Changed in the Baja — Tyler’s experience in Mexico

From Builds with his family when he was younger to spending 13 weeks in our Academy program, Tyler shares how he was changed by his time in Mexico.

Living in a first-world country and being raised by supportive parents is not something that everyone in the world experiences. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to every activity and sport you can imagine and eventually found my passion in the arts. I went to voice lessons, dance classes, participated in school shows, and eventually turned my love for music and the theatre into a part-time job where I taught dance and performed in theatre.

From a young age, I was aware that not everyone lived the way I did. Both of my parents work with vulnerable people and have always instilled a sense of gratitude in my sister and I. We learned to appreciate what we had and to always give back to those who are in need.

I was introduced to Mexico at a young age 

As a family, we were involved with LiveDifferent for many years. We would go every couple of summers on a Build down to Mexico and volunteer with groups that came down from Canada. After spending a significant amount of time down there as a kid, I quickly realized that there were people living in extreme poverty and this exposure helped me to be more compassionate for others and motivated me to continue helping people back home. 

In the spring of 2018, I began to think long and hard about my future. I needed to make some decisions soon and if I waited to attend university, I’d need to find something productive to do in the meantime. Then I remembered the LiveDifferent Academy program and decided that it would be my next step.

After some quick consideration and a conversation with my parents, I registered and began fundraising for the upcoming semester. After several months of counting down the days till September, I jumped right into the program with full force.

Learning on the ground

Before arriving in the Baja, I had made the decision to embrace every aspect and get the most out of my experience. The program proved to be beyond my expectations and lit a fire inside me that I didn’t know existed. 

I studied current issues happening in Canada and internationally through Social Justice classes, was exposed to Spanish and quickly gained basic language skills that helped me develop stronger relationships during my time in the communities, was introduced to some of the kindest and most hard-working people I have ever met, and I created lasting friendships along the way. 

And I also changed quite a bit, too.

The week that changed everything

They call it Week in the Life and it’s one of the most difficult but rewarding parts of the program. For seven days, you find yourself in the shoes of vulnerable people and experience the hardships that they face each day. While it’s done in a completely safe environment, that doesn’t shield you from experiencing new levels of exhaustion that I didn’t think were possible. 

As days bled into each other, I gained a new understanding and was filled with gratitude for all the opportunities that I have been given. On top of that, I also have a new sense of respect for the people that work tirelessly under difficult conditions to support their families. 

The world needs more empathy and this is a week that I think everyone should experience.

The journey continues

LiveDifferent’s Academy gives you a first-hand look into the everyday life and struggles of people living in poverty while helping you process each experience. The time is filled with unexpected surprises and memorable moments around every corner, making it an experience that will never be forgotten. 

I came back motivated to continue working in International Development and looking for ways to serve others. It helped me on the path to finding my passion and has led to incredible new adventures in my life that I had never dreamed possible. 

I’m forever grateful for the community of people that embraced me and made me feel welcomed during those 13 weeks in Mexico. Each one of them has left a mark on my life that inspires me to this day. 

Our Academy program is a 13-week, cross-cultural experience that begins each September.

Author: Joshua Dueck

Date: February 20th, 2020

10 Years of Friendship — Q&A with Bianca and Sarah

When you volunteer, the world becomes a better place and amazing friendships happen along the way.

As strangers who ended up in the same group, Bianca and Sarah have become lifelong friends. They bonded over hard work in the Dominican Republic and, although they have never lived in the same city, they’ve managed to grow closer over the years. This past summer, they celebrated their 10-year Friendaversary!

We asked them a few questions to learn about how it all started, what they do to stay connected, and how has their friendship made life better.

How did you get to know each other on the Build?

B: I’ve never found it challenging bonding with people on a Build. Everyone is incredibly friendly and working towards a common goal. It was a bit different with Sarah because she is absolutely hilarious. She would constantly crack sarcastic jokes throughout the day (something we definitely have in common) and then never shied away from sharing deep thoughts during daily debriefs. I remember shovelling and shovelling and shovelling. I’m forever grateful that this picture was captured because I feel like we spent hours bonding over manual labour…and challenging gender stereotypes.

S: I think we initially became friends because our height is less than average!

How have you managed to stay in touch over the years?

B: Thank goodness for social media! We continued to have discussions after our trip about what we experienced, our interests, and our desire to make the world a better place.

S: We have a running joke we only see each other every few years. After we met in 2009, Bianca and I hung out for a few hours in Peterborough almost four years later. Then we’ve had a quick brunch in Toronto, and have gone on a trip to Brazil together in 2014. As much as I’d love to see her more, I wouldn’t have it any other way! We casually joke about what country our next hangout will be in.

Bianca and Sarah during 80s night in July 2009. (Yes, we had 80s night back then, t00)

What are some significant milestones that you’ve celebrated together?

S: I knew I needed Bianca in my wedding party (mainly, so we could hang out again). She was a bridesmaid in my wedding in 2016, and I was a bridesmaid for her wedding in 2018!

B: I distinctly remember meeting someone at her wedding who said that she didn’t quite understand why I was a bridesmaid until she saw Sarah and I interact together. We have a unique bond and friendship like no other and I think that’s what I love most about our friendship—it’s unexplainable, and I am totally okay with that!

Sarah knew she wanted Bianca as a bridesmaid in her wedding.

How has this friendship made your life better?

B: She is such a unique friend, and I am so grateful to have her in my corner. I appreciate her constant care and support. I also really appreciate her outlook on life. Sarah has such an upbeat personality full of jokes and sass, but like many, she has experienced hardships. Through thick and thin Sarah always shines through positivity. Sarah makes me want to be a better person (actually, she does make me a better person).

S: I am so thankful for her friendship, the way she loves people SO well, her generosity, and how she has the drive to create change wherever she goes. Bianca inspires me on a daily basis to be better and help others wherever I go.

We see the beginnings of life-long friendships being formed on each Build. So if you can’t find someone to go with you, don’t worry. You’ll meet some pretty awesome people on the worksite.

Author: Joshua Dueck

Date: February 6th, 2020