The best week of my life…

This week has honestly been the best week of my life. I am new comer to this group, and I did not know what to really expect. This experience has made me feel just  about every single emotion I have in my body. Between building our house for our family of eight, teaching an English lesson at the local school, working alongside the Haitian Refugees in a garbage dump, and working in the shoes of a mother for one day… this experience has most definitely been an eye opener on the importance of life.

Today my team was in charge of building in the morning and painting in the afternoon. When we first got to the house this morning, we were all very excited to get to work because earlier in the week we had to miss out on a day of building due to the heavy rain. Unfortunately there was a lot of mud that had formed, but we  just got right in there and started working hard. We always work in groups while building because it is much easier working together and everything gets done a lot quicker! At one point through building there was an assembly line with nine people passing buckets into the house. It was a very good system and it was fun! It started raining on and off, but it most definitely did not stop us. We just kept going.  These building experiences are really hard work but they are so worth it because our efforts are helping to change the lives of a family in need.  We are just about to start the painting and finishing touches on the house and I cannot wait for the house dedication on Sunday where we will give the family the keys to their new home! 

Later that afternoon, my team was in charge of painting the local school/church. We split up into smaller groups and painted away. After 20 minutes we were all getting tired, but we never stopped. The Gonzaga group always put our 110% effort in what we do in order to earn the gratitude that was given to us. The students at the school started to look up to us, they were amazed by what we were doing and started helping us. They are as grateful to have us, just as much as we are grateful to have them. Every person working today gave it their all, and it is really starting to show.  I am so proud of the Dominican group!

People often come to the Dominican on vacation, and all they do is sit on the beach and tan, eat and swim. To me, the Dominican is much, much more than all of that. I would come back here anytime and do this trip over again. Its once and a life time chance and I am so thankful that I have experienced it!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 29th, 2012

Final Day of Shack Experience

Our final day in the shack began early in the morning, as usual. Yet as we set off to catch the bus at the highway, we all knew that today was different. Today, we had more than the end of the week to look forward to – it was Carly’s nineteenth birthday as well.

Our task for the day was rock picking on the beaches. While the task was undeniably mundane, we made up for it by joking, laughing and focusing on the evening ahead. Without our positive attitudes and each other, we weren’t sure how we would have made it through this entire experience. The fact that we had something to look forward to may have improved our moods, but it also reminded us that so many families down here don’t have a warm house or a birthday party to keep them going through the work day.

Soon our buckets were full and we made our way home early thanks to our focused teamwork. We settled down in the teepee to take a quick break- and awoke a couple hours later, refreshed but unable to believe where the time went! We finished our last job of the day, landscaping the bunkhouse yard with the rocks we picked, and finished final preparations for Carly’s birthday bonfire.

Neighbours and friends surprised Carly with cake, pizza and gifts, but the highlight was by far the giant piñata that ended the night. We managed to work hard, save our earnings and give her what we hoped was a memorable evening.

Our time in the shack is coming to an end. It’s been the experience of a lifetime, and we can truly say that we have walked in other people’s shoes. I think we’ll all go away from this week with a renewed sense of gratitude for our many blessings home in Canada, as well as respect for our neighbours. We will leave the shack questioning the consumerist mindset of North American societies, while also appreciating the support of our families and friends- the ones who really matter.

Shack week has been an experience that has changed our lives. Through the hard work and rain, we found UBUNTU and a sense of community, and that will never go away.

Written by Academy student, Paisley Newburn

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 26th, 2012

Housekeeping, Pictionary, and MUD!

The past two days have been so incredible!  As a returning LiveDifferent participant I made it my goal to fully put myself out there this week and to experience everything I can, as well as to try my hardest to make connections with the people in the villages.  The past two days are helping my goal for this trip to shape itself.  Yesterday we were given the opportunity to not just view the homes within the village as outsiders, but to partner up with a mama in the community and go with them to their home where we helped cook, clean, and do other household tasks.  

