As WestJetters we are very familiar with homecomings. Most of us witness them on a daily basis as our guests return home after time spent away. I suspect that many of us have also experienced countless homecomings of our own as we adventure out on travels near and far.

My family and a lot of my friends live in the States and we try to see each other as often as we can, travelling here or there or meeting up somewhere in between. I also travel a fair bit with my job at WestJet. While I love the journey and all elements of travel, it is always the homecomings that I look forward to the most. The first sight of my loved ones as they walk through the airport security doors or the comforting feeling of walking through my backdoor as I arrive home after a trip away, these moments are often filled with smiles, joy and warm embraces. Homecomings are a return to the familiar and the beginning of something new all at the same time.
I am very fortunate to have experienced many homecomings. My parents and brother travel to Calgary to spend Christmas with my Canadian family nearly every year. My love always greets me with open arms and a bit of hoopla every time I return home from a trip. Yet never have I ever felt so welcomed home as I did returning to Aguas Negra today.
It was with tremendous anticipation that I stepped off our team truck as we arrived in Aguas Negra with our Fall 2012 Hero Holiday team. For five of us – me, Glenn, Shelley, Gayle and Sarah – this was our first visit back to the community where we, along with 45 other amazing WestJetters, built homes for five very deserving families in April during our inaugural Hero Holiday.
Unsure of what to expect, we were immediately greeted by members of the community. The families we helped and worked side-by-side with in April quickly came to us with the biggest smiles that I have ever seen. They embraced us, some only releasing their grip long enough to look at our faces with tears in their eyes and to say thank you.
As we walked through the community to meet the five new families that we will be working hard for on this trip, more and more members of the community came to find us. The children that we played with wanted to be picked up and carried like we had never left. The local contractors who were so patient with us as we learned how to mix cement, lay bricks and apply smooth coat to their high standards approached us saying hola amigo with a look in their eyes that said welcome back, we are so happy to see you again.
We were home.
What an amazing feeling. The homes we built for others somehow became our home, too. To feel so truly welcomed and wanted. To know that your presence brings joy to others. That they remember you! It is a feeling I wish upon everyone – especially the 45 other enthusiastic and incredibly passionate WestJetters who are here as a part of our Fall 2012 Hero Holiday.
Already, after just an hour in Aguas Negra meeting our new families on our first day here, I can see the new relationships forming. There are no walls to be broken down here – just walls waiting to be built that will bring safety, security and a brighter future for these families and for this incredible community.
Tomorrow we begin building these walls and working toward house dedication day when we get to welcome these very special families to their (and our) new homes.
Jenifer, Team Lead, Community Investment

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 31st, 2012

I’m going back! What am most looking forward to?

We’re back!

The Fall Hero Holiday is finally here, and we have had a chance to meet the new 50 WestJet heroes. Did we look like and feel the same feelings these new heroes are feeling sitting in the boarding lounge about to embark on this life changing trip? I noticed a lot of nervousness, anxiety, excitement and maybe perhaps a little worry. So, yes. Absolutely. We all felt the same way on the first trip and maybe a little bit on this trip, too!
There are so many things I am looking forward to going back on a Hero Holiday. First, I am very excited to see all the people from LiveDifferent again and meet some new volunteers from the organization. In a very close second, I can’t wait to visit and see the families from the first trip I was on. It will be a great little reunion to see how everyone is doing and how they have been enjoying their new homes over the past six months. I heard there is a new family member for the family I built for last trip, so that’s very exciting!
I am looking forward to experiencing the trip through the eyes of the new participants. It is such a rewarding experience, I can’t wait to watch the journey the new heroes are about to start and I can’t wait to experience it all over again right beside them. I am looking forward to meeting the new families knowing we are about to change their lives dramatically. So exciting!
I am hoping to see some of the children that came to the work sites last year. Every day, all day, from start to finish, they were there. They even helped with the projects! The news WestJet is back in town might bring even more of the community out to support us.
So, as you can tell it is impossible to look forward to just one aspect of the trip. I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity to return, so a big thank you to the Community Investment team, LiveDifferent and WestJet. I can’t wait to get started!
This trip is for you Gramma, my new angel. Love, your favourite.
Gayle, Flight Attendant
(Note: Gayle participated in WestJet’s first Hero Holiday in April, 2012. She returns to the Dominican Republic, along with two other previous participants, as team lead for the Fall 2012 Hero Holiday.)

