Strangers become family

It’s funny how 10 days can make such a drastic change in your life. How what you thought was your reality becomes an entirely new one, and how strangers from a different world can become family. This Hero Holiday trip has changed my life.

Clarivel is a mom of seven, a teacher, a singer and an inspiration to me, as I’m sure to a lot of others on my team. She’s a strong, courageous, and independent woman who I look up to in so many ways. I got to sit down with her just by myself and I am truly glad I got the chance to do so. We talked about her love for teaching, her amazing kids, her strong faith, and her incredible story. I found out some heart-wrenching details that honestly broke my heart. She told me that when it rained her house would flood and there was nothing she could about it. Seeing how much it has rained in the past 10 days was a whole new view on how she had lived before we built her a beautiful new home.  She kept saying that all she wanted was a safe and secure home with a door that locked so she could feel a somewhat safe environment around her and to keep people from coming in during the night and trashing it. When she had started to cry I tried to keep it together but then I cried too. I never knew how much I had taken for granted. A safe home and a locked door, among other things in my life.

When she started singing to me all I could feel was pure joy. She has an amazing voice along with her oldest son, Vladmir. Even though I couldn’t understand it because it was in Spanish, I still felt the emotions she was feeling just by looking at her face. She had told me that she wanted to be a famous singer when she was younger but nobody had scouted her. She then told me now she just sings in church. It made me think that we as people in this world, may not live in the same conditions and have different ways of life, but we all dream the same dreams. We are just kids growing up in different parts of the world. It’s hard to find words to explain how much Clarivel has touched my life in such a short amount of time.

On the Dedication Day, Jen and I wrote the speech to read to her. I was truly honored to have done this along with being the one to hand her the keys to her safe and secure home! She surprised us with a performance of her singing two songs, it was inspiring and amazing to watch. You could tell that this was her passion.

When it was time to say goodbye, we both cried. Her entire family told our team that they were going to pray for us to live safe and happy lives along with how much we’re changing so many different families lives by doing what we are doing. I am so inspired and changed by this woman’s strength. Our last hug she said that she was my Mom and that I was her Daughter. I began to tear as I was hugging her because not so long ago I didn’t even know who this woman was and now she was considering me as one of her daughters. She ended up telling me that she loved me too, and I said it right back. I do love her, she has changed my life in so many ways and I can’t thank her enough. She is a gift from God and I will always remember the change that she has brought into my life.


Kyra ~ Building Dreams Volunteer 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 29th, 2013

Special moments

Today my good friend Hilary and I got to experience a day in the life of a local Nuevo Renacer family. Jamie (23) the mother of the house welcomed us into her home with open arms and a huge smile on her face.  Although Jamie was extremely shy shewas absolutely honored to have us and was very open to sharing her story with us.

She is a mother of two extremely adorable kids who she had pulled from school for the morning so that we were able to meet them and really get a grasp on what her daily life is like. In the first five minutes of seeing this family’s home I began to see the strength and determination this family has had within themselves to just simply make it through a day. Imagining the worst possible living conditions I know and multiplying that by a few is what this family was so honored to welcome me into. I’m still trying to process what I have seen today and the fact that even though I have seen the conditions and done the daily chores I will never begin to understand what this family is actually going through.

Looking back on the experience one of the things that really impacted me was when we asked Jamie where her Mother and Father stood in her life. She explained how at a very young age they abandoned her and really wanted nothing to do with her. Even trying to process the loneliness that Jamie has experienced in her life breaks my heart.  Most people would dwell in loneliness, but being the amazing woman Jamie is, she took it as motivation to provide everything she didn’t have, to her young family. Explaining how she dropped out of school at the age of 10 to become a maid so that she could start putting money together for the family she dreamed of providing for. I find myself reflecting back to when I was 10 years old and it almost feels like a slap in the face as all the things I took for granted. Jamie would only be able to have these things in her wildest dreams and my worst nightmares were her reality.

