Mi Familia

Hop on a plane; no seriously run through customs and hurry up and get on that plane because it is close to the time that that little ticket displays at the top corner. Now sit in the pit of the bird’s belly, shoulder-to-shoulder with girls you just met two weeks ago as it reaches up to cut through the clouds with its wings. Laugh, tell stories, and get to know the girls beside you to pass the snore-worthy trip by. Cry a little as the ringing and popping makes your ears and brain feel like a punching-bag used in a professional wrestling gym. Then walk out (clenching your jaw and swallowing constantly to bring your hearing back to its normal ability) to the hustle-bustle of the airport. The solid ground is a relaxing moment for your body to realign itself, but the travelling was not over. Prepare yourself for about a 5 hour drive through military checkpoints and an air-conditioner-wind that will wind your stomach into an angry turmoil. Now, finally, welcome to Mexico.    

I guess you could say that I sounded a little more traumatic- it was only a plane ride and drive really – but my love for travel and adventure doesn’t seem to hit my stomach, ears or nervous mind sometimes. Either way I was in a new country with new people that little did I know was about to come to be my second family. And a new house that has now become a home of zingy-fresh foods, ab-crunching laughter, and a space of pure adventurous learning. I guess you could say that it was home, within a school, within a community of accepting and generous people. With a blank paper, crayons, and this idea my childhood mind would re-surface and the page would be filled with heart-warming colours and a home filled with people of all kinds embraced by a large red heart. So now, welcome to my family – my very…very.. extended family, but just as loved. 

The family that I am most excited to introduce you to is a dedicated, and ever-smiley Mexican family of five. Three young girls with two loving parents who easily opened their hearts to the six teenage girls that spoke little of their language and I am sure did not look equipped to build a chair – let alone a home in 4 days!  We met them and told them the date that we would start building them a new home – a home with space, painted walls, and a leak-proof roof (as the scrap-wooden one they had suffered from a lack-of all of these.) The father, Timoteo was a field-worker and worked hard to bring money to the family whenever the work was available, as was the mother, Ricarda. The girls attended school. The youngest girl (age 3) Maite – who wore a purple velvet-material dress that reached down to her ankles – had a smile that could steal your heart and a shy nature. It is not hard to love this girl and soon her shyness disappeared and her tiny hugs would wrap around me when the day was over. She was an artist at heart as she would pick up the paintbrush everyday and help us paint their house a bird’s egg blue. As a young artist her canvas expanded form the walls of her soon-to- be-home to her arms, face, and hair. The two other girls, Karen and Rocio went to school most days while we worked, but when they came home they did not hesitate in picking up a brush and adding their hard-work to the building of their home. They both wore their hair in straight ponytails with a coloured band and were most excited when we brought them funky hair accessories and stickers to stick all over our faces and theirs. Rocio loved to giggle and take pictures of us by her side. Karen was shy, but extremely ticklish (not so shy when it came to tickling back either). Ricarda was a quiet woman who did as much work as possible on the house and was excited to attempt her hand at hammering a wall together – I think she was better at it then most of us! It is not a forgettable moment when her shy smile and laugh looked down on her successful nail as it lay perfectly in place, unlike mine which seemed to be somewhat sideways and bent in a forceful shape. She was a very happy mother who smiled and listened carefully with a silent respectful manner. Timoteo was full of life with a sense of humour so strong that he could make you laugh without a single word leaving his lips. All day he would work beside us, hammering away. He would come up beside you and gently urge you to let him finish your nail – as you came no closer to getting it in on what seemed to be the one hundredth swing of the hammer. Following that he would hit it once and it was right were it needed to be. A version of the saying “I loosened it!” became the new joke.

The building in my mind seemed to go impossibly fast, as if a movie set in fast-forward was my reality. Before I knew it the house was together and we were rushing around on day 4 to do some finishing touches. And then we were filling their new home with furniture, toys, clothes, and food. 

