A day at the garbage dump

Today was garbage dump day. THE day I equally feared and looked forward to most. Who would have known it would turn out to be one of the best experiences of my life. Hands down. Bar none.

We geared up in our long pants and boots (if we were lucky to have packed them). A sense of excitement and nervousness filled our morning briefing session and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the dump. It was located down an inconspicuous road we drove past every day and one, like the people, that was easy to pass without noticing if we didn’t look for it. The dump looked and smelled like a typical dump with the exception of a few key things: cows and dogs ran freely and children, teenagers, women and seniors were crawling and searching through the garbage, trying to earn a day’s pay.
The majority of the workers we would meet came in illegally from Haiti. This makes it so they have no access to health care, education or government aid. So they come to the dump to find bags of bottles, plastic bags and cardboard which they will sell for a few dollars a bag.
Upon arrival, we were paired with another WestJetter and a local worker for the day. Our partner was a lady in her late 40’s. She wore a skirt and running shoes along with a tank top, which was a far cry from the 25 of us who were covered from head to toe in gear. It rained quite heavily the last few days so those wearing boots were considered themselves relatively lucky. At one point, someone took a wrong step and ended up in sludge well past the knees.
When the dump trucks came in the workers ran to the pile, each staking their claim. They literally crawled on top of mounds of fresh garbage to find their items. Through rusty cans, fecal matter, foliage, food, hazardous waste, bottles, diapers, maggots, cockroaches and rats, people climbed and sorted. And so we began to climb and sort as well. The smell was beyond putrid at first. It burned our nose and eyes filling them with tears. There were several moments where my partner and I wondered if we could do this. And then it just became easier. We wanted to help ease the load of the local worker we had been paired with, so we became committed to sorting faster and better.
It wasn’t disgusting, it was humbling. It wasn’t dramatic, it was fruitful. It wasn’t repulsive, it was someone’s livelihood. Someone, who just like so many of us, is just doing their job, trying to get by.
Initially, my goal for the day was to try not to get dirty, but by the time I left the dump, my boots were covered in a mix of both cow and human feces. My arms dripped with sludge from who knows what and my heart felt heavy. I couldn’t ignore this, seeing it with my own two eyes and yet you need to experience it first hand to understand the humanity of it. These are people. These are people who are unfortunately forgotten about. They are lovely people doing what they need to do to feed their families and themselves.
Our debriefing session that night was very emotional and healing at the same time. Here WestJetters shared stories of the findings at the dump that excited the workers: a mirror that was cleaned off and used to make sure the fellow looked nice; a whole pineapple in a garbage bag that was offered to the WestJetters first and then shared between the workers. Our debriefing session made something else very clear: this experience will forever affect us all.
Sara Foster, Team Lead Sponsorship

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 17th, 2012

Water In A Dusty Street

We had planned to sleep in as late as possible today. One, because it was our day off of work. And two, because if we slept through breakfast we would only have to spend money on two meals for the day. But to our surprise we were all awake and out of bed by 9am. We figured we would start the day by bucket showering in our tarp shower. Even though there was almost no wind and the sun was shining the shower was cold and more of a chore than the relaxing luxury we are used to. After the showers we started doing our laundry by hand on a cement block. We have watched many families do this before but we definitely were shocked at how tiring it is. It is nothing like just throwing our clothes into a washing machine. There was a lot of thought that needed to be put into it. What will take the longest to dry? What clothes do we want to wear tomorrow? Do we have enough room to hang it all to make sure it dries in time?

After spending a good portion of our day washing clothes that we knew would just get dirty at work tomorrow, we figured we deserved a short break. But living like this there is no time for a break – we needed to figure out lunch with the little money we had. Thankfully generous neighbours helped us out once again and gave us a delicious lunch. After lunch we had the option of washing a truck and walking a dog for an extra sixty pesos. Normally we wouldn’t work on our day off for such a small amount of money but today that money meant more food, so we took the work happily.

After work we went straight out to buy dinner and collected firewood the whole way home by instinct now. On the way home Shayna found a ten peso coin (about 80 cents Canadian) on the ground. Normally we would not have thought much of it and maybe spent it on some chocolate we thought we needed to have. But instead the first thing she thought of was that it would be enough for a jug of clean drinking water. This is how the shack week is changing us – where as once we would have thought of our own selfish wants, we have now started to shift our priorities. Just like our neighbours here in Mexico we have learned how to be resourceful and how to place the needs of our group above our previous consumeristic, individualistic mindsets. Shayna could have quietly picked up that coin and treated herself to M&M’s. But instead she thought of how this money could benefit the group – she had found water in the dusty street.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 16th, 2012

Sticking Together

Today we woke up bright and early, ready to hit the beach in search of clams. Clamming is a common profession here, with every dozen clams earning the worker about thirty pesos (or less that three dollars). As it turned out, the other clammers were running on Mexican time and we ended up waiting on the beach for a few hours. Instead of napping or taking the time to relax, all that was on our minds was where we would find our next paycheck.

