Final Thought From the University of Aberta Group In Mexico – ‘Unforgetable’

Hey Everyone!What an adventure this week has been. It has been filled with so many moving, inspiring, and fun times. I feel so privileged to have this opportunity to bless the lives of a very special family. Yesterday was our last day with Amelia and her kids. What an amazing day! We arrived at the build site at the same time as always and spent the morning setting up the inside of the house and putting some finishing touches on everything. Once was complete and in order, we gathered together with the family outside the house. Each one of us took a moment to say a few words of appreciation and thanks to the family for Amelia welcoming us into their lives and to share with them how wonderful our experience has been with them. Being able to express all of our love and care for the family was one of the highlights of the day. There were many tears and words of gratitude expressed from our group as well as the family. I felt very proud when Margarito showed himself as the man of the house. He expressed himself with great maturity and humility. After each person had an opportunity to speak Brianna (one of our student leaders) had the privilege of presenting Amelia with the keys to her new home. It was such an exciting moment. We all eagerly waited outside as Amelia and her children entered their new and completed home for the first time. The family took a few minutes to enjoy the experience. The joy and relief that filled their faces confirmed to me that all of the hard work we put in throughout the week was worth it. I will never forget those few moments when they first entered the home. Once the family was able to spend some time in their new home Amelia asked if someone would say a blessing. After cramming everyone into the house I was allowed the honor of saying this blessing. It was, and will remain, one of the most memorable moments of the entire week for me. I feel so privileged to be given the flowers by the grave opportunity to ask for peace and protection for this family. To share in their desires and hope for the future. I will never forget the strength and faith that Amelia demonstrates each and every day. It is both inspiring and challenging to my life, and I am sure the lives of many others as well.At the beginning of the week Amelia explained to us that her son, Jose, had passed away at the age of two years old. Earlier in the week our group decided that we wanted to spend some time with Amelia and her family at his grave. After dedicating the home we all piled into vehicles with the family and headed to the grave site. Alexandria was able to say a prayer of comfort for the family. Each of us were able to place some flowers on the grave and spend a few moments honoring Amelia and her son. Amelia made herself so vulnerable to us by giving us the opportunity to share in grief. This seemed to connect us with the family in an unforgettable way. In a way, Amelia made us a part of her family. Once we had finished our time at the grave site we headed back to the house to have lunch with the family. This was such a fun experience. It was so much fun to be able to share a meal with this family that has now come to mean so much to us. We spent our last moments with the family just enjoying each other’s company and making some wonderful memories that will last forever. Finally it was time to say goodbye for the last time. It was a very surreal moment when I realized that this was last time I would see this beautiful family. It was a bittersweet moment. Seeing the joy and gratitude that they expressed was incredibly rewarding. Knowing that we were leaving was heartbreaking. Before leaving we presented Amelia with a collage of photos from the week. She hung it on the wall in her bedroom. It is very humbling to know that my photo is hanging on the wall in the home a beautiful family who have now been given the chance to have a better life. This family has come to mean a great deal to each member of our team and will remain in our hearts always. It is wonderful to know that we will always remain in their thoughts and hearts as well.My hope and prayer is that Amelia, Margarito, Paulyna, Maria, Jose and Irma will continue to find love, joy and peace in their new home. They have been such a blessing and inspiration to our lives. As we make our way home I am filled a sense of loss as the distance between us and this wonderful family grows. However, no matter how far apart we are, I know that each one of us will remember this experience for the rest of our lives. We will never forget the effect that this family has had on our lives. I trust that the same can be said for them. No matter how far apart we are, or how much time goes by, we are forever connected to this family in a way that is life changing for us and for them. Thank you to Amelia and her family for giving us the privilege of being a part of their lives. We love you all!- University of Alberta Group Participant, Feb 2011

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 28th, 2011

The Shack – Day Seven – ‘RAIN’