And then it was there. All there to hit me – 6 inexperienced, Canadian teenage girls had built a home in less then a week. I had built a home for a family – my family. And as we all gathered around the front of the house in a large circle tears prickled the back of my eyes and my over-stretched smile threatened to push them out. It was time to hand the family their new set of keys and let them see the finished project of all their hard work. The home that keeps them safe and dry. We call this dedication day – and we slowly went around the circle telling the family the impact they have had in our lives. I was the third one in to speak. I had thought long and hard the night before about all the things I wanted to tell this family. I had so much to say; I wanted to tell them about their inspirational strength and hearts, and about the experiences we had together. But as I stood there, maybe silent a little too long as everyone stared at me to share my thoughts, looking into the faces of everyone who had worked along side of me and the beautiful family those words failed me. New ones took their place; better ones. Although I stuttered and the tears biting my cheeks made me far from a professional speaker, every word I said was true and were a lot more than words. I couldn’t repeat to you the words I said, my tears seemed to have wiped them clear from my mind. But I still have words in my mind that spring forward at the thought of this amazing family: Strong. Funny. Warm. Loving. Worthy. Dedicated. Beautiful. Fearless. Silly. Family. My Family – Mi Familia

It was hard-work, building was. But I don’t remember the sore muscles. I remember tilting my head back in laughter. I remember the hugs that were long, but not long enough. I remember seeing the smiles of the people I loved. 

-VIctoria, LiveDifferent Academy, Fall 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 29th, 2013


One sunny day in the in the brisk air of autumn, in a province known for its rolling landscape of hills and mountains, known as BC; British Columbia there was a team of nine people who much like Christopher Columbus were discovering new worlds that they did not yet know of but were having an overwhelmingly exciting and educational time learning and exploring the newness of these lands. It was not only in the province of BC that they were expeditioning as for they had also been located earlier on in the previous hours in the lands of Saskatchewan; the flattened part of this country in which you can watch your dog run away for weeks, and Alberta; place of the big trucks, cracked wind shields and big oil farming industries. On this fine day they had adventured from Saskatchewan to BC with their great leader and captain, Father Jamie on their shipbus Black Cheta, the infamous yet trusty vessel that brought team 2 from place to place and journeyed with them as part of their team. It was the furthest towards the tip of the earth, known as north, which the team had ventured so far and the views surrounding Black Cheta were miraculous views of their fine country that some had not thought to be possible. The world was molded into a variety of shapes that would fit any idea a person could have; from the waves of an ocean to the imitation of the clouds, it was really quite the sight.



Now that the scene and the atmosphere have been set out it is time to address the activities of this time frame as much occurred in the several hours surrounding these days. They had performed an informational presentation at an institute for youngins to learn, and had a rather amazing experience at this location. Several members of team 2 had stellar conversations with the students of the high school after the show and they really sparked up some great talks that both participants will remember for years to come. As proof to this our other leader, Navigator Brittany, reconnected with students with whom she had become acquainted with the previous year. The impact that we had on the school was astounding to see and inspiring to all members. The students were well riled up during the time which the three boys in our team known as the Half Singing Chancers got up and made jams, that is music as they call it. Whilst Father Jamie was harvested into a new being known as Animal Master and lead an excersisional routine the crowd was right rowdy and just loved it. When other members told their stories the students leaked from their eyes with emotional connection. Overall the crowd was a jubilant jumping expanse of people seated on the gym floor, what an inspiration!



Another adventurous situation that occurred in the town that was quite confused as to what province it is in, known as Lloyd, is known as The Great Flood. One preposterously interesting day the team was wonderfully constructive; the girls got stuff done with Father Jamie and Half Jordan such as shopping for items and off-road cart racing and the Singing DJ and Chancers Ryan killed zombies on a screen. Our fearless leader concluded that Black Cheta needed an automated bath, but the machinated location bath which he decided to cleanse our tranporter with had it out for the two. As the bath started and the two were stuck in it the water from the showerbath started to pour into the bus! Father Jamie gunned it out of the bath and into the sunny world, only to realize that the innards of Black Cheta were wet and the vocal system for our ship was broken. Oh how would we have our sing-alongs and dance parties during the long hours in which we traveled from town to town?! Have no fear! Our leader’s motto/most said saying is “I can fix this!” and so he did. He healed the vocal cords of the bus and that evening we had a noise record breaking dance/sing-along party. It was a fine day in the realm of team 2’s world and all was well in their part of the universe.



