is on a Hero Holiday in the Dominican Republic. We are building a brand new home for a family in need. Here is some thoughts from one of their students…Imagine this, a red tile, with no imperfections. Now picture millions of other indifferent perfect red tiles. This is North America. We are all the same, seemingly perfect, and red. Red is a colour of passion and love, but do we love the right things? Several indicators, show that we “love” and are passionate about stuff. We are just mass consumers and satisfied with things. Now picture a rusted chipped tile. Then imagine, several other chipped rusted tiles, but none are the same. On the exterior they may seem worthless, dirty, old, etc. Notice however that rust is a variation of shades of reds and oranges? These tiles represent the Dominican Republic and several other developing countries. They too are passionate and loving, but for more substantial things. They love to smile, and touch and hug and build as a community. They are passionate about the little things and have their priorities set straight. They put family and love and others first, they are satisfied with the littlest things and show affection for one another even though they don’t have the newest iPod or purse.This is exactly what I’ve learned while in Dominican. Others need to be put first, because while I am complaining about a split-end there are thousands of children starving, being abused and being un-educated. Should we feel guilty, no. We have been blessed to have all the things we do own. Sometimes, guilt is a good thing, its makes us strive to make change and give our all. It is through this sweat and hard labor that I feel accomplished and proud to say I helped that family, I helped that little boy or girl. I’m sure all the other students and teachers feel the same way. Why give the minimum when you can give past the maximum, every little gesture helps. Another thing I’ve learned is affection is infectious. One smile leads to a high-five which leads to a hug and so on. Only through a positive atmosphere can change happen.So, where is the real lesson being learned? Can we teach the Dominicans about our more “civilized” ways, and technologies. Or is it really more worth while to let them teach us the ways of sharing, loving and caring for our communities. Personally, from this experience so far I think the imperfect, rusted tiles are far more beautiful then the red tiles. When something is imperfect there is room for improvement and change. That is exactly why we are here, to make change in their lives and ours.We also challenge you to make a difference in someone’s life on a big or small scale. Every little tile represents each one of us and if we make a change these imperfect tiles can become a beautiful mosaic, which we know as the world.Lets keep up the work bulldogs!-SaraPS: Hey Mom and Dad and Adam and Cameron! Miss you lots!
My mom used to tell me that I can always choose my friends, but I can’t choose my family. Usually this was in response to my complaint about something said ‘family’ did, but nevertheless, it is a very true statement. There is something about the love of a family that is more about commitment than any kind of biological bond. To be a part of a family is really about knowing where you belong, because once you know that, the rest is the easy stuff.Two weeks ago we were driving up the Baja coast on our way to the San Diego airport. As we were driving, we passed a forlorn looking orphanage property and Dawn said, “I wonder whatever happened to Isabel?” Oddly enough, that question started a random, yet serendipitous, chain of events that led to a family being reunited and held together.As fate would have it, the very next day, Dawn received a Facebook message from Isabel, whom she hadn’t heard from in a long time. She was telling her she was in San Diego and would like to see her. On their trip the following week, Andrew and Dawn picked Isabel up in San Diego and brought her to Vicente Guerrero, near our Hero Holiday base, where they first met.I have never met Isabel personally, but according to what Andrew has told me about her, I think that in Isabel’s world, the concept of family has meant many different things at different points in her life. When they first met, she was one of four kids in her family that were living in an orphanage in Vicente Guerrero, Baja California. Isabel was 15, Maria was 10, Veronica was 8 and Gumaro was 5. However, they weren’t all in the same orphanage – they were scattered around in different facilities, never knowing what it was like to grow up together.Recently, Isabel showed Maria a picture of their father – it was the first photo she had ever seen of him. He is a total mystery to them. From the outside, he may just seem like another face, but to them he is a link to their history, however brief and turmoiled it might be. The four children all share the same father, but they were only part of the picture: there were 14 in their family in total, spread across Mexico and the United States. Most of their family is unaware of how many siblings they actually have or where they even are.Since I have heard about Isabel’s story, I have thought a lot about her mom. I don’t know what ever drove Margerite Rose to become the kind of mother that she is: addicted to drugs for many years, giving birth 14 times in 19 years and scattering her children along the way. What can make a mother