The alarm first went off at 5:44am, but I didn’t actually make it out of my sleeping bag until about 6:10am. Deryn and I tried to stay wrapped in our sleeping bags for as long as possible. I didn’t sleep so well. It was a cold night – slept with my toque, scarf, mitts and an extra sweater. Waking up was not so lovely, it was still cold outside.Last day of work in the shack today! Rock picking. Today we’re getting paid for what we pick so our goal is to reach at least 300 pesos; more if possible but we also want to finish asap so we get the rest of the day off. Once we got to the beach we all went to town on picking out black rocks. We had to move fast to reach our goal. Sadly it was overcast so no sunshine. Figures, the one day I remember to bring sunscreen. At first we had a slow but steady pace. As it got closer to lunch time it also began to get windier and therefore colder. It even began to rain a bit. So we worked even faster. By noon we had made 305 pesos – awesome! We all packed up and headed back to drop off the rocks. After we dumped the rocks we put them at the front door of the bunkhouse to make a patio type area with all the rocks that we had collected on our two days at the beach. At this point it was raining, windy and cold. Once we finished spreading out the rocks we all ran to our shack to fix any leaks. Our shack had one main leak on the girls side and apparently multiple places on the boys’ side. We spent the afternoon huddled in the shack trying to stay warm and dry. A break in rain near dinner allowed us to make a fire and boil some water for our soup. Let’s hope we make it through our last night as dry as possible. We are looking forward to moving back into the big house across the street tomorrow morning and are aware that sadly this is a luxury that others in our neighborhood do not have to look forward to. Makes us even more grateful for a water-proof house, hot showers, a dresser full of clean, dry clothes and a pantry full of food.
Written by Emily MacIntyre, School of Leadership student

Author: LiveDifferent


Shack Day Six – Why Do Such A Thing?

Josh and Emily carrying pile It was back to early mornings today – another day working in the field. The students slept through their alarm and ended up running down the street in the first light of the day to catch their ride at 5:45am. We went back to the same tomato field as earlier in the week but by this time the regular crew had almost finished taking the trellis’ apart in the whole the field. We continued to roll the plastic tubing into football shaped bundles like we did last time. It was nice to arrive and know how to do the job – it didn’t feel nearly as awkward as it had our first morning in the field. It was even better to hear the field boss say he was impressed by how quickly we had caught on to the job and how well we were doing. Once we were finished that last section, the field boss sent us over to a different Putting pile on sling section to clear away the dead tomato plants that had been pulled out and left drying in the middle of the rows. Half of us used sticks to roll the plants into large piles. The other half of us used a giant sling made of burlap bags to carry these piles down to the end of the row and throw it onto a giant pile to be burned. By the end of the work day the pile of dead tomato plants that stretched along the section was taller than us and it felt like we had walked a hundred miles up and down those rows. There are still many sections left that need to be cleared before the field will be ready for the next crop of tomatoes to be planted.I marvel at the amount of work that goes into the produce that I pick through at the grocery store to make sure they are not bruised and then complain if the prices are too high. I also marvel at Throwing onto big pile how hard the people I have met work to take care of their families and how generous they are with what they do have. I have been proud of the students for everything they have tried this week in an effort to get a better understanding of a life very different than what we are used to in Canada. Many Mexicans that we have met this week ask Santiago, our translator, why we would want to do such a thing? Why would Canadians live in a house made of cardboard, cook over a fire, give up their hot shower and work in the fields or go clamming? They do not understand why people would voluntarily do this and after some explanation they are appreciative of our efforts to understand where they are coming from. But they still leave shaking their heads. Little do they realize there is so much that we can and are learning from them.Written by Rose Friesen, School of Leadership Mexico Facilitator

Author: LiveDifferent


University of Alberta Students in Mexico – ‘From House to Home’

