Parksville Rotary Team Mexico – Dedicated To The Ones We Love
Parksville Rotary Team Mexico – Dedicated To The Ones We Love
It has been a day of many emotions as we dedicated a new home to our new family, Policarpio, Augustina, Jennifer and Puol.
The day started with a flurry of shopping – beds, furniture, groceries, dishes, cutlery and household supplies. Then it was off to the house to install everything and set up bedrooms with bedding (including beautiful quilts handmade by Louise), and lay out donations of clothing and personal items, including teddy bears for the children.
And before we knew it, it was showtime. The family had not yet seen inside the house, and we all gathered around in a semi-circle around the front door. The keys were passed from team member to team member, each of us who wished to do so saying a few words to the family, with translation by our co- worker and amigo, Isaak. It was a time of honest emotion and more than a few tears.
Working alongside the family as a team, all our lives had been changed forever…and the Rotary Club of Parksville AM has been changed, as this project marks the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a long and successful partnership with LiveDifferent. This project was but the beginning – Rotarians are now engaged!
After the dedication, we ate together – chicken and fish with salsa, pasta salad and tortillas – all prepared by Policarpio and Augustina. It was a gesture of gracious hospitality that was unexpected but so appreciated.
And now for some final thoughts from the team:
– Definite highlight of the day – the smiles on the faces of the family as they entered their new home, leaving behind 120 sq feet of space for a 484 sq ft 3 room home.
– Long lasting impact – a feeling of truly bonding with the family and we could always come back and feel welcome.
– The biggest OMG moment came from Louise when a roll of toilet paper she was unwrapping flew out of her hands and landed in the toilet bowl – a major “oops” since toilet paper is not to be flushed. Bring out the tongs!!
– Favorite Mexican taste sensation – Jamaica – pronounced ha-micah – a delicious and refreshing drink brewed from hibiscus flowers. another first – fresh caught mercado caught by Policarpio the night before the dedication, cooked whole and served in a huge pot.
– And we could not end this blog without mentioning someone who was with us every step of the way. Pedro and his family had their home built 2 years ago and, as his way of giving back, has participated in every home build as a volunteer since then. He an his wife also sell local crafts, and this evening he brought his beautiful merchandise to our compound. At the end of the evening, he gave us all a hand-braided bracelet as a gift. Such generosity was a wonderful end to our visit and a heartwarming highlight.
Three days ago, we began our build and today at noon, we locked the doors until tomorrow when we will set up the new home and present the keys to Policarpio, Augustina, Jennifer and Puol.
This morning was a last minute frenzy of paint touch-ups, finishing cabinets, caulking, and moving the outhouse into place. But then, this should be no surprise – Rotarians are known for “getting er done”!
With an unexpected free afternoon, our intrepid LiveDifferent leader, Steve, took us on a lovely drive through the mountains – on some very narrow roads with a few hairpin turns – to visit La Mision Santa Domingo. It’s an idyllic spot with bouganvillia blooming in colours of magenta, peach, purple and white. The area was once lush and green but with little rain in past years, it is now very dry and desert-like. We visited the cemetery there and Steve explained the great importance of proper burial rites to the Mexican people. Our daily libation was enjoyed under a pepper tree, something none of us had seen before.
And speaking of Steve, this blog would be incomplete if we didn’t mention the joke he played on us all when we arrived here. He told us that we should speak a few words of Spanish and say “con queso”, meaning “see you tomorrow“. We finally clued in the “con queso” actually means “with cheese”, but not before we received many a startled look.
Dinner tonight was at a local taco stand, after which we walked a block or so to the largest candy store in Vicente Guerrero. There were giant pinatas everywhere and every type of candy imaginable!
Our last stop of the night was the compound where the students from the LiveDifferent Academy are staying. There are 17 students in the program right now, and what an amazing group of young people the are! They have come from all parts of Canada and will spend the next 3 months studying social justice issues through hands on experience, learning Spanish, and participating in a house build. The energy in that group of 17-21 year olds is something to behold and leaves no doubt in our minds that they will LiveDifferent and in so doing will be a catalyst to change the world!