Author: LiveDifferent


Homemade happiness

As we marched from our food filled, warm bed holding, hot water pumping, electricity surging home to our new barren yard and wooden structure, I was thinking that Shack Week was going to be fun. I have been camping many times before: you set up your tent, stoke up a fire and await nature’s great amazements. This experience was more like surviving than camping, and by the end of it all, although I hate to admit it, I would come to miss those luxuries that our past dwelling possessed. Many Mexican families endure the long laborious days of the fields and come home to a great lack of those luxuries. Last week my fellow classmates and I were one of those families.

The physical and mental fatigue after the first few work days was coming down hard on all of us. This week was a lot harder than we first thought. I recall in the midst of vigorously ridding the tomato fields of weeds, speaking to a number of Mexican workers who toiled next to me. Although they slave day after day for minimal wages under the hot sun, they found rest and joy in sharing their stories and thoughts with us. I too found joy in enlightening them in response to their questions about why a bunch of ‘Gringos’ from up north would put themselves through an experience like Shack Week. As we were looking to go home at the end of a day, they were hoping to stay longer and earn a few more pesos. In the opinion of a labourer from North America, they do not earn a just amount for their labours. The field workers earn up to $14 US a day.

As the week progressed, the array of menial tasks and lack of nutrition drained me. Some jobs were harder on the back, and others harder on the brain, but throughout the week our team stayed strong and united, maintaining high spirits. At the end of the long days we would each take part in the necessary tasks that kept the shack running smoothly. We were very frugal with our spending for food and supplies and very thankful for the little food we did get. The week was a success because of the group’s bond and the rules we set to maintain peace. My biggest concern during Shack Week was the insufficient amount of food that I knew there was bound to be. Long work days are made more dreadful with a meager lunch. Most of the daily jobs like Rock Picking (rounding up a desired type of rock to sell for landscaping) and Clamming (collecting clams from the ocean floor) indicated that our daily pay would be dictated by the amount of product we brought in, which meant supper was directly affected by our collective work ethic. This taught me patience and acceptance in a big way. Any chance of sleeping soundly after work was removed by either a flash rain storm (enduring 5-10 minutes inflicted on us by our landlord) or the pounding of loud mariachi music played on our neighbours loudspeaker well into the night.

To sum it up, Shack Week is a magnified version of the daily struggle that surrounds us while living in Mexico. We get a more vivid glimpse into the world of the people among us who are just trying to make a living to support a family. In essence, the experience made me reflect on what it would be like to live like that for an entire lifetime. It has made me more thankful for the life I was given, and more passionate about using it to make struggles like this stop.


Kevin ~ LiveDifferent Academy student 2012

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 28th, 2012

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

What we once saw as dirty garbage on the side of a Mexican highway we now see as a possible home. Dirty garbage bags and old mops, items we would have never dreamt to touch with our bare hands prior to last week, now held our roof in place. Cardboard boxes once filled with someone’s garbage, an item our mind previously didn’t even register sitting on the sides of the road, were now our floor; the only thing between us and the dirty ground beneath. It’s amazing how our instinct to survive will force you to do these things, use these items you would have never touched before. Shack week has opened our eyes to the world around us in a very new way. If you were to look at someone truly living in the circumstances simulated in shack week the first thing you would ask is ‘how do they live like that?’   

If you ask someone around this town, in Mexico, what the worst job is, most will tell you it’s working in the fields. After having worked in the fields myself I couldn’t agree more. The fields are both mind numbing and exhausting. You do the exact same motion for most of the day. Your back hurts, it’s hot, and it’s repetitive. By midday I just wanted to lie down in the middle of a row and sleep…but I would look up and see 100 people who do this every single day of their lives still working and would force myself to continue. I couldn’t comprehend how these people, some in their sixties, could work so hard while my 18 year old self struggled to even walk at the end of the second day. My experience in the fields made me so incredibly grateful that in Canada the worst job you could end up with is working at McDonalds.