Jamie is a woman with a strength that I will never understand and the craziest concept for me to grasp is she is only 4 years older than me. A lot of heavy emotions were shared over the duration of the morning but through it all we definitely shared moments of pure happiness. The authentic Dominican meal that Jamie was teaching us how to cook was nearly done and Jamie asked me to prepare the juice. When I had completed my task I glanced over to see her little boy Johanson (3) drinking from the pitcher I had stirred it in possessing the biggest smile I have ever seen on a child’s face. It is such a small thing but I was so overwhelmed to share such a joyful moment with Hilary and the family. I found myself instantly thinking about the special moments like that I share with my family. It’s profound that how we can be on two opposite sides of the world yet share so many of the same values in family, faith, and love.

Emily ~ Building Dreams Volunteer 2013

Author: LiveDifferent


Life altering moments

Words are inadequate when it comes to describing life altering moments. The idea of your world, and the worlds of those around you being changed at one simultaneous moment, is too powerful for paper. But we’ll try….

This year, our Building Dreams Team of 35 people returned to Aguas Negras, but we ended up being welcomed by the community of Nuevo Renacer. Nuevo Renacer (meaning ‘New Re-birth’), has experienced so much change over the last few years that they thought it was also appropriate to give birth to a new name. From the Black Water community that it was once called, rose the rapidly changing and colourful Nuevo Renacer, where our group was honoured to be involved in the continuous growth and change that it is experiencing. 

For five days, we worked extremely hard to build three safe and dry houses for three beautiful families who were living in unbearable conditions. Throughout the week we built extremely strong relationships, met a lot of incredible people and ultimately, we became one with the people of Nuevo Renacer.

Getting off of the bus on this last day was a little bit different this time. We were still greeted by the usual swarm of kids, still being pulled in two directions, still being used as jungle gyms, but the kids were clean, had their hair done and of course, without fail had massive grins from ear to ear. The community was buzzing. New faces, familiar faces, old faces, and young faces, but all joyous faces. This day was going to be amazing and something to be cherished forever.

Today we had the honour of presenting the keys of the three houses to the incredible families that they now belong to. The presentation included thank you’s to the community representatives, the translators, and the contractors that we worked with. In addition to the speeches and presentation, there was a lot more that made this day as special as it was. We all joined together in singing one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most beautiful ballads, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and performed an extremely high energy group dance to an upbeat Macklemore tune, to help express our gratitude towards all of the new friends and families for accepting us into their lives.

To think of your entire universe changing in one week is a crazy thought. People come from a foreign land just to build you a home. Gratitude was given, but in a variety of ways. Clarivel, sang songs for us through which her passion and gratefulness seeped through, Iris demonstrated her love through her eloquently worded speech to which the translator interpreted, and Calme, perhaps the most impactful, remained in almost perfect silence. She was saying thank you a lot, they all were, but that same idea of your world changing, the idea of being given hope and life, is so heavy that your words are crushed by the immense meaning of those keys. It was truly beautiful.

Today, we didn’t just give the families their keys to safe and dry homes, but rather we gave them keys that are very much symbolic of the new life, new hope and new opportunities that have been bestowed upon them.

Our group came to the Dominican Republic once again with the goal of changing the lives of three incredible families and furthermore creating a ripple effect throughout the community with our positive and euphoric energy, but what these families and what this community gave to us was far greater than we could ever have imagined. To be embraced by a group of citizens that are just a small portion of the warm-hearted, loving, kind, passionate, and giving collective of Nuevo Renacer, was something that we’ll never forget and will remain in our hearts forever.