Once the team arrived we got geared up to meet the waves. They set us up with pitchforks and clamming nets and we charged into the surf chanting “Ubuntu!” all the way. It’s funny how the cold hits you in the water. At first it was just the water temperature, but then the wind began to pick up and we were shivering as we worked. In any case, the first hour was less than productive. We averaged one or two clams each – not nearly enough to feed our family of six or pay the bills. As much as we wanted to quit, we couldn’t. We needed money to support ourselves. In the right conditions clammers can catch eight to twelve dozen clams but conditions had not been our favour. We realized that people here must have to save their money to cover days like this when the waves and wind make it difficult to find clams. We also identified with the feeling of desperation that many must feel when struggling to make enough money to take care of their families. After a few hours had passed we made our way home, with only forty pesos in our pocket and not enough money for dinner.

We scraped together some lunch before heading to our next job of the day – helping a rich lady with some household cleaning (actually Rosa at the LiveDifferent house). Going back to the big house, even after just a few days, was shocking for us. Transitioning from a dirt floor and tarps to a comparative mansion left us a little homesick, but also reminded us of what we could look forward to at the end of the week. Our jobs included cleaning ceiling fans, washing cars, cleaning paint trays, and sweeping the driveway. But the end of the day we still only had about 140 pesos, after paying the bills and rent for tomorrow.

At the end of the work day we came home to a sweet surprise. Our neighbours had brought us coffee and pastries – one of the highlights of the evening! In the true spirit of ‘ubuntu’ we shared them all. That’s what impacted us most today – that despite the hardships we experience from time to time, we will always stick together and that will make us strong. Bring on the next four days because we’re ready for adventures.


My highlight of shack week so far was when we were working at the LiveDifferent house. Ryan, one of the staff, had given Jenn one tortilla chip with dip. Instead of eating it all herself, she ran out of the house and shared the chip between the six of us. If that isn’t ‘ubuntu’ I don’t know what is. – Brittany, Academy student


Author: LiveDifferent


WestJet – Second building day

It is day 2 of building in Aguas Negras and the feeling of joy and happiness is in the air. WestJetters, contractors, translators and the owners of the homes have been hard at work in all conditions, from scorching heat to rainstorms. To see the sense of determination in everyone’s eyes to complete these homes is inspiring.

For the past few days we have arrived on the job site a little after 9:30 in the morning. Before we know it, it’s time for a lunch break. Time passes so fast as no one stands still, always lending a helping hand where it is needed. This includes joining the bucket brigade (helping to pass buckets of fresh concrete to pour molds), sifting sand to add as the topcoat on the house, or spending countless hours laying concrete bricks to ensure that the walls are going to withstand hurricane winds. After a brief lunch, it is back to work to ensure that we are able to present these very deserving families with homes before we leave. We literally have to be torn off the job site at the end of the day, as everyone wants to stay and continue to help where we can.
One of the things that has stood out for me in building these homes is the fact that the entire Aguas Negras community has come to help. All of the local children offer to help where they can from filling our buckets to providing a smile or a wave when they know we need it. I have had many conversations with women my own age, and despite the fact that we are not speaking the same language, we are able to communicate and see that we are just like each other. Finally, I have to highlight Rosie, one of the people we are building a home for. All the WestJetters on site are wearing protective boots, work gloves and sunscreen. Rosie, the eleventh member of our team, is helping to carry cinderblocks and gather concrete to build the walls of her home in flip-flops and bare hands. She never stops smiling and was later gifted a pair of work gloves. When you see her smile, despite the hard working conditions, you know that you are truly making a difference in someone’s life by helping them build their home and it how much it means that we are there to help.
To see WestJetters putting their all into building homes for someone they barely know, but clearly love, is very inspiring and reinforces how our values travel with us and are present in all the communities we serve.
Sarah Speedie

Author: LiveDifferent


Author: LiveDifferent


Fresh Stawberries Are Coming To A Store Near You

Well, we survived our first night in our shack….barely. [cue suspenseful music] It turns out that six gringas really do know how to build a shelter. We all woke up at 4:30am, ready to head out to the strawberry fields. Now let’s get something straight about strawberry picking – this is no walk in the park. The workers here are amazing. They spend hours hunched over in the field, meticulously sorting through thousands of berries for nine to thirteen hours a day. You don’t just need to pick the strawberries, you also need to pack the perfect box of strawberries to be shipped north to the United States and Canada.