The mama I was partnered with was only four years older than me and because of this I think we really connected. I was so intrigued by her lifestyle which is so opposite from mine.  As a twenty two year old mum of two amazing children, she was incredibly strong in character.  She showed my friend Lindsay and I around her house proudly.  She told us how she was so lucky that she and her husband had won the lottery six years ago because it gave them enough money to build a house (unfortunately it was not enough to completely finish it, so they experience a few problems whenever it rains outside).  Lindsay and I tried our best to help with the cooking, and it became very comedic when our mama and her friends saw us trying to cut up chicken at a turtle pace.  Lindsay and I do not have much experience with cooking, so for me to imagine being four years older and cooking and cleaning for two children – it was difficult. However, I was so impressed by her confidence, amazing personality, and her constant smile.  This experience was so positive for me, and even though our mama lived in a very small home without a lot of money, she was so grateful and proud of everything she had and she really gave me a new outlook on how I view my life. 

Today was also another unforgettable experience.  Our day was split into two parts: in the morning we taught English at the local school, and in the afternoon we worked on building the house.  Our English lesson was about animals, and we used games like Pictionary as well as making animal noises and flash cards to teach some basic English words to the children.  I was a little anxious preparing for the English lessons because I knew there was going to be a language barrier, and I wasn’t sure if our lesson would run smoothly.  We started off with a rocky beginning, but by the third classroom we went to the kids were picking up the words and energetically engaging in donkey sounds or pig oinks!  I’m really glad I got to try and teach English within the classroom today, and I hope to learn some more Spanish phrases so that I can communicate better with everyone I encounter this week.
Our afternoon can be described in one word… MUD!  I was working outside today shoveling dirt and laying it on the side of the house so that water will not run into the house.  When the rain started, what was originally really hard work ultimately became really hard work that was so much fun! All of my team members including myself were covered head to toe in mud.  We were giving it all we could and were getting right into the work, not once even questioning how dirty we were.  After the amount of pick-axing I did today, I think I could compete in a body builder competition hahaha!  I am really proud of every member of my team today because everyone worked at the building site and put their full heart into the work they were doing.  Today was a really successful work day and as we get closer to the House Dedication Day, I am getting even more excited to give our family the keys to their new house.   
– Rhiannon

Author: LiveDifferent


An experience we were not expecting…


Our team had an experience today that we were not expecting. We went to the local garbage dump to ‘live in the shoes’ of the Haitian refugees. Nettie, our Hero Holiday leader, discussed what we would be expecting to see earlier that morning, but once we arrived at the garbage dump, I was in complete shock. It not only affected me physically, but emotionally as well. I was overwhelmed by the situation I witnessed upon entering the garbage dump. There were piles of garbage everywhere that Haitian refugees would go through everyday just to find recyclable materials that they would collect and sell for an extremely small amount of money. It made me stop and think about how much I waste things and throw things away, and the fact that they could be going through all of it.
I realized that in our Western Culture we take many things for granted. It upset me the most knowing that they are so determined to work so hard, even when faced with conditions such as rain and unsanitary environments. Some of the women at the garbage dump inspired me because they provided for large families with many children. Many of them were single moms who sacrificed their time to support their families as best as they could.
Back in Canada, we are blessed with the opportunity to become whatever we want to be, and to hold jobs such as doctors, lawyers, or teachers. However, many of the people at the garbage dump are stateless and don’t even have a chance to receive a proper education and therefore their job opportunities are limited.
Poverty gave me a huge eye opener today and made me really think about how I view life back in Canada. We are so fortunate to live in a country that provides free healthcare, good education, and many opportunities to a good life. Going back home, I will have a different outlook on life and will want to create change wherever I can. I will never forget the experience I had today.
– Sigrid

Author: LiveDifferent


A life-changing day!

Today was a life-changing day, it was day two of building and making a change.  As we went into Arroyo Secco, Garcia was waiting our arrival with five women.  We broke up into pairs and each went with one mother or grandmother to their house.  These women were incredible.  They were so happy to see us come into their homes that they gave us a tour and showed us every detail of their home.  I went into a home that would have been the size of my kitchen area back in Canada but they have made it into four rooms with six people living there, (a grandmother, her brother, the father, and three sons).  Seeing how the grandmother worked around the house was an eye opener.  There was no dishwasher or laundry machine, everything was done by hand.  The way she cooked was like she was making a new creation.  No recipe or measuring cups, just her mixing different ingredients in and tasting it, adding the things she felt was missing. 

