The Adventure Begins!

Just over one month ago, eleven strangers met in San Diego. Within a few days those strangers became friends (practically family by this point) and drove down to Mexico together. And that is where the adventure began.

We all chose to spend three months of our lives in Mexico for slightly different reasons, but in the end there’s a small piece in each of us that is the same. We were drawn by the same call: three months of intensive learning, growth, exciting discovery, and an opportunity to do what we could to empower others and bring change. The past month has been a whirlwind of everything listed above.


Lesson one: peanut butter can be added to hot chocolate (and pretty much anything else) and it tastes divine. Lesson two: twenty potatoes makes a lot of gnocchi. Maybe ten would have sufficed? Lesson three: H₂O is not on the periodic table. Lesson four: vegan whip cream can be made out of chickpea juice.

Apart from that, we now know the Spanish alphabet, can count to one million, and are able to introduce ourselves and conjugate verbs, all in Spanish. In social justice class we’ve covered topics from the structure of an NGO to statelessness to human trafficking. We know how to use the local bus system and where the best markets are. We’ve come to develop a small but ever-growing knowledge of Mexican culture and a few of us have even learned that doughnuts are seven pesos, not seven dollars. (We all agreed that seven dollars was a little excessive..)


I think I can speak for all of us when I say there’s been amazing days and not so amazing days. Sharing a living space with ten other people takes a little while to get used to! Remembering to put your toilet paper in the waste basket instead of flushing also takes a while to get used to. New food takes a while to get used to. Sleeping through car horns, loud music, fighting dogs, and the next door neighbour’s rooster takes a while to get used to. Being an academy student has taken a while to get used to. But the harder moments eventually phase into brighter ones and everything we’ve seen and learned and experienced has helped us to grow into the people we are now – slightly better versions of ourselves than we were a month ago.


We have spent the past month discovering that our ‘normal’ at home is really pretty abnormal for the rest of the world. Not everyone has safe drinking water flowing from their tap. Not everyone has electricity or paved roads or a secure job or medical care. The truth is that there are children who can’t get an education because they don’t have a birth certificate. The truth is that there are elderly people living and dying on the streets. The truth is that many parents work for hours every day and still have to make choices that we’ve never even dreamed of having to make – do I pay for the medical attention my child needs or do I fix the roof that leaks dirty water on my family every night? Should I pay for child care so that I can go to work knowing that my daughters are safe, or should I save that money to buy enough food for dinner tonight?

Despite some of the disheartening things we’ve discovered, we’ve also been given the incredible opportunity to put our time and energy towards empowering others and bringing change. We are helping to build a Trade Center which will employ teachers to train local people in skilled trades, giving them an opportunity to find better and safer jobs. We’re volunteering at two abuelo (Grandparent) homes that take in elderly people, ensuring they are well fed and cared for. We are teaching English and art to local children at a community center, giving them a safe space to learn and create. We are working with organizations that make sure kids are fed and washed before going to school, organizations that offer homework help, and organizations that provide a healthy environment where women recovering from abuse can find healing. We are working with those around us to initiate growth in the community.

September flew by in the blink of an eye but we still have two amazing months ahead of us. There is still so much to learn from one another, from our teachers and our neighbours. The world is at our finger tips and we’ve only just begun to explore.
Claire – Current 2016 Academy Student 

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 25th, 2016

Our hearts are heavy…

Update – October 27th 2016

On behalf of LiveDifferent and Cole’s family, we want to thank you for your patience during this tragic time. We want to make sure all updates give a clear picture of where things are at in the Dominican Republic and what the plans are moving forward.

As you can imagine, it has been an extremely tough week for the friends and family of Benjamin Cole Brown and Chuck and Candy Ritzen. At this time, given all collected data and search information, it is believed that the type of plane crash that Cole, Chuck, and Candy were involved in was not a survivable one, and that we will not see the kind of recovery we had all hoped for. This news is not easy to hear, we appreciate that and what it means for family, friends, and yourselves. As we move our focus toward honouring our friend the best way that we know how, please know that Benjamin’s dreams for the Dominican Republic and Haiti have not ended. It is upon us to make sure his tireless efforts were just the beginning of great things to come. Soon, we will have more news about how you can play a role in continuing that work and we thank you, once again, for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. They’ve been overwhelming and truly sustaining.


“We have been so extremely busy this last week walking this very crushing nightmare! It is time now though, to announce that it is with heart breaking sadness that our beloved son Benjamin Cole Brown has very tragically lost his life in a plane crash in the Dominican Republic where he lived & loved so well!❤️ We are continuing to render the services of divers to search & hopefully locate the plane. Grant, myself & our family simply cannot THANK U ALL enough for your love & prayers that have been expressed in a thousand ways!! Everyone who knew Cole loved him.“
— Kathleen Brown, Cole’s Mother

Benjamin Cole Brown dedicated his life to the poor. Join us in carrying on his life’s work.

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**Update October 22nd 1:30pm EST

The past few days have taken a lot out of us, and we can’t imagine what Cole’s family is feeling. It has been admittedly difficult to know what to say to everyone. When the plane went down on Monday, the water was stirred up from the storm that day which makes visibility poor (less than 1 metre). It is starting to improve and should continue to over the next few days, which will make it much easier to spot the wreckage and enable recovery efforts. Thank you for your continued support and concern, especially for Cole’s family.

We also want to extend our gratitude to the Dominican Government for their efforts, and the communities that have been volunteering their time to search for their friend. As the recovery efforts continue, our hearts are also wrestling with how to best remember and honour Cole. We want to make sure that the projects and communities that he was so passionate about receive the same level of commitment and support that he gave them.


**Update October 19th 7:00pm EST
We want to express our heartfelt appreciation for all the thoughts and prayers for Cole and his wellbeing. Many of you will be seeing more and more articles and reports being made as the hours pass, and although there are no new developments to relay at this time, please know that search and rescue operations continue to look for Cole, Chuck, and Candy.


**Original Post Oct 18th 2016

Our hearts are heavy this evening as we wait for more news regarding an incident in the Dominican Republic. At this point, we do know that a private plane, carrying Benjamin Cole Brown and two American friends (Chuck and Candy Ritzen), lost radio contact 6km off the coast of Puerto Plata on a return flight from Haiti Monday evening. Debris from the plane has been found and authorities are currently conducting search and rescue operations. We have staff on the ground keeping us as informed as possible. Your thoughts and prayers for all involved, especially the families, are appreciated.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 18th, 2016