Hi Folks,A few days have passed since our last blog, and what a whirlwind it’s been.  The house we started on Monday is now complete, and we did it all ourselves!  It’s been a fast week of windy sunny days, and we watched our efforts slowly but uoamx1 surely raise walls, put on a roof, throw in some windows, finish the trim, and paint everything.  After some final touches to the shower, outhouse, and interior walls, our set of small and seemingly simple tasks had created a house for a family we’ve come to love over the course of the week.  With four rooms, solid walls, a roof that won’t leak, high ceilings, and a solid concrete pad, this new house couldn’t be more different than the one they’ve been living in until now- one small room, one bed, dirt floors, and a roof and walls that do little to stop the wind and rain.One of the most rewarding parts of this trip so far came yesterday: after building the house, we took the time to make it a home.  We headed out shopping at local second-hand furniture store, a “Mexican Walmart”, and couple of other places to furnish the house, buy food for the family, and provide them with the type of necessities that we often take for granted- shoes for school, pencils, notebooks, etc.  In the afternoon we put the things in the house and set most of it up: blankets on the beds, food on shelves, and a new stove on the counter.Tomorrow we’re headed out to the house where we need to do a couple of small touches before handing over the keys.  We’re all really looking forward to the house dedication, the moment when all of our fundraising efforts over the last six months, the things we’ve learned, reflections we’ve had, hard work with newly acquired skills, connections with the family, and fun we’ve had will translate into the most real and tangible  difference in the lives of others that we can make.  uoamx2 Of course, this anticipation comes as a bittersweet reminder that while our task may be nearly complete, so too is our amazing time in this fascinating and powerful place.  A small area where we’ve witnessed the most severe effects of abject poverty, a seeming lack of opportunity for the future that is tough to comprehend, and the daily struggle for food.  And yet, in the very same place, we’ve seen the beautiful smiles on the faces of carefree children, heard laughter and giggling that breaks our hearts, and felt the love of a community that is more powerful than we had imagined.  This truly is a place of contrast- and while our contribution to it takes on the form of four walls, a roof, and some furnishings, its contribution to us will take form through the thoughts, actions, and choices we make after we leave- ones that will never be the same.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 26th, 2011

Some Final Highlights from St. Louis Travel Club

Some Highlights from our experiences with Hero Holiday.

-Everything we’ve done here in the Dominican that we would of never done at home.

-working at the garbage dump and watching my partner Carlos find a bottle of water and using it to wash his hands and feet.

-The movie night was a real highlight for most of us too, the way the screaming kids swarmed the bus as we arrived, cuddling with the kids while watching the movie and some fell asleep on us, and how safe the kids felt with us. Its amazing how something so simple as sitting and watching a movie with them could make them so happy and feel so close to you.

-being swarmed by kids at Auga Negra on the play morning who all wanted to try our cameras and see themselves in the pictures. They would get a big smile on their face. They enjoyed all the time we spent with them.

-The special feeling we felt when cuddling the little kids. Some wouldn’t let us go.

-The people were so happy and great, always smiling. They made the best out of life, better than we do back at home. They were always so willing to help.

-The whole attitude of the people, how they have so little and yet so proud. And they should be! They are the most unselfish people we have ever met. We just want to make a difference, I know we just made our first step….. WE ARE ALL HERO’S!

-we also loved working along side of all the locals, they were so fun, even though we had a language barrier. We always seemed to let each other know what we wanted, with the help of our interpreters FRANTZO and JESSICA. Lots of laughs lots of tears.

-The mother of one of the houses we built. Her name is Lucia. She was a wonderful person. We could have many conversations with her, sometimes with the interpreter and sometimes not, both ways was wonderful. Lucia always had a huge smile and a hug for you when she would see you, especially in the morning when we would arrive at the work site. Lucia, Marko (husband), and one of their sons (Raphael) worked with us everyday. She will always be remembered!

-stopping and washing clothes on the porch with a lady from Auga Negra. Neither of us knew what the other was saying, but we were able to connect doing a simple task.

During this experience, I have to say that seeing all the kids of St. Louis working & playing along side all the kids of the Dominican. THAT WAS SO AWESOME TO SEE! Too see the change within our kids & the growing they have done as individuals. I look forward to seeing what they decide to do with this experience when we get home.