We are all so looking forward to the dedication tomorrow. Just as the lives of one family will change, so too have all of our lives changed forever.
After just 3 days of work, we are all amazed at how well the house is coming together. This morning saw all available Rotarians up on the roof of the house, pounding nails and spreading tar. After lunch, the swarm moved into the house in a flurry of painting, building shelves, installing windows and hanging doors. Tomorrow will be a day to finish all the interior fittings before going shopping for furnishings and household goods in preparation for dedication day on Sunday.
Memorable moments from today included:
– From Diana – the sweetest moment of the day was when Policarpo and Augustina looked at their nearly completed home, then looked at each other and smiled, and he reached over and touched her cheek.
– From Louise – her memorable moment was to consign the work shirt she’s worn to the work site each day – dirty and paint stained – to the firepit.
– From those on the ground – the scariest moment was watching the intrepid Rotarians descend from the roof – easier said than done.
From Marlin – the cheekiest moment was when an unnamed Rotarian told her that the reason she didn’t get any paint on her clothes was because she didn’t put any on her brush, an accusation that she vehemently denies!
From Tim – Communication across cultures – Tim spent 45 minutes today laying sheeting on the roof with Pedro who speaks no English, while Tim speaks no Spanish. Yet they worked together in perfect harmony, each understanding exactly what was needed from the other.
– Our cooks, Rocio A. M and Ana continue to outdo themselves on a nightly basis, serving the most sumptuous Mexican delicacies, always welcoming us with beautiful smiles and accommodating our every need. Tonight we had Ceviche which was mucho delicioso!!
From Jane and Angela – the most heartwarming moment of the day – doing a puzzle with Jennifer and Puol who were then joined by Policarpo. Their pride and excitement upon completing something they had never seen before was a touching moment.
The most photographed event of the day had to be that of Augustina and Diana painting the outhouse – for some strange reason, the paparazzi were out in full force!
Now everyone get your minds out of the gutter – today was a huge day for Rotary Team Mexico as we now have a house where once stood a bare cement pad. Amazing teamwork was in evidence throughout the day as the walls were raised, rooms were divided, interior and exterior walls were painted, the roof panels are on, and windows are cut. We are amazed at what happened today and we can’t wait to see how much we accomplish tomorrow!
We have had so many experiences, as a team and individually, and so our blog will recap the highlights of each team member on each day of this incredible experience. Here goes:
Jo Dunn – totally impressed by the children – from being shy and timid when we first met them, they have now warmed up to us and are totally into the experience. Jennifer is painting like a trooper while Puol entertains us with his antics and high fives. The love and respect in the family is evident in everything they do, and their anticipation is palpable.
Gord Svenson – “Dusty, very dusty.”
Marlin McTavish – putting paint on the backside of a wall with mother Augustina and Jennifer as we shared painting techniques. I also had a opportunity to use my kindergarten Spanish, as I learned about Augustina’s parents and their life – a chance to explore the language and learn words about thoughts and feelings – not your usual tourist language lesson.
Garry Cox – Trying not to blow away in the wind … seriously, putting up those four walls and seeing the house coming together was an incredible experience.
Massey Matsuda – Observing the amazing wealth of construction expertise and talent among our team and seeing what can be accomplished when a group of seniors put their heads together and their skills into action.
Angela Dadoush – Playing with the children, visiting the school, and realizing how fortunate our children in Canada are … and yet how wonderfully happy these children are despite having very little.
Tim Andres – After the second day of building, I am impressed with the large impact we can have with such a minimal amount of effort and financial contribution.
Don Luke – It amazes me that a group who have never done this can get together and build a complete house. It’s phenomenal and it’s fun! And the tacos are great!!
Linda Cox – I can’t believe how much sand comes out in the shower at the end of the day!