turn on her own child? What kind of self hatred and pain can drive you to allowing your children to be taken away and knowing their own depths of pain and abandonment as a result? Sadly, their family’s story has become the text book story of cycles of abuse and abandonment, with many of her children following in her tormented footsteps. But Isabel is different. Something inside of her told her that the cycle ended with her, and since that day, she has never looked back.At 15, Isabel ran away from the orphanage, in the hopes of finding a better life. That hope was quickly crushed when she was promptly arrested and transported to another orphanage in Ensenada. After a brief time in that orphanage, she was transported north to Tijuana. Where she found herself made the other places look like heaven: there were 50 girls and they all had to sleep on the floor, shower at the same time and even use the same hair brush and deodorant. But hope did come in an unexpected way: the authorities were made aware that Isabel had actually been born in Vancouver, Washington and she was deported back to the US. It was the best thing that could have happened to her.Because she was orphaned, Isabel was absorbed into the American foster care system and was bounced around between four different families. Isabel ended up in San Diego through the foster care system, and tried to make a life for herself. It was here that she truly began to experience the kindness of others who cared about her. A family took her in, made her feel like she was part of a family for the first time, and surrounded her with love. That love gave her the courage to finish her education. She was the first member of her family to graduate with a high school diploma.The journey to wholeness has been difficult for Isabel. She wavered between returning to Mexico to try to collect her family or staying in the US. After graduation, she struggled to be able to get her own apartment and secure a job. But she did it. Today, Isabel works in administration for the San Diego County Foster Care. This past week when Andrew and Dawn saw her again, it was in Mexico, in the same community where they first met. Only this time they helped her find her siblings. The reunion was sweet and they all cherished their time. Isabel’s life has become a beacon of hope for her younger siblings, and they are inspired to begin to dream about what they can become as well. Now they are no longer isolated and alone – they can work together to build a future that is free from the pain they have known in the past.I have never known what it is like to know the pain of rejection that each of those 14 children have inevitably felt. I have never known what it is to have to fight for every single thing that I know I want or even need. I have never known isolation such as they have. But I have known the power of hope. I see it every day in what we do in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute). This is how hope begins, one life at a time. Before you know it, we might just all be willing to believe that we were meant for so much more and start to do something about it.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s Hero Holiday program has many different opportunities for you to join us in Mexico. You can be a part of a story like this and know the power of purpose and hope! Check out www.livedifferent.com.“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” ~ Christopher Reeve
Erika Eason has been a part of the LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) picture for a long time. We first met her on one of our first Hero Holidays in Dominican Republic and it was there we made a connection that has carried past an experience and into an entire transformation.
Oh Brandon, Manitoba…you were filled with extremely cold weather, movie tickets, and of course, in team two fashion, bus doors that wouldn’t open all the way.On Wednesday, we made our trek to Kinnesota, only to be greeted by a community potluck dinner just because we were in town! It was a great night, filled with amazing food and a Matee Step Dancing Group. It also happened to be Eddie’s 23rd birthday, (which we weren’t supposed to remember) so he kept warm in the cold winter night with his new leopard print snuggie.The next day we had a big event at the Alonsa Community Centre. Students making their way there from as far as an hour away, came to enjoy a Think Day presentation, a Think Global, and an Aberdeen concert to follow. The place was packed, and everyone had a good time!Making our way to Rosenort, we walked in the door to arms wide open, tables with place settings, and steaks on the barbecue. Yep, you could’ve guessed that we were at the Brandt’s! They are an amazing family… so much so that I didn’t want to leave! (They didn’t want us to leave either, so it was fair).After a show in Winnipeg, where we had many family, friends, and previous Hero Holiday’ers, we drove back to Dryden, Ontario. It’s crazy to think that I’m done province hopping now, and I won’t be leaving Ontario until I go to Mexico after Christmas!Tour has gone by way too fast! It seems like just yesterday that we were in Burlington learning how to set-up all of the gear, and getting to know everyone. 5 provinces later, with a week and a half left, I’ll be back in Hamilton anxiously awaiting going home for the holidays!Merry Christmas,Sarah, a School of Leadership Student on the Road