Taken from this blog story informational piece should be that team 2 is awesome. And BC is best experienced the same way as life; driving through it and seeing it all from a close up distance. Also please realize that we do not intake any substances that will affect our wellbeing and are thus known as illegal.

The end.  

Beth, LiveDifferent Academy Student, Fall 2013

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 26th, 2013

Always remember

The buildup to house dedication day was palpable. We had heard there were amazing changes taking place at the build site on Sunday while team members were away enjoying a kayak ride, zip lining, or visiting with surrendered capuchin monkeys. Tension was mounting – we knew the job was not yet complete. How could we possibly be enjoying such great adventures when we knew there was still work to be done?

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we honoured the memories of the soldiers who died for our freedom – our Canadian freedom. Not a typical place for Remembrance Day as the ceremony location was overlooking the Caribbean Sea. We watched the waves roll in and listened to one of our team members read In Flanders Fields. This was an opportunity to reflect on our freedom as we looked forward to sharing a new-found freedom – that of the families whose lives we had spent the past week changing.

Wearing our poppies proudly, we jumped on to the buses for one last trip to the build site. We passed the same tumbling houses we had seen for days, but for some reason the area seemed to be calm and uncharacteristically quiet along our route. The little boys and girls we had passed each day waving and calling to us were missing, but our sights were set on the five houses at the end of the road where the land meets the sea, and the garbage relentlessly washed up onto the shore.

When we reached the spot previously called Aguas Negras (black water), we began to hear cheers and celebration. We walked over the garbage, through a crowd of young boys chanting and singing, using WestJet frisbees in their hands as tambourines. Crossing the same bridge we had been crossing all week, over the black water, we spotted change. There stood the fruits of our labour. Five humble homes painted cheerful colours, nestled into a community of shacks and shanties.

In a community now named Nuevo Renacer (new revival), there is a new beginning. We helped to change the lives of five families and have given them hope. It all seemed fitting on a day that we reflect on the freedom that was given to us by the sacrifices of others.

We’re a team. Change doesn’t happen because of one person but the efforts of many. It’s been an honour and a privilege to be a part of their lives. We are all forever changed.


Lauren Diemer, Flight Attendant

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 15th, 2013


Our last build day is filled with mixed emotions. Excitement to see the houses near completion, confusion about how the time flew by so fast and relief that we don’t have to manually mix anymore cement. It’s come to that point where we’re having our last moments with the families, translators and kids. I’m not sure how to say goodbye. 

On this night we celebrated the project. We dressed up in our cleanest clothes (if we could find any) and headed out for dinner. We haven’t changed the world, but for 10 days we’ve chosen to LiveDifferent and it’s paid off. People who were strangers to us a week ago we now count as friends. There is a great sense of humanity that has come with spending our energy on others. I think the name of this trip should be changed to the Human Holiday. 

I’m thankful to work for a company that embraces the idea of making the world a better place. The Dominican Republic brings money into each of our pockets and it’s nice to put a small portion of that money back into this community. The final song played during our celebration was Don’t stop believing  – truly fitting. We took a chance and tried to help five families get a new lease on life. We’ve accomplished that and more.

When I say “we”, I don’t just mean the 50 WestJetters that traveled here. I mean the people who donated money towards this project, the community leaders that enabled this project to be effective and the translators who helped us get to know our families. Then there was the LiveDifferent staff that took care of all our needs, all the contractors who led the build, the neighbours who joined to help every step of the way and our hotel that kept us safe and fed.

To all the behind-the-scenes people who filled in the blanks – I know there has been a lot going on in the background we haven’t seen. It’s impossible to imagine how many people played a part it getting these homes to completion. 

I can’t wait to see the families move in – a new life awaits them.  I wish you could feel how strongly we care about these people, but know that as a company, we were doing a good thing down here. I hope you’re all celebrating with us. 

Jennifer Sinyerd, Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, Edmonton

Author: LiveDifferent


The price of poverty

Anyone who has ever dealt with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. – James A. Baldwin

Everything is standing still while simultaneously rushing by. The wind is strong and the waves are thick, black and riddled with garbage. I have been here before and the feeling is always the same – it can only be described as a punch in the heart. This time, I don’t notice the smell although some of my new friends are swallowing it down as quick gusts of wind carry it by. 