The one job we did that was actually rather fun was clamming. Besides the fact that it was cold, dark, and smelled like fish I enjoyed myself. The main reason being that the clammers were all so positive, and joked around constantly. They kept our spirits up even though we were completely horrible at clamming. It was wonderful to see a group of people doing this horrible job at all hours of the day and night, who chose to see the positive in everything and would rather have a laugh than be upset about their situation. It was a nice contrast to the previous day when we had no one to talk to and even though we made absolutely no profit for our work that night I think we all had fun and learned a lesson in the value of positivity.

The other job we did was rock picking. Even though it was much less physically demanding than the fields, it was a million times more mind numbing. Spending 6-8 hours staring at rocks is definitely not my ideal day. I couldn’t imagine spending all my life alone staring at rocks. After some time, the rocks all looked the same and you struggled to even remember which ones you actually wanted. It was a very discouraging job, made even more discouraging by the view of the mansions on the hills. The idea that we had to go back to a shack while these people had houses big enough to hold 20 families made me sick. It was a very clear view of how our society works, poor people work hard in the heat for long hours while the rich sit up high and simply watch.

Shack week has made us all view the world around in a completely different manner. We once lived sheltered lives where poverty was only something you saw on TV, but now it’s something much more personal. We got a small glimpse of what it is like to not have enough food and not have a proper roof over our heads. We know what it feels like to work till you can no longer stand on your feet for a meager pay check, and now know the real value of food. We learned the value of staying positive and being a family even through times when we have nothing; it’s the most important thing we can do because our attitude towards a situation is the only thing we can control. We’ve also learned to watch what we throw away or call trash, because a pair of old shoes or a cardboard box that means nothing to us could mean the world to someone else. We’ve learned that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Brigitte – LiveDifferent Academy Student 2012

Author: LiveDifferent


“Your Life Matters” – Video Blog from Team One

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 27th, 2012

Haiti School Opening: How You Can Help!

I remember so many first days of school, (come on they are not that far back for me to remember!) I remember the week before sharpening all my pencils, writing my name on all my binders, and picking out the outfit I would wear on my first day back. That day after Labour Day generally had a light crispness to it with the promise of fall about to begin and an excitement. My mom even use to sing the Christmas carol “It’s the most wonderful time of year”!  But the thing I remember most is being excited to see all my friends again after a long but fun summer and to start playing school sports. Being educated was a given, something I really did take for granted. You often do not see the value in it until you meet someone who does have the same privileges. 


Having a primary education is listed in the UN’s Rights of a Child, and yet every year approximately 67 million children worldwide, many of them girls, do not receive this opportunity. Three years ago, when LiveDifferent’s Cole Brown (our Manager of Operation in the DR and Haiti) visited the mountain community of Calvaire in Cap Haitien, he found children who were a part of this astronomical number of uneducated children. He knew that LiveDifferent needed to help and set out with the plans to help Calvaire. The first thing LiveDifferent did was to buy the land for the school. The crazy thing was that to the naked eye it looked like we had just bought the side of a mountain, but as construction began, our work crews dug right in (literally!) and built a beautiful retaining wall and it all came into better focus. 

retaining wall

Construction began May 2010 and our first group of Hero Holidayers from Ft. McKay Native Reserve were there to do it! Since that first trip we have had 3 other teams come and complete 2 classrooms, washrooms, and an office (currently being used as another classroom). Construction has not been easy and is even primitive at times. For example, instead of using heavy machinery, our crews have dug and lit fires under boulders to make them easier to chip away. Nothing gets wasted though, because these rocks have been used to build the retaining walls around the school. Water for this project had to be brought by hand, mostly from a natural spring at the base of the mountain. On our trips, for fun, we get our volunteers who are up for it physically to do a “water run”. It’s hard! I had to do it with only half a bucket and still came to the school huffing and puffing as little children passed me with full buckets on their way to their homes (these kids do this up to 12 times a day!). Despite all these challenges and daunting tasks LiveDifferent kept focused on the fact that our school would help in educating this community and aid in ending their cycle of poverty. Finally, in October of 2011, we began our first year of school!!! 