By the end of our shift, us LiveDifferent Academy students were exhausted, both physically and mentally. We left the field with a renewed respect for the people who work there. After all, while our time at the strawberry ranch was short-lived, the workers continue day-in and day-out to provide the best berries for their picky and ever-consuming North American neighbours.

The big picture hit us at the beginning of the day – the realization that we are all connected. Even by something as simple and sweet as a strawberry. You see the boxes that we spent nine hours packing were printed in both English and French. The fruit from our full day of manual labour that we had experienced and been paid less than eleven dollars apiece was being shipped to Canada. Whenever we used to open a box of fresh strawberries at home, we would only anticipate the instant gratification and convenience of them. Now we will picture the girls our age who cover their faces so as to not breathe in the pesticides. We will see the foreman of our berry ranch who has worked in the fields for his entire life and is an expert at what he does, yet is paid only a few pesos more than a new worker. We will look at the berries and recognize the effort that goes into choosing the perfect berry – not too small, not too red, not too white and not too ugly.

We arrived home after work to wind and rain. Starting a cooking fire is a challenge to begin with when the fuel is just sticks. But cooking in the rain is harder. However we pulled through, set fire in the rain, and managed to do it all with smiles on our faces. As we were washing our dishes (also in the rain), we noticed two field workers walk past our yard – not abnormal in our town. One of them noticed us and waved as she continued on her way home. She had worked alongside us in the field today and while we left at 3:30pm, the rest of the crew had gotten off work at 7pm and were just arriving home.

So far this experience has made us appreciate hard work, learn the true value of money, and learn how to stay positive under harsh conditions. One thing is certain – we will never look at a box of strawberries the same way again.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 15th, 2012

Kicking off the Build


Today is the day our WestJetters have been waiting for. From the moment they were selected to go, completed their fund-raising and finally stepped off the plane in the Dominican Republic, our team has been waiting for a chance to get their hands dirty building new homes. “I just want to get in there and make it happen,” said Kerry from YHZ on the bus ride from our resort.
If you’ve ever kicked an ant’s nest, you would have a great idea of what it looked like to see our WestJetters, contractors, translators and locals working together to get the job done. To our surprise, our energy was matched by the children in the community. “The kids were so quick to jump in and help,” noted Donna, YHZ. “They were grabbing shovels and trying to help in any way they could.”
During our busy morning, the walls of the homes kept getting higher and higher. Each team was kept safe under the watchful eyes of our local contractors. LiveDifferent always uses local workers and suppliers to help support the economy and the communities they work in. This employment has helped many others improve their lives and the communities they live in.
In the afternoon, we started preparation for laying the floors of the homes. This work meant dozens of long runs with the wheel barrels through the streets of Auga Negra. The children were always quick to offer to take the load for you or at least help filling it up.
That night we had a great debrief session with Nettie from LiveDifferent. A large part of the session was dedicated to learning about the impact that poverty has on the lives of those in the community. The team at LiveDifferent has done a great job of culturally educating us as well as supporting the build. They are the real deal!
We learned today that one of our Dominican Republic families has three children that have never attended school. Nettie announced that due to the amazing fund-raising efforts of our WestJetters across the country, they will be able to ensure that these children will get to go to school. We’ll be able to leave them with a roof over their heads, supplies, food and a chance at a brighter future. If you bought a raffle ticket, cookie at a back sale, taco-in-a-bag or any other donation for the Hero Holiday trip, please know that three children will have a better future because of it.
On behalf of the entire team I want to thank everyone for their words of encouragement. We read them every night at our sessions and it makes everyone smile to hear you care about the work they are doing.
By Corey Evans
*The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LiveDifferent.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 14th, 2012

Millions of Rocks!

Early in the morning we left our house, a mansion compared to those around it, and dropped our few belongings in our “shack”. Our first job of the week was to pick rocks at the beach. The rocks picked on the beaches of Mexico are often sold and used for landscaping in the United States. So we sat down on the beach surrounded by millions of wet rocks, thinking that this would be an easy job. As we picked out the perfectly smooth, blue-ish gray rocks in specific sizes, we realized how mind-numbing and tedious this job truly is. By the end of the day we had picked about forty 5-gallon buckets of rocks and were more than ready to head home. Being a rather windy day, we had a few minor repairs to make to our casita (little house). We spent the remainder of our paycheck (200 pesos after rent, water and transportation) on drinking water, food for the next 24-hours and a few other necessities. In order to cook dinner we sent a few people out to collect firewood while the rest dug a hole for the fire. We successfully cooked a hearty meal of pasta with tomato sauce and hotdog wieners. We have never been so proud of a dinner! Although we were rather exhausted after the day, we know that tomorrow will be even more challenging. We have quickly come to the realization that our former lives are in fact quite glamorous.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 13th, 2012