A little hand takes mine and walks me down the familiar path.  The community has flooded from the surf emerging over the walls of the rocks on the shore. Children are swimming in the sewage-filled water spilling over their porches, and families are bailing out the homes being invaded by black water.  

Our journey to spend a day with a few of the kindest souls I have ever met has begun. We arrive in front a small blue shack and are welcomed by smiling faces. Kids are running in circles in front of the house and hurry in as soon as they see us. They are hesitant but generous with smiles and laughter. This family has graciously welcomed us in to their home to experience a few moments of life through their eyes.  We have brought a few weeks’ worth of food for them to express our thanks and help to cook them meal. It is a modest few grocery bags full of supplies for the mother, two boys and grandmother living here. 

I have experienced a day-in-the-life before with LiveDifferent, but at that point it was a work day organized at one of the local garbage dumps. This day is different – not worse, not better, just different. Each time I’ve asked myself the question that Cole, the LiveDifferent leader in the Dominican and Haiti, posed to us on my first WestJet trip (I have returned this year as a team lead) – who would you be in this life? When fetching a five-gallon pail of water takes an hour out of your day in the sweltering heat, or washing laundry by hand consumes four hours of your morning. It’s easy to lose perspective in our first world and complain when you can fit all but two dishes in your dish washer.  

The mother is generous with her time and patience as we fumble around the kitchen nervous to meet our new friends and share a few stories about each other’s lives. As we prepare some food, they begin to tell us their story.

The father, who struggled with diabetes, passed away seven months ago from a heart attack. There are two beautiful sons and a daughter in the family, one son is just 13 but had to leave his studies to work as a motorcycle mechanic so he could make just 250 pesos a week, the equivalent of $6.25 Canadian. The youngest boy struggles with diabetes like his father, and is often very sick as a result of having no food to eat. I struggle with the next part of their story as there is no easy way to relay it and it should not be something that any person has to experience. The youngest of the family, a beautiful and bright little girl named Estafni, was sent to live in a nearby orphanage as they could not afford food to feed the whole family. 

This beautiful woman and mother of three was forced to choose a child that would be the most likely to survive on her own and give her up to be raised by strangers. This family has no money to buy food and yet they have paid the price of a child – giving up raising her only daughter and her boys growing up without a sister.  

Everyone has a story. While some may not be of love and loss, everyone here is paying a heavy price to live in poverty. From the simple tasks taking ten times longer to execute, spending long hot days and nights with an empty stomach, or losing your sight to a preventable disease –these are costs that no person should have to pay. Yet, this beautiful family is able to find some semblance of a silver lining as the mother smiles at us with tears in her eyes and says, “but at least Estefani is big now – she is eating, reading and writing.” I knew before the translator said it out loud that this would break my heart ten times over, as she fought back tears and looked at us to repeat the words in English. 

So how do we find the balance? There is enough food and wealth to take care of the world four times over, but what are we as a first world wasting it on? I can’t answer that for you, all I can ask is who would you be? And what are you willing to do to change it?

For Clayvis, Henry (the man of the house now), Kevin and Estefani – my heart is with you always.

Laurel Myers, Program Delivery Advisor

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 13th, 2013

Spring tide

It was a long, hard day in the hot sun.  This particular day began when we discovered that the area of community in which we were working was almost underwater due to a phenomenon they call the spring tide.  The streets were full of dark water and garbage, as were some of the local shacks. Waves were crashing on the shoreline and over the meager, community-made causeway, bringing in more water and garbage by the minute.

The situation required some creative workarounds and the need for many remote locations to bring gravel, sand and cement to mix.  Cinder blocks were set into the water in the few places where it was only ankle deep, allowing us to have a stepping stone path to carry buckets of supplies back-and-forth into the houses. Community members helping on-site were pushing wheelbarrows through knee-deep water where the usual routes into the houses rested.

The dark, smelly water slowly receded as the day passed and by the afternoon, we were back to business as usual.  Many of the community members were busy in the streets sweeping the garbage out their doors or off of their porches.  One lady who had kindly offered her house as a place for us to deposit backpacks and belongings for safe-keeping was in tears – I suspect, not because there was water in her house, but because some of our belongings got a bit wet.  