It amazes me how mature the children are in the household.  They do not have to be asked to clean something or pick something up and they always keep everything so tidy.  As we were watching and helping the grandmother cook lunch for the family, the nine-year-old boy mopped the floors while a six year old did the dishes.  Back home most of us as seventeen and eighteen don’t mop the floors or do the dishes and if we are asked to do something we complain.  This shows how much we take for granted. 

The grandmother walked around with so much pride in her house and was so glad we came.  When we left the boys and grandmother gave us big hugs and kisses and told us to visit any time. 

After leaving the grandmother’s house, we made our way to the building site, which has made a huge progress.  All the walls are up and have been covered in meccla.  I cannot wait for the rest of the week.  Tomorrow we are at the garbage dump, which will also be a life changing experience!

– Melani

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 24th, 2012

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Secondary School’s Hero Holiday 2012

The first two days in Dominican have been absolutely amazing! The weather is beautiful, the people are so friendly, and the house we are building is going up fast.  When we arrived Saturday, we toured Sousa and the surrounding areas. We drove to a community called La Union and were able to tour a part of the neighborhood where many of the children of the workers from the dump live. The instant our group stepped off of our bus we were bombarded by love and affection from these children! They ran to give us hugs and everyone was just touched by the trust and love these kids had shown. One thing that amazed me on the first two days was just how kind everyone is. Everyone we say hello to instantly smiles and waves right back.  Just knowing that one simple word can make someone who doesn’t have a lot a little bit happier amazes me!

We later met the family we would be building the house for.  The family of eight (five young girls, a grandmother, a grandfather, and father) were living in a house the size of my living room.  I felt guilty knowing that my family of four live in a house with so much space to spare, and that a family double that size are living in a small house, covered in mold, and made of tin panels.

Today we went to begin building and to play with the children at the local church.  Even though it was so hot and the work was very hard, I was motivated and ‘adrenalized’ to work hard, because I knew I would be making a difference. Once we got to the church which is just down the road, I was excited to jump right in to play with the children. Even though it is difficult to communicate with them, through their actions they were able to show us that they were grateful no matter what game they were playing or what person they were with.

I cannot wait for the rest of the trip and all the adventures we will go on! Tomorrow night we are going to be watching the movie ‘Tangled; with children in La Union and continue building the house and will make a change!

– Courtney

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 23rd, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever

LiveDifferent Academy student, Jennifer Brooks, talks about their experience working in the strawberry fields of northern Mexico. In order to experience what life is truly like for many northern Mexicans, Academy students moved into a small house that they made from scraps that they could find. They worked common jobs and experienced the in’s and out’s of life in Mexico for one week.


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 19th, 2012

A day of rest, relaxation and reflection (Tuesday, April 17th)

Tuesday was another beautiful day in Puerto Plata and a day off for all of us. Many WestJetters felt they needed to be onsite but realized the time off was much deserved. We also needed this time to reflect and process all that we have seen and learned. Not to mention we needed to rest our bodies from all the lifting, carrying, mixing and pouring.

LiveDifferent set up few excursions for us, which was great. There was scuba diving, dune-buggy adventures and a trip out to Monkey Jungle and Zip Line Adventures. Monkey Jungle includes a monkey enclosure and a zip line course. It’s actually quite the compound with amazing views that are lush and green. This tourist attraction was actually created to assist in financing a free medical and dental clinic that is offered every weekend to the poor living in the surrounding neighbourhoods. It’s run with the help of many volunteers and all profits go right back to the clinic.
A group of WestJetters also hired a crew to take them out onto the choppy waters for a fishing experience. The nausea and four hours of fishing were well worth it when they came back to the hotel with two four-foot-long Dorados that were easily 20 to 30 pounds each. The crew agreed to keep one and send the other out to the five families we’re building homes for in Aguas Negra. Buen provecho!
As our trip comes to a close it is so great to see all of the friendships made. The relationships have truly blossomed from that first moment when we met in the Toronto airport more than a week ago. Many of us had not met one another before then, but this experience has bonded us for life – even though some of us live on opposite sides of the country. It has been such a pleasure to share this experience with 49 remarkable WestJetters.
Liz Guillemaud