Ms. Piercey


THANK YOU HERO HOLIDAY TEAM! You’ve given us something we will never forget.









Day 8

OUR LAST CONNECTION with the people of Auga Negra……DEDICATION DAY.

We had to make a quick stop on our way to Auga Negra at La Sirena(kind of like Superstore). A few of us went and helped purchase some groceries and household items for the 2 families. That was very exciting to be able to do that. We were able to purchase both families a double bed and a propane stove. It was a very rewarding moment when we dedicated all of this to them. We shared a lot of the same emotions, hugs & smiles. It felt like we were now united as one big family. WOW! IT WAS AN AMAZING FEELING ONE WILL TREASURE FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES…



St. Louis Travel Club


Author: LiveDifferent


Day Five In The Shack – Ceviche and Cinnamon Tea

Our fifth day in the shack began differently than the rest – we got to sleep in! Not only was day five different for having 14 hours of rest, it was also our day off. For most Mexican workers a day off isn’t in fact a day without work at all – they must  6 j teaching do their family’s laundry, shop, cook, clean and any other work that may need done. We only had to do a few of those tasks.Like I said, we got to sleep in and then for breakfast we made french toast. Julia came over mid-morning to show us how to do laundry – and luckily she let us use her soap (us silly kids didn’t think to buy any). Washing our clothes was interesting – we used a stone platform with divets in it, water from our water barrel, our own hands and elbow grease. I chose to wash two black items, hoping they would dry faster in the sun. Thankfully the wind took care of the drying quickly. We all thought washing clothes by hand was fun at first and for the amount of clothing we washed it was pretty easy. But to do an entire family’s worth of clothes, with thick fabrics and potentially really dirty? Not so fun. One thing I’ve learned in the shack is an appreciation for all of the small conveniences I’m used to in my daily life. I’ve never had to think about planning when to do laundry or shower based on when there was money for soap or time off from work to do it. But clean clothes are definitely a luxury.Once our clothes were all clean and hanging up to dry we made a second round of french toast and chowed it down for lunch. We spent some time planning meals for the rest of our stay and then went grocery shopping. We’ve learned the prices down to the peso and buy as much as we can as cheaply as we can.After grocery shopping we received an invitation from our friend Santiago. He has been amazing to us – he’d do anything to help a friend or person in need and wants so badly to help everyone even though he doesn’t have much himself. Santi isn’t the kind of guy you meet everyday – he’s the special kind. We headed over with our gift of pop and walked into a second lunch! We were all incredibly happy when Santi pulled out the giant bowl of ceviche and instructed us to eat up. So eat up we did! We stayed to watch a movie – a real treat after five days without technology. Santi also made us cinnamon tea which we loved. (To make tea boil whole cinnamon sticks in water for about 45 minutes, add a hint of sugar and enjoy.)In the evening the Hero Holiday group from University of Alberta joined us around the campfire. We all ate the s’mores they brought us and talked about why we are each in Mexico and our experiences. We shared about our shack experience so far and what we have gotten from it. Hearing from the others in my group was really interesting – we’ve all taken slightly differently, yet similar things from these five days and my hope is that we hold onto them. I know I definitely have a new6 e washing shirt appreciation for my produce and the long field days that go into growing it, the piles of landscaping rocks and each bite of seafood. But more than anything I appreciate the opportunities and ideas I’ve been given simply by being born somewhere else. The determination and resilience I’ve been lucky to witness these last few days has made me smile often. And with that smile comes a slight bit of sadness – these amazing people simply don’t have time for frivolity or luxury because everyday they work hard just to stay alive. If nothing else this week has made me grateful for hope and for the opportunity to do something to make our world a better place. If I can show even half as much strength as the people I’ve met in Mexico, I’ll be lucky.This day of rest has been a thinking day for me – about this entire experience and how hard but how incredible it’s been. (And how incredibly kind our friends have been – thank you to everyone, you know who you are!) Now think about ways you can make the world better – and do it while making cinnamon tea and ceviche why don’t cha?P.S. One huge thank you to Rosa for putting up with us, guiding us and flexing her muscles when she has to – this experience would never be possible without her. You’re one of a kind Rosa!Written by Leah Thygesen, a School of Leadership student