Keiran and Sean ~ Building Dreams volunteers 2013

Author: LiveDifferent


There’s No Place Like Home

It can be overwhelming to travel to a foreign country, to work with people you’ve never met, and see things you’ve never seen. However, after coming to Mexico as a volunteer two years ago I knew that I had to come back, and deciding to be an intern in Mexico this summer was one of the easiest choices I’ve ever made. Although the choice was easy, I cannot say that I did not have concerns about being here for a month. So many thoughts went through my head before leaving; would I make friends? Would it still be new and exciting? Would I get homesick? Not long after arriving though, all my questions were answered. Within five minutes of meeting my fellow interns, I knew it was going to be an amazing month.

Being an intern was different than volunteering, it gave me an opportunity to work on leadership skills, but it also allowed me to see the trip from a different perspective. Watching the volunteers grow, change, and appreciate life during their week in Mexico is such an awesome experience. It really brings me back to when I was seeing and experiencing all that hero holiday has to offer for the first time. Listening to all the open-minded conversations during the debriefings is such a rewarding experience, and something I love doing every night.

It is such an amazing feeling be able to wake up every morning knowing that you will be one step closer to changing the lives of the families who are receiving homes. I always find it interesting that in Canada doing labour that we do here is strenuous and something I would more than likely complain about, but when you are building a house for a family in need, it barely feels like work. Every day you experience feelings you’ve never felt, and every build is unique. Being able to hammer all day, while laughing hysterically with the family and team is such a humbling feeling. Watching the families open up throughout the week is always so wonderful to watch, and their smiles are what keep me going each day no matter how tired I am. Coming on this trip you expect to change the family’s life, and you have no idea how much they change yours in return.

The relationships that you build in Mexico are something that always stand out to me. It’s hard to believe that people you spend so little time with could become your best friends, and people you confide in once back in Canada. Although provinces may separate us, I am confident in saying that I could call up almost all of the volunteers at any given moment and have a friend to talk to. After being on a Hero Holiday, you are filled with so many emotions and dealing with them can be hard, especially at home with people who don’t always understand. But because of the tight bonds I’ve made down in Mexico, I always have someone to help me through hard days.

Summing up all the emotions I have about Mexico is fairly simple. Mexico is a place where I feel safe. It’s where I know I’m not judged. It’s where I find myself, and who I want to be as a person. Mexico is where I’ve made memories and friends that I’ll never forget. Mexico is my home, and like everyone knows; there’s no place like home. 

– Emily, LiveDifferent Intern 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 26th, 2013

Author: LiveDifferent


No Love Like A Mother’s Love

As we walked through the streets of Nuevo Renacer, we carried food for a meal, that would be feeding a family, who potentially had not eaten for days. Upon our arrival, our concern was how sweaty we were inside her home, but Kaleva’s concern was making us feel welcome and comfortable. Kaleva shared her life story with us, but continued to stay positive and show us her beautiful smile. Her story was shocking but we listened; excited to be an attentive ear. Kaleva suffers from diabetes and fails to meet the demands of her expensive medication and food. Four months ago, Kaleva’s husband past away from diabetes and in addition, her youngest son has been diagnosed with it as well. To make sure her son would receive the medicine and food he required, Kaleva was forced to give her daughter away to an orphanage so she could have a better life; a decision Kaleva regretted to make after being raised in a very similar way. 
Mothers around the globe make sacrifices for their children everyday, but Kaleva’s circumstance was definitely extreme. Stephanie, Kaleva’s daughter, was the only female child of the family. Kaleva shared stories about Stephanie and how she was the happiest girl and that everyone in the community loved to be around her. Stephanie visits her mother and brothers once a month. She was proud to tell us that Stephanie would of been over joyed to meet us that day, a comment that left our hearts full. Among these stories of Stephanie, there was no doubt Kaleva loved her unconditionally and it still tears her heart to know the best thing to do for her family was to send her daughter away from them. 
We later returned to visit Kaleva and her boys to say goodbye and bring her a Spanish-English dictionary as she had shown interest in wanting to learn English. To our great surprise, Stephanie was visiting that day. We felt so honored and priveledged to get to meet this amazing young girl who lived up to her Mother’s high description of her. She was very friendly and outgoing and full of smiles. Her two brothers played it cool, but were very obviously happy to have their sister back for the day.
Although we got to meet Stephanie, we were frustrated and saddened by the fact that Kaleva and her family’s situation could have potentially been prevented within different conditions. With some health care and an increase in their daily nutritional intake, the outcome could have had the potential to turn out differently. Although we felt these negative emotions, Kaleva’s positive attitude and courage overpowered them. This left us with a sense of honour to be invited into such a beautiful woman’s home. We will never forget the afternoon that Kaleva brought us such joy among such a sad story. Kaleva was able to share with us that no matter where you live, a true mother is someone who loves you unconditionally. 
Jaimie and Josh ~ Building Dreams Volunteers 2013