Louise Wright, Jane Walker, Angela Dadoush & Diana Matsuda – We walked along a dirt road with Jennifer and Puol to the local Grade 1-6 school to meet the students and staff and deliver school supplies. The government has cut off their supply budget so the supplies were greatly appreciated. There were 3 classrooms with 2 grades in each class, around 35 students per room. The enthusiasm from the students was infectious as they responded to questions, cheered, clapped and loved looking at their pictures on our cameras. We all loved the hugs! Great to see Canadian flags stuck on their lapels and foreheads.
Diane Luke – glass of wine on the beach at the end of a long hot day!
Dierdre Micheal – Puol teaching me to do the bumping high five, sharing wine with Diane and Louise, and getting drenched by the waves.
Diana Matsuda – learning from the LiveDifferent team – observing Steve’s calm and dedication, enjoying breakfast with Carlos, and receiving personal instruction from Isaak on proper nail set-up and painting technique.
Bill Rawlins – The incredible teamwork of this group has left me in awe – seeing those roof panels go up with everyone moving in unison was an amazing experience!
So that’s our day as we saw it – more to follow tomorrow.
– Parksville AM Rotary Club, LiveDifferent Trip, 2014
Rotary Team Mexico now has its first day under its belt – tired yet satisfied with a good day’s work, we enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal prepared by the LiveDifferent staff and before long, people started drifting off to an early night. Dormitory style accommodations are comfortable despite unseasonably warm and humid weather, combined with barking dogs which made sleep elusive for some.
We met our family last night, enjoying pizza and pop with Policarpo, Augustina, Jennifer (aged 9) and Puol (aged 4), and today the building began. The cement pad had already been poured and following an initial period of mass confusion, everyone settled in to their tasks. By the end of the day, we had all exterior walls completed, the ceiling framed and a lot of painting done – white and salmon colours chosen by Augustina and Jennifer. It is so exciting to know that in three more days, the family will have a safe, warm house to live in!
Highlights and memorable moments over the last two days have included:
A flat tire in Ensenada which was repaired within an hour by a mechanic for a mere 100 pesos or $8. When given 200 pesos, he was delighted while we were impressed with his professionalism and honesty.
Jo Dunn experienced some memorable moments when the outside wall of a latrine collapsed and he partially fell in.
Jane Walker and Angela Dadoush playing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with the children in English, after which the children taught them in Spanish.
LiveDifferent is an amazing organization with a unique philosophy of how to truly LiveDifferent and make a difference in the world. It is late and there is too much to write about tonight. More to follow in the next blog. Suffice it to say that we are working hard and having fun!
A Circle in the Dirt, and a Handful of Bottle Caps
A Circle in the Dirt, and a Handful of Bottle Caps
For many of us, our childhood was a time spent goofing off with friends. It was a period in which going on adventures and diving into our imaginations replaced the bills, responsibility, and the world of adulthood which surrounded us but remained in our peripherals until we got older. On a LiveDifferent Trip in Mexico, it is not uncommon for our work site to be surrounded by energetic kids waiting to play. In an area in which many are struggling day to day, and poverty can be seen all around, the kids serve as this reminder of our own childhood and the universality of a child’s imaginations and joy for laughter and play.
On a four day build, the hardest part of the day may be spent playing with the queue of smiling kids waiting for piggyback rides, to be spun around, or thrown in the air. You might opt to go start framing or tar the roof because you need a rest! But of course this is a task we embrace, and the smiles and laughter which fill the worksite makes the lower back pain from four kids hanging off you totally worth it.
Unfortunately, not every child is able to enjoy their childhood to the same extent. More than I anticipated when I first came down to Mexico, some of the children we met may have been young, but they carried themselves with the maturity and resolve of a person way ahead of their years. For a variety of reasons and circumstances, these children have to grow up, and grow up fast. When you first meet one of these kids, it stirs up a mixture of emotions. When you see them taking care of their siblings and interacting with us and the other kids around them with such maturity and responsibility it can be very humbling and inspiring. On the other hand, seeing a child who has to shoulder so many responsibilities at such a young age can be difficult.