I found myself acclimatizing and the temperature didn’t bother me as much, so I made the mistake of not taking enough breaks and not drinking enough water. By the end of the day I was both exhausted and feeling ill.  Rest, a little lemonade with extra salt and some food, and I’ll feel much better.

The walls are up. We are working on smooth coating them now. Wiring and plumbing is happening as we work. The roof will be the next big challenge, but for now, which way to bed? 

Chris Van Vliet, First Officer

Author: LiveDifferent


Work-play balance

After two full days of construction with the hand of fifty WestJetters, the houses are beginning to take shape and transform from stacks of cinder blocks. These houses will turn into homes where families will regain their dignity, their sense of pride and above all, reclaim their safety. No longer will wind and rain come screaming through gaping holes in the ceiling or will they watch as their possessions go flooding away with every modest rainfall.

As a collective, this WestJet Hero Holiday team has pulled together and is working as hard as a construction crew found in any Canadian city. The blazing Dominican sun wraps you in a blanket of humidity so thick that beads of sweat begin to form even before the first shovel digs into the mounds of concrete. By mid-morning, most of us are totally drenched – the perspiration soaked Hero Holiday T-shirts serving as a silent reminder of WestJet’s commitment to the people of the Dominican Republic and to the community of Aguas Negras.

There is a saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So the good folks of LiveDifferent have injected a bit of rest and relaxation into the mix. After working the morning shift, one half of the team went on a waterfall hike to one of the many beautiful hidden treasures on the island. A welcome reprieve and a chance to soak tired muscles under a cascading waterfall on a magical afternoon escape.

As WestJetters we are known for being fun and friendly, and this afternoon fun was both king and queen for the day. It was good to see and hear everyone laughing and having a good time as we swam under the waterfall. Tomorrow we head back to the build site with renewed vigor, giving the other half of the team their opportunity to experience what we had experienced today. I have no doubt that they will be just as delighted with their afternoon hike as we were with ours. 

Did I mention that we have personal coconut deliveries? At lunchtime a gentleman arrives with a wheelbarrow full of coconuts, enough for the entire team. So as the other half of the team is out enjoying the falls, we at least have coconuts.


Veron Marsh, Guest Service Ambassador, Vancouver

Author: LiveDifferent


The right fit

I’ve never been here before, so why is it that after only a few days, I’m comfortable here? The people are welcoming, the hotel is secure, the ocean is alarming and supportive at the same time… No, it’s something closer to home.

Meeting at the airport, I was fairly certain I would know no one. Some of the names seemed familiar, but I definitely wasn’t embarking on this journey with my best friend. It was a bit intimidating and lonely to not know anyone, but I knew it would only be a matter of time. How did I know that?

Once we reached the island, some of us were told who we would be bunking with – again, another risk. How do you know? Why is it that my roomie and I have had no trouble getting along? In fact, after just a couple of days, it feels like I’ve known her for years. I’ve considering myself lucky, but I don’t know that I expected anything different.

I’ve been watching everyone and learning, through body language and conversations, how everyone is handling the situations we have encountered. How might one person deal with the variety of emotions we have been facing? Who needs to talk about it and who might to take some time to process what they have seen, heard or smelled?

People of all backgrounds, walks of life and from all the corners of Canada, have chosen to be here. We each decided, for our own reasons, this was an experience we couldn’t miss. Each of us has had our own struggles down here, emotional or physical.  We have become individual pieces of an inconceivable whole.

Houses being built with scarcely more than a foot between walls; block being laid upon block. My job was to make sure there was enough mortar between the layers of blocks to help make a strong wall. But sometimes, the mortar wouldn’t stick. Girls in the house next door were doing the same, saw my dilemma and reached over to help. Different teams, different houses, but one goal. We’re going to make sure these houses are finished, good and strong, and with a few laughs (and some tears) as our mortar dries.

If the rumours are true, we were hired for personality first. Here, this has never been so evident. 