Author: LiveDifferent


Day Four In The Shack – The Cold Ocean

Dear world,claiming1 Today our job was clamming. We had to be up and ready to go in time for low tide which is prime clammin’ time. So we awoke at 2am, which is when I often go to bed at home in Canada. It was fairly cold – so cold in fact that three of the clammers we were to work with got scared off and didn’t show up. So we ended up waiting for an hour and a half for the rest of the clamming crew to show up. I wasn’t complaining because it meant more sleep in the van. We finally got down to the beach around 5am with the boss man and his two remaining workers. We were told to get out into the cold and trade our pants and sweaters for shorts, shirts and barefeet. Once we were suited up with our clamming gear, which consisted of a clam net tied around the waist and a trident (pitch fork), we went out into the freezing cold ocean claiming2 water to search for some clams. After about half an hour you lose all feeling in your legs and the cold doesn’t bother you as much.Clammers are paid 35 pesos for every dozen clams they bring in so we figured that between the six of us, each pair would need to collect 40 clams to reach our goal of 300 pesos for the day. Emily and I had no problem reaching that goal and we all went in to call it a day as the tide was coming in and the increasingly growing waves were making it difficult to continue. However when we showed our chores around the house bounty to the boss we were shocked to discover that over half of everyones’ clams were not large enough to keep and had to be thrown back into the ocean. We did not come close to our goal in the end and didn’t have enough money to survive the rest of the day. So later in the afternoon we did some extra house and yard work to make up for the rest instead of going back out with the clamming crew for the afternoon low tide.I personally really enjoyed our clamming experience, though most of my other counterparts do not share my joy due to the cold. If I were a Mexican in need of a job I could see myself doing this for a source of income. Though us rookies didn’t bring in a sizeable haul, the two full-time clammers we worked with each brought in about five dozen clams in the three hours we were there and I am told that on a good day clammers can make between 500-800 pesos a day. And that sure beats working in the fields.Written by Josh McClelland, School of Leadership student

Author: LiveDifferent


Day Two For The University of Ablerta in Mexico

Hola Bloggers:Lifting first wall Day 2 on the grand adventure was busy! Arrived yesterday to two walls already put together and two more well on their way. Heather, Megan, Noushin, Kelly and Brianna put together the to angled walls and then Megan and Alexandria did some mad skil saw cutting to trim off the top, a task which I failed miserably at on Monday;)  Andrew bought some doughnuts from a local baker (4 dozen!!!) and we managed to choke down a few of those. Soon after we began construction on the inside walls which was surprisingly difficult… definitely have a lot more respect for the guys who put together the other walls:) it involved more swearing and cursing than was probably necessary, as well as some awkward bending… Finally, with Brock’s awesome expertise, Alexandria, Roz and I got hem together. Alexandria hammered her 1st ever nail and did a fantabulous job!Finally we raised the house:-) It involved lots of team work and some thinking on the spot but we got it up and Brianna hadAnother wall goes together the pleasure of using the hilti-gun to attach the house to the cement pad. After lunch we put in the two inner walls and attached them together. Today we will put on the roof and who knows what else…:)Last night we had our 1st-ever movie night at the community school watching Madagascar. There were about 75 people who showed up to watch and after we handed out popcorn to as many kids as we could. A super-successful night!:)It was a pretty relaxed evening after that as we all crawled into bed to be ready for the next day. We’ve just finished breakfast and can’t wait to get going!!!- Group Participant