Author: LiveDifferent


Movie night with the community’s children (Monday April 16th)


Note: Due to the technology and connectivity challenges WestJet’s Hero Holiday participants face in the Dominican Republic, the post below was stuck in cyberspace for a couple of days. Thankfully, we’ve got it now to share with you.
Today, Monday, April 16, officially marks our seventh day here in Puerto Plata. It was also our final build day in the community of Aguas Negra. After a long and labouring day on site we packed it up, hit the showers, grabbed a quick bite to eat and were off again. Destination: La Union for a movie night with the kids in the community.
La Union is home to many Dominicans but mostly Haitian refugees. Many of people that live in this community work at the local dump. There were a few familiar faces and exchanges when some of the WestJetters were reunited with the worker they had been introduced to and had the pleasure of working alongside during the previous couple of days.
We were greeted with cheers from the children who were all seated in front of a makeshift screen cleverly constructed of a bed sheet suspended from two trees. Every time one of the four trucks carrying the 50 WestJet Hero Holiday participants rolled in, it led to another burst of cheers.
The feature of the evening was Rango in Spanish (with English subtitles for those of us who have not quite perfected the language). There was a buzz in the air and the children were eager to find the best seat the house. The best seats, of course, included the laps of a few WestJetters.
The children here are so beautiful. So open, trusting and looking to win your affection. I looked around at one point and noticed we were all surrounded by children. Some had even fallen asleep in our arms. Cookies and Bits and Bites were handed out throughout the movie – a huge hit. A special thank you goes out to the Air Supply crew in Calgary for setting us up with those treats, which provided a little WestJet flare for the night.
Not only did the children come out, so did several of the adults in the community. What a great evening to be surrounded by good company. The perfect end to an amazing day. Thank you LiveDifferent, the people and, especially, the children of La Union for a wonderful night under the stars.
Liz Guillemaud

Author: LiveDifferent


Family Matters

We found a whole new meaning to garbage bags and staples on day five of shack week. A classic Mexican fence. We started work at 8am grumpy and tired, not looking forward to the long work day ahead. With intense team work we made it through shoveling, hot sun, making new friends with spiders and stretching plastic to its max and holding it in place with staples. By lunch time we were more than ready for our leftover pasta and were happy to split our two packs of M&M’s ubuntu style. With a little more energy, motivation and jokes we were ready to wrap the yard with some more plastic and staples. The wind picked up but we managed to get through with some laughter, dressing up with the plastic, giving away some scraps to a boy who wanted to make a papalote (kite) and zero spider bites (phew).

Although we were grumpy and exhausted in the morning, the sun brought out our smiles as always and we finished the job happy and sooo ready for breakfast for dinner – pancakes. Now this was a gong show! We discovered that pancakes don’t taste that well with sand and rocks, they taste better with a lot of syrup and that eating the pancake mix doesn’t taste all that bad.

It’s crazy when we think about all the little things that would usually bother us at home that we don’t even think about now. For instance, washing our vegetables, dirt on our plates and our dirty hands. Not sanitary at all, however this is the every day life of many families out here. The constant dust makes it difficult to live any other way. We have really been hit with the reality that we are so privileged to be living how we do back at home. We have family, entertainment, clothes, money, electricity, hot water and a warm, clean place to sleep every night, yet we still find little things to complain about. The only thing that really matters is having your family by your side, no matter what circumstance you are in. All the other worries are just extra. We have truly come together this week as a family, trying to survive with very little but still stay positive and happy with what we have, because there is no way we could get through without each other.
Ubuntu. <3

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 18th, 2012