This week LiveDifferent Academy students will be walking in the shoes of their Mexican neighbours. They have gathered cardboard and plastic from the streets and received some gifts of wood and tarps from a friend. With these they have used the tee-pee design of their Canadian indigenous people to make a home to protect themselves from the wind and rain for a week. During the building process they have already gained a new appreciation for creativity of the small houses of people they have come to know and love. A few weeks ago if a nail bent when they were building Hero Holiday houses, they would toss it aside and grab a new nail. Yesterday they carefully straightened the nail and re-used it.

For a week they will be learning about the daily in’s and out’s of life for many of the migrant families that have moved to Baja California, Mexico looking for work. They will be working common jobs such as picking strawberries, clamming, fencing and picking landscaping rocks from the beach. Meal planning, shopping and cooking will take on a whole new meaning as they learn to live on the same wage of twelve dollars per day as the people they will working alongside.

But this experience is about so much more than learning how to cook on a fire, do laundry by hand or learning how to pick the perfect strawberries to be shipped to Canadian grocery stores. And that’s why they have chosen the word ‘ubuntu’ as their team name. This South African concept is described by Desmond Tutu as recognizing that our humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in each other’s humanity. I am because we are. A person with ubuntu knows that they belong in a greater whole and that they are diminished when others are humiliated or diminished. And so we seek to understand what life is like for people who have not been born into the opportunities we take for granted as Canadians. We want to show solidarity and that we appreciate how and where our landscaping rocks and fresh strawberries come from. And we seek to understand how we can make changes in our world so that our friends around the globe will know that their lives, like ours, hold great value.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: April 12th, 2012

Day three: awareness tour


It all started at 9 a.m. on a hot and sticky Tuesday morning. More than 50 of us jumped into 4 military-esque vehicles to begin the tour of our surrounding areas. The morning for half of us began at a schoolhouse and church built by the dream of a man who ran on love and a prayer. He literally began building
without the proper funds in the hope and a prayer that in starting this project, the rest would work itself out, which was inspiring to say the least.
After playing some basketball and skipping with some of the children we were off again to a small community called La Union, a place where we will spend more time tomorrow watching movies and getting to know the locals. After a quick lunch, we were back on the road again and en route to Agua Negra; the site where 50 of us would build 5 new houses for some incredible families.
Walking through Auga Negra is an experience that you will never forget. Rotten and decrepit wooden homes rest upon each other in a struggle to stay erect; chickens and dogs run across your path; garbage greets you in every direction you turn your head. The water that surrounds the community is black and swells up with the weather to eat away the land that nearby homes reside on.
You would think (as I learned my team also did in our nightly debriefing session) that this would dampen the mood of the day, and it would if it wasn’t for one thing: the beautiful people of Agua Negra.
Upon arriving in the place we will spend the next several days you are greeted by strangers who greet you as if you are long lost friends. Children grab your hand and walk with you. The locals come out to say hello. You would think in a place as seemingly deplorable as this that there would be envy amongst the
neighbors that 5 families would be receiving a new home and they would be left out. Interestingly enough though, there is nothing but love and admiration for these folks and a feeling of hope that their turn will come as well.
Today we were all introduced to our families who could be described as this: Families of hope. Families of love and families that can teach us the true meaning of what matters most in life.
Our group has been assigned house number 5. As we all learned today house number 5 is a family of six that greets us with mile-wide smiles and an excitement that is contagious. They share with us their dreams of sending their children to school so they can someday become professionals and (for the
mother and father) to get married after 15 years of being together.
In a world where we complain if we don’t have the newest, the greatest, the biggest and the best, these two simple wishes are enough to bring my team to their knees. The absolute LOVE and JOY this family has is a reminder to us all how out of touch we can all become to what matters most.
In our nightly debrief session (a great part of this program that allows people to share what went on during the day), there was an unexpected moment with my team when we came together to discuss what we thought of the day. Personally, I had started the day believing (and later learned this seemed to
be the consensus) that it would be really tough and somber day and would act asa shock to the system and a rude awakening that would set the tone for the rest of our mission here. And it did set the tone.
But in unexpected ways.
During the debrief session, the unanimous tone of the evening was of gratitude, excitement and hope. A far cry from the preconceived emotions we expected to have.
We cannot wait to begin this amazing journey with our family.
By Sara Foster
*The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LiveDifferent.

Author: LiveDifferent