While down in Mexico, I had the privilege of meeting such a boy. His name is Ernesto. He is the older brother to three adorable sisters, and he is eleven years old. When we first met he had the presence of a parent, but with a circle in the dirt and a handful of bottle caps I saw him become just another energetic kid filled with laughter, and I gained a new friendship I’ll never forget.
I first met Ernesto when we went to share dinner with the family we were about to share our five day adventure with. Immediately you could tell that while the picture on our wall said he was eleven, the boy standing in front of us shaking our hand was a boy ahead of his years. While we all sat in a circle eating pizza and getting to know each other, Ernesto sat on the edge of us observing this new sight. Over the next two days, Ernesto walked around the work site watching us, reviewing the process and the build like a foreman at a worksite.
While other kids got tickled and spun around, he took the hammer we gave him and quietly worked alongside us. When he finished the task he was given, he would give us a quick nod as if to say, “ok, what can I do next?”
I still remember one moment when we were all chasing the kids around trying to catch them as they tried to jump on our backs or tickle our sides, and Ernesto watched over them like a parent at the park, making sure no one got too close to the edge or got hurt if they fell down. He cared for his home and his family, but also for everyone else around him. By the fourth day Ernesto had begun to open up. His strong handshake at every greeting and farewell was replaced with the high five and fist bump we received from the other kids. He showed us how to shoot a slingshot and even had a competition, and smiles and chuckles began to make their way into our daily interactions with him. However, it was when I obtained a few bottle caps that our friendship completely changed.
In Mexico some of the kids play a game with bottle caps. You draw a circle in the dirt while each player “bets” as many bottle caps as they want and everyone else matches them and places them inside the circle. Using another one of your bottle caps, you flick it with your fingers to try and knock as many of the others out of the circle as you can, and you keep the ones you do. When I showed Ernesto my handful of bottle caps I had accumulated, he ran into his house and pulled out his significantly larger collection. With a smirk, he nodded me over to come and play. Something in his face told me I was in trouble. Ever get that feeling that you were about to get taken to school? We played for what felt like hours! I must say, given all we had was bottle caps and a circle in the dirt, it was a lot of fun! We both played like kids, amazed at the good shots made by one another, laughing at the horrible misses, and egging each other on to bet more bottle caps. We even drew a crowd watching us as other volunteers and Ernesto’s family joined in on our laughter over the missed shots, lost wages, or triumphant wins.
It became quite obvious however that there was a reason Ernesto had such a large collection when my handful quickly dwindled down to just two! By the end of the day Ernesto was the new proud owner of what was once my collection of Coca Cola bottle caps. He jokingly poked my pockets as if to see if I had any more to bet, and I would turn out my pockets as he laughed and shook the stockpile he had accumulated in his pocket. I am twenty-two, and he is eleven, but it was on! I promised him I’d be back tomorrow with more bottle caps ready to play, and he smiled and just rubbed his hands together like he was already counting the bottle caps he would add to his pocket.
After rummaging through the recycling bin at our house, I was back with a vengeance on dedication day! When I saw Ernesto standing with his family in front of their house prior to dedication, I looked at him and shook my pocket full of bottle caps and the bright smile on his face quickly turned to a devilish smirk as he rubbed his hands and pulled out a handful from the abundance in his pocket, ready to whoop me once again. As I said before and I am sure he thought it too, once again, it was on! After the dedication and the delicious tamales the family prepared us, I found myself in a familiar spot behind the house, drawing a circle in the dirt and flicking our bottle caps to see who goes first. Even as he finally opened up and we played our game together, as a testament to his mature character even at his young age, Ernesto would give some of the other kids his bottle caps so that they could join in on the fun. It was a very inspiring sight. We spent the rest of the day flicking bottle caps together, game after game, until our fingers got sore. We both won games, and lost a few. When Ernesto would lose a game in one of his first shots and I would gain all the spoils, he would simply laugh at his gaff and joyfully throw a few more in the circle to play again. What started as one or two, quickly turned into three or four bottle caps being thrown into the circle as we jokingly teased one another to bet a few more. More than I’d care to admit, I would throw down four bottle caps in confidence and walk away empty handed and the sound of Ernesto shaking his growing collection behind me. We played for almost the entire time we were there, and we both got our chance to just hangout, have fun, and play like kids. When finally it was time to leave, I walked over to Ernesto and gave him the remainder of my bottle caps and he flashed his big smile we had become accustomed to the last few days and thanked me.