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 24th, 2011

Day Three – Refried Beans

Colin with a pail of rocks We got to sleep in today! Work only started at 7am so we had lots of time to get up and attempt to make refried beans. They turned out a little dry but hey, I was hungry enough at lunch to eat them anyways. We went to a beach in the view of a bunch of expensive houses where wealthy retirees stay. We began our job for the day: rock picking. We had to sort through rocks on the beach and pick out small smooth dark stones for landscaping purposes. A sack of these rocks would go for 10 pesos and at the end of of our mind-numbing, monotonous day we had about 125 pesos worth of rocks gathered. Only 125 pesos between 6 people for a whole day; so we aren’t very good at it. We were told that those that do this for a living can collect 10-20 bags of rocks per day. This does not mean that they would be paid for these everyday. For example right now there is no market for the rocks so no one if buying the bags of rocks they collect. Truck load of rocks They can work all day and get paid LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)ly nothing. We were told that rock-picking is considered by some locals to be a good job because it is not so hard on the body and you work for yourself. But I’m glad I don’t have to do that all day for the rest of my life.At the end of our day spent collecting and throwing rocks we gathered a bunch of drift wood along the beach to burn and went home to make supper. We enjoyed the generosity of neighbors who brought us a bag of donuts. We used our leftover beans to make a soup and even had crackers with it.  In the end we had too much soup to eat so we shared it with other neighbors – that’s what you do here, share with one another what you have to offer. After a short visit with a few of the Hero Holiday participants that dropped by we went to bed with the sun.Written by Colin McWhae, a School of Leadership student, and Rose Friesen, School of Leadership Mexico Facilitator

Author: LiveDifferent


Day #7 for St. Louis – A Day Off

Day 7

Day off: February 22, 2011

There were three adults who opted out of the excursions and chose to take the day off to spend as we liked. Following six days of building, touring, meeting new people and learning new ways it was a bit overwhelming to wake up in a fabulous resort with fantastic weather and unlimited refreshments. I’ve always been one to scoff at the people lounging around the pool working on their tans and reading trashy novels, but today I learned that there is something wonderful about having no agenda. First on my list was coffee. Then another, and another. By then it was time to change into a bathing suit. A quick dip in the pool to cool off and then more lounging on the lounger. My comrades decided it was time to check out the shops in the area and left me behind. As they checked out the local shops I checked out the beach. I looked at the waves that local described as, “angry” and decided I didn’t have the gumption to fight them. I laid down my towel and held it down with my body, derriere to the sky and promptly fell asleep. After a time a gentleman came along and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Madame, you are getting burned, you need to roll over.” So I did. That was the extent of my day.



Today we went out to Monkey Jungle while another group went to Ocean world and swam with the dolphins. Our group got to go zip lining and were able to interact with the monkeys. It was a very fun and exciting experience, something you would never think of doing in Canada. We were all nervous to go down the first zip line, but after that it was a blast. On the 7th zip line there was a 50 ft cave that we dropped straight down in. aunty Reanne chickened out and didn’t jump, but she amazed everyone by zip lining. We then went back and got to go see the monkeys, I “Danielle’ was a chicken and scared for a monkey to land on me, but I sucked it up and fed them. We got back to the resort and met Sean with his raccoon eyes.



Six of us decided to go to Ocean World to swim with the dolphins. We seen fish in a large aquarium, took pictures with tigers, & a bird sanctuary and that was really cool, they came and propped themselves on us and Brittany had probably about 20 birds on her all at once. We had an hour to lay on their man made beach before the dolphin swim. Then it was time for the greatest moment we were all waiting for, ” THE DOLPHIN SWIM”. They jumped over us, we danced with them, fed them, kissed them and they kissed us on the cheek, they clapped, then we got to hold onto their fins and we swam along side them, wow that was fun! Then it was the grand finale and the dolphins swam behind us and each dolphin pushed us by our feet. This adventure made some people overcome their fears and for others it was a check off their bucket list. Woohoo Paulette, you did it!

Courtney & Candace




Author: LiveDifferent