This October 9, 2012 was the first day of our second year running classes. LiveDifferent partners with a Haitian charity called A.S.E.E.D.H. and this group oversees the day to day running of the school. They and our teachers believe in education and its strength in ending the cycle of poverty. It is so evident when you see them in action at the school how much they love and care for each of the students. Currently, we have 177 students enrolled for this 2012/2013 school year. There are grades JR Kindergarten to 5 being taught by 6 teachers, 1 Principal, 1 Administrator, and 2 Educational Assistants. Each child wears an adorable yellow and green uniforms. The subjects taught to the students are: Creole & French, math, social studies, science. 


This school is truly making a difference in this poor mountainside community! Education is a key part in fighting poverty. Haiti may seem so far away from Canada, and sometimes you want to help but don’t know how. Don’t worry, it’s easy to help! Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Partner with LiveDifferent and donate to our school. There are lots of operating costs associated with the school (teacher’s salaries, books, uniforms, supplies, water). Plus we need to build more classrooms too! /donate
  2. Come on our May 2013 Haiti trip. Meet the children and be a physical part of building new classrooms. Registration and trip info:/haiti
  3. Tell others about what we are doing! This is a story worth telling! Share this story on facebook or email it to your friends!

These children are valuable. Their future is valuable and we want to see them become the men and women they were meant to be, and you can be a part of helping that happen!

Nettie Brown
Manager of Operations for Dominican Republic and Haiti


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 25th, 2012

Wow, so that’s what work is!

The Academy students in Mexico go through a very challenging yet very rewarding week called ‘Shack Week.’ This is where they build themselves a ‘shack’ to live in, and work alongside the Mexicans in jobs such as field work, rock picking, and clamming. The students have just completed two days of hard work in the local tomato fields. Have a look at what they have to say about their experience.

Wow, so that’s what work is! Today was so tough, but I’m glad we all pulled through as a team. At times I just wanted to quit but then I reminded myself that some of these people come will back here everyday for most of their lives, so we can pull through two days. It is so different from the outside looking in thinking ‘that would suck,’ but then actually being there is such a crazy experience and you realize how fortunate you are. It makes me wonder what keeps them going. What do they look forward to? How do elderly people get through a day? I wish I could do more for the people here and I wish they didn’t have to live a life of struggle. I don’t understand why the world has to be like this, there are so many people who could help change things.


In the morning the mountains were back-lit by the sun, which made their silhouettes vibrant. It was a nice sight before a long day of work. As we bent and strained our backs to search almost aimlessly through the green tomato plants, I tried to imagine what it would be like to do this monotonous job day after day, week after week. Shuffling positions, trying to find one that didn’t hurt, but every movement led to another pain in my side or a cut on my knee. All day I tried to maintain my mantra that it will be lunch soon – imagine living your life like this!

Every time I close my eyes I see row upon row of tomato plants. Every time I look at my hands I am reminded of the weeds and dirt and leaves that blackened them. Today was a rough day. Even though there is a language barrier and my Spanish is not good, I talked with an older Spanish woman. She said she had been working in the fields a long time. There were about 20-30 other elderly folk in the same situation. They pretty much live to work. I can already tell that this experience will leave me thankful for a lot more than I have been before.


The workers are always so full of joy and willing to help you in any way – including insisting I stay in the shade while waiting for the toilet in case my skin got burned! Even though the work was tough, seeing all the Mexicans working so diligently  was encouragement enough to keep going. If we even thought about complaining about the pain, we just looked at the 70 year olds going at it with the hoe and we were proud of our youth. I will miss their warm smiles and care-free attitudes. Though it was the toughest work I have done in my life, I wouldn’t take back a single bit of it. It is an experience that has changed my life.


October 16th 2012, We left base camp at 0500 hours. We were tired yet excited for the task that lay before us. The walk to the pick up spot was rather nice. The morning air was crisp and the sun would be soon to rise over the hill. We were picked up by our captain and driven to our mission point. The work was hard. It is hard to comprehend how people get up that early every single day. I will never complain again. I can’t imagine how numb one must be, both physically and mentally. Around 1100 hours on our second day of field work I decided I never want to own a garden…ever! 9 hours of picking weeds is definitely enough for my lifetime.