Author: LiveDifferent


Talks and Walks

Today was something of its own. It was day 3, and our first day working on the site. Fellow volunteer and friend Andrew and I, were both working on two different houses today, and had two completely different experiences. From the moment we set foot on the worksite, I was handed a shovel and was mixing cement  within the first five minutes. It was nothing but hard work and sweat from that moment till lunch, but we both knew what an awesome thing we were doing. It felt so amazing to actually start working on the house, setting the bricks and playing with some kids any spare moment we had. It wasn’t until the afternoon that Andrew and I experienced some different but astounding things. 
As Fellow volunteer and friend Lauren said, this first day working on the site was no walk in the park. We sweat, and an hourly reapplied sunscreen, hoping we wouldn’t get too burnt. But what was the most interesting part of my day, was sitting down with the mother of our family; Clarivel and of course a translator. First I worried about the questions I was about to ask, but the second I sat down and saw Clarivel’s smile and joy I understood that this wasn’t a task for us to find out information or facts that you can share when you get home, it was  to actually connect and understand this women’s life. Clarivel goes around the community teaching women how to write their name. She explained how something so simple like writing your name is actually a very daunting task. Further into our conversation we discussed how all her hard work and volunteering has come in a full circle, she has shared so much with her community and now her community and a few Canadians are giving back to her. She then said that everything we do today will not go unseen, and that our great deeds will be shown and great things will be drawn to us aswell. I truly enjoyed getting to sit down with Clarivel and getting to know about this proud and joyous mother! 
As Andrew was having an amazing chat with a Clarivel, my team finished finished early, cleaned up our tools, and headed on a walk around the community with LiveDifferent’s Kent leading us along. The area where the few houses we were building did not carry the stench that came along as we headed along the water past more houses coming up to a bridge. The smell was an indescribable horrible scent from the black water as we passed over the bridge. The town had recently gotten rid of its old name “Aguas Negras” meaning “Black Waters,” and had been renamed “Nuevo Renacer.” I coudn’t even imagine how horrible it must of been before. Continuing to walk, we came across some better concrete built areas that had been worked on more, but was shocked when we came to the river to see it not only completely polluted, but the houses across built on the mud and in terrible, barely liveable conditions. Very few have the knowledge of knowing it is not okay to litter. The fact that children are even taught to litter here scares me, and makes me hope this great change and improvement continues to happen. Although, even seeing these terrible sites, any family or child we walked by still greeted us with a wave and a beautiful smile.  
It made me so extremely impressed to see all the houses and work LiveDifferent teams and a few other groups have done around this community. As much work as it was today, I am ready to get just as dirty tomorrow, to help finish these houses, and get these families in need living in them. The love and care this community has can easily be seen by a quick talk or a short walk. 
Lauren and Andrew ~ Building Dreams Volunteers 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 23rd, 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 21st, 2013