Lauren Diemer, Flight Attendant


Author: LiveDifferent


An amazing day-in-the-life experience

The homes in this community are tightly knit, as are the people within.  The laneways are not laid out in the orderly fashion we are accustomed to. They go in several directions and are rather maze-like.  A group of five of us were split up and sent to two homes to experience the daily tasks of dishes, laundry, sweeping, mopping the floor and, finally, cooking the evening meal as a show of gratitude for allowing us into their homes.

We wound our way down the path-like lane. I noticed they are sloped on either side to ease the flow of the contaminated black water from the high tides and rain. The humidity and 32-degree temperatures are more than I am used to, even in our summer months back home.

I had to take a very large step just to get into the house. The family lives right at the dead end, where the water flows into the lane. We spent three hours learning about their world and, hopefully, relieving the mom of her daily tasks. This tiny two-room home does not have a bathroom, running water, a sink or a fridge. They do have two beds and a bureau, which is actually an end table placed on cement bricks so it doesn’t get wet when the waters rise above the home’s threshold.

In the kitchen, there is a four-burner gas stove on a small table that doubles as the work surface for preparing meals and holding clean and dirty dishes. It’s also the eating area. The food and cooking pots are stored under the table. Water is carried in and stored in a drum in a corner of the room.

The living room is in the same room as the kitchen, with a wicker loveseat and chair set, a small shelf holding an old television and a few ornaments. A strand of mini Christmas lights strung along the top of the wall give this sweltering room a festive feel, which leaves me wondering how this family would celebrate.

Angelica is 25, married, nine months pregnant and has two adorable little girls who are two and three years old. This experience left me with such gratitude and with deep feelings of guilt – tears in our eyes as we washed dishes in the cold soapy water. Wow. We have so much compared to the poverty in this village. But this village is a community that takes care of one another and shines, in ways, above many of our communities back home. The gift of experiencing Angelica’s day was life changing.

It stormed that night. We felt sad and helpless for the families we are building for and the ones we’re reaching out to during the day-in-the-life program. It was a restless sleep for most of us. Angelica was not resting easy either – we were told she was in labour the next morning!

Today brought news of a wonderful new baby girl being born. Angelica is one of the lucky ones here and could afford to have her baby in the hospital while her mother-in-law helped with the girls. Her husband, a (motorcycle) taxi driver, could not afford to take a day off.

From the hospital 24 hours later, Angelica brought this sweet wee babe for us to see. We have so much joy and love in our hearts for these people. They truly love unconditionally and work together through everything. They cheer for us daily as we help to build them safe and healthy places to rest their heads and raise their babies. The children chant, “We love you!” as they run along our busses and leap into our arms as we walk to the worksite for another precious work-filled day as a community. 

As I go to bed tonight, I’m so grateful we were able to provide this family with a whole chicken, but I can’t help wondering when they will feast on a whole chicken again. Will that new baby grow to be an educated adult, able to provide love, just as she now receives, as well as a warm, dry and safe home for her own family? 


Fern Etzkorn, Load Planner

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 10th, 2013

Cinematic magic

It’s movie night, and I’m not sure how to describe the feeling of driving down a very dark and narrow road as the sound of the cheering and screaming kids who are way beyond excitement begins to grow in the distance. Out of the darkness appears the glow of flashlights, a makeshift movie theatre that consists of a projector, a sheet between two palm trees, and a group of children who are trying their best to be patient.

We are in La Union. The darkness has been transformed into something that we take for granted every day – a theatre. We climb off our trucks and scatter to find a seat near our new very special friends – the children. As everyone settles in for the main feature, I’m amazed how we have gained their trust. I’m not really sure how much of the movie our group actually watched while we visited with our new found friends but, of course, that’s not important.

Unfortunately only our past, current, and future fellow Hero Holiday WestJetters will know the true meaning and understand the affect these small moments out of our busy day have on everyone we cross paths with on this trip. Just like all of our activities on this trip, it’s hard to judge who is impacted more during movie night – the people we meet and try our best to help in any way we can or us, the WestJetters.

I’m sure I’ll never truly understand what the comfort of new friendship and a night to forget about all of the things around them means to these children, and I’m sure there are 49 other WestJetters with me tonight that feel the same way.

Give your loved one an extra hug tonight and take time to truly appreciate how blessed we are with the lives we lead.


Todd Hunt, Aircraft Maintenance Engineer

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 8th, 2013