Who would have known that two people could have so much fun with just a handful of bottle caps that otherwise would have found their way to the bottom of our recycling bins if we had been back home? It was almost hard to believe that the boy playing and laughing with me and the other kids was the same boy who stood quietly on the edge watching over us on the first day we met the family. While Ernesto was a very mature boy and carried on his shoulders responsibilities most kids wouldn’t have to face, like all the other children like him, he is still a kid at heart. Despite his mature demeanor and strong presence on the first few days of the build, he was still a young boy and he loved to have fun.
In their circumstances, these kids are made to grow up so fast and it seems almost easy sometimes to forget just how old they really are. However, every child deserves to have the same childhood we are privileged to have, memories, filled with the fun and laughter and play that many of us remember so fondly and hold on to. Playing with Ernesto, getting to know him better and forming a friendship with him was one of the greatest memories I have from my trip. Even though he is half my age, I can still look at him and learn lessons of responsibility and caring for others, while not forgetting how to have fun and enjoy life. This was one of my most precious memories that I have taken home with me from Mexico and as silly as it may sound, I may not have gotten to experience this friendship, have so much fun, or meet such an inspiring and amazing individual, if it wasn’t for a circle in the dirt and a handful of bottle caps.
This is the first official blog from team number one, and it’s a little bit late in the making since this is supposed to be a weekly blog and we have been together for almost a month now. But we feel as if now is when we are starting to look at how far we have come in the last month.
The LiveDifferent tour has gone from this unfathomable level of awesome that we all are supposed to go along with, to something that we molded into our own. What I mean by this is that once we began our training week the presentation seemed to run and we seemed to be doing nothing but catch up. We were told how there would be amazing lights and sound, epic videos and interactions, and life changing and soul inspiring stories. We were told that the presentation was going to wow the crowd and change people’s worlds. A picture slowly began to develop in my mind of the presentation being this enormous creature that was going to parade itself across Canada and we, as interns, were going to scamper along in its shadow pretending that we knew what we were doing. The show became this huge figure in my mind that was large and in charge.
(Photo by Kara!)
As the training weeks went on I began seeing that the presentation was not really that complete. As we began creating the set, I saw us creating the bones. Then, almost all at once, the music became the voice, the lights became the smile, and the stories became the heart and this wonderfully monstrous presentation that had been so overwhelming became this creation that we constructed as a team and we own as a team. It was at our first schools, Green Glade in Mississauga and Sam Sherratt in Milton, that we really saw that the whole presentation, intro to outro, was all a part of us; it was all something that we created.
Every little detail was our detail, ever movement was our movement, and every word that was spoken was our words. The presentation has gone from something that we are a part of, to something that is a part of us and I am proud to say that that tour that team one is on has officially become team one’s tour.
It is with great enthusiasm today that we share the news release of WestJet and LiveDifferent’s enhanced three year partnership!
WestJet is no stranger to LiveDifferent; in early 2012 WestJet was named LiveDifferent’s airline of choice. Additionally, in the past two years, LiveDifferent has been gifted all the flights we have needed to facilitate our charitable programs, reducing our administrative expenses significantly, and allowing us to direct our time and resources towards those who need it most. LiveDifferent volunteers have also being flying at a discounted rate for over a year now, making this life-changing experience more accessible to hundreds of Canadians.
Finally, an unforgettable community in the Dominican Republic has been transformed, and with WestJet’s help, will continue to be changed for the better, as they annually bring 50 employees to build homes for families in desperate need.
From all of us here at LiveDifferent, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to WestJet for their incredible generosity to us, and to the vulnerable people we serve!
To read more about our growing relationship with WestJet, click here.