Author: LiveDifferent


Unexpected Lessons

I’m a very reasonable, pragmatic guy. A serious planner. It’s my role to plan and oversee. But more on that later. 
I arrived in the Dominican Republic yesterday with a team of about 35 for a Hero Holiday. A bit of background on me: (besides my overbearing need to plan) I’m 35, happily married and live in Vancouver BC. I travel a bunch for work and have seen some stuff and some things (nothing surprises me!) I, like many, associate the DR with white sand beaches, cigars and baseball. Much of this is about to change. 
The reason I am here is my kid sister Kelci. This is her third Hero Holiday and this time she convinced my wife and I, my older sister and her husband to come along. A real family affair! We all saw her drive and enthusiasm and wanted to share this experience with her. This is Kelci’s second trip as team leader. She spearheaded all the fundraising (2 benefit song and dance concerts, pub nights, bottle drives etc.) and organised nearly three dozen schedules in two different provinces. She’s the catalyst, we are along for the ride. All that said, my relationship with Kelci is quite unique and pretty clearly defined. You see there’s a considerable gap in age. When she was born, beanie babies and the Fugees were huge. When I was born, it was more cabbage patch kids and the Bee Gees. There’s a decade and a half that separates us, I moved out before she turned 3. So while we are close, my relationship is more so that of a really cool (I hope) uncle than that of a traditional brother. Keeping that in mind, I guess it’s understandable that I tend to nag or discipline my sister at times. After all, I’m the big brother, the pragmatic one. The planner. Anyway, I guess I’m saying that our roles are pretty clearly defined. At least I thought as much, 30 some odd hours ago.
Today was eye opening. I quickly (thank goodness) realised that planning and preparing for this trip was not at all the point. Once I let go of my preconceptions and dialed in on the present moment, the day began to take on it’s own momentum. We visited two communities, including the one where we’ll be building three homes this week. We met many inspiring people including our staff and trusted leaders Kent, Kelly, JP and Aelea. We met Garcia, a local pastor, teacher, community leader and one-man instrument of change. His story of overhauling the village of Arroyo Seco was nothing short of remarkable. We also met the people we will be building for this week. Though our meeting was brief, my first impression was that of a caring, humble, intelligent and grateful family. It was surreal to stand within the half finished walls of their future home and hear Iris, the mother, tell of too many days spent living in flood water. I did not detect any cynicism in her tone, only gratitude and humility. There was a ton of gravity (and yet another reshuffling of perspective) in that informal first meeting, at least to me. I began to really see the impact that this place has had on Kelci, my sister and countless others.
I wasn’t really prepared for what happened next. We were encouraged to visit the home of Thomasa, the woman for whom Kelci’s team had built a home the year previous. I had seen many pictures of Thomasa and her family, but was looking forward to meeting her. As I walked up to the house I recognised from pictures and looked in the open door, I saw Kelci, Thomasa and the returning members of their team standing in a circle inside the home, singing. Kelci and Thomasa were in the centre of the circle dancing. Everyone was laughing and crying. There was such a look of pride and joy on my sister’s face, and through the crowd, I caught her eye and shared in that moment. Now, I’ve watched my sister plan and organise this trip for a year. Countless hours of spreadsheets and fundraisers. I’ve witnessed her passion, her anxiety and her drive. And while I’ve always been proud of her, it’s not until that moment, that I clued in. Why this meant the entire world to her. I was lucky enough to witness the pride, the generosity and the love that made all that hard work worthwhile. That moment she was in her element, and I got to witness that. It’s very hard to put into words, but at that moment something shifted.
I’ve always been proud of my sister, but I think it took witnessing that moment to realise that our roles may be shifting a bit. Perhaps she doesn’t need a disciplinarian or a “cool uncle” anymore. I’m very much looking forward to the next week here in the DR. Getting to know a very unique and deserving family and building something tangible. But in all honesty, if I had to go home tonight, that would be ok. Given the events of my first 30 hours here, (the kind of stuff that thankfully can’t be planned) it’s already been a success. All thanks to my kid sister Kelci. 
Kevin ~ Building Dreams volunteer 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 19th, 2013