When Canadians see Mexican fields on TV they would see what I saw at first, rows upon rows of crops each with a Mexican worker in them. It’s pretty beautiful especially with the view of the mountains in the background. However the thing you can’t get from your TV is how incredibly hot it is how long these people have been working, how physically demanding the tasks are, or even the ages of some of the workers.


It’s my second of two days working in the fields. Today I needed to mentally and physically tell myself to keep going. I would look up and down the rows of tomato vines and think ‘wow these people do this six days a week!’ I thought back to my life in Canada and compared it to the life these people have here. It amazes me to think how different it is. Some people complain about working in a fast food restaurant at home yet here I met an old man called Coyote who laughed and made jokes all day through this hard work.



Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 18th, 2012

Pic of the Week – Mexican Neighbour

We met this beautiful woman on the Carson Graham Mexico trip this past spring. She showed up to help us clean the yard of her neighbour’s house as we were preparing to build them a new house! Such a selfless action, and we’ll never forget her!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 17th, 2012

Pic of the Week – Haiti School is Open!

Our school in Haiti is now open for the year! 177 little ones are all ready in their uniforms excited for the opportunity to receive a good education!

haiti school

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 11th, 2012

Great Big Tiny Miracles…

On October 1st, 2012, we entered the home and life of Kiryat.  This little girl, just over a month old, had a big problem.  Kiryat had a malignant tumor on the underside of her liver that grew more fatal everyday it went untreated.  Her family: mother, father, and grandfather had set a date for an operation in Tijuana, Mexico to have the tumor removed but had not yet gathered the 50,000 pesos (nearly $4,000 US) needed for the procedure.  To help the family raise money, Coca-Cola donated 40 cases of Coke to them to sell for 10 pesos a piece.  This loving donation did help them with their fundraising goal, but they were still short.  LiveDifferent heard about this little girl when a friend of her family contacted Santiago, our liaison in Mexico, and brought forward Kiryat’s situation.  LiveDifferent jumped at the opportunity to help.

Upon entering Kiryat’s grandfather’s house, a calm fell over our group.  We watched silently as the mother sat and cradled little Kiryat in her arms while the father sat next to her.  Both parents seemed to still be in awe of their fragile little baby girl.  The grandfather brought out chairs for us to sit and hear about Kiryat’s problem.  He brought out X-Rays that showed a baseball-sized tumor in the middle of Kiryat’s torso and told us of the startling rate at which it was growing.  He told us that when the mother was 8 months pregnant, an ultrasound showed the first signs of the tumor and although it was not cancerous, it would eventually be fatal.  He also recounted the fevers, urinary problems and pain it was causing Kiryat.  We hung on every word of our translator Santiago as he retold stories and described the emotional pain of the family.  But where there was pain, there also was great love.  The grandfather said he was going to sell his house and property to pay for the surgery if the fundraising goal was not achieved.  The stories and facts behind Kiryat’s problem left all of us in a state of shock.  But our feeling of unrest was quickly hushed by a simple glance into Kiryat’s eyes.  We each got a chance to marvel at the wide eyed infant as she lay serene in our arms. 

Finally, nearing the end of our visit, the time came to make the donation.   I was given an envelope that I passed to the grandfather saying: “This is our donation, on behalf the organization that we’re all a part of.  The sum is 10,000 pesos”.  As Santiago translated, the grandfather’s face filled with joy.  “You have saved this little girl” he exclaimed, tears filling his eyes.  This donation would top off their goal and complete the 50,000 pesos needed for Kiryat’s operation.  The surgery was said to take 12 hours and was scheduled for October 8th at 9:00am.  Afterwards, she would recover at the hospital in Tijuana for 2 weeks.   

LiveDifferent’s “Emergency Relief Fund” is used to help families in our community financially who have sustained hardships like that of Kiryat.  It is a collection of donations from volunteers and leaders who support our cause.  Without LiveDifferent’s “Emergency Relief Fund”, Kiryat’s operation would not have been possible so thank you to all of those who have donated to this over the years. You are really making a difference to those less fortunate than us.

Kevin – LiveDifferent Academy Student 2012

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 9th, 2012