Some people have great smiles because they have dazzling teeth, and some have teeth that make me cringe – yet I love to see them smile because of how it transforms their face. Some people possess smiles that are not won easily, and when you finally receive one from them it is like a personal victory. Others seem to have a perma-grin that almost makes you wonder what in the world they are thinking! Some people only smile with their mouths, and others smile with their eyes and it is like a window into their soul. Personally, my favourite smiles are the ones that make the corners of someone’s eyes crinkle up and remind you that there is a lot of history behind that smile – and the very thought is enough to spark my curiosity to want to find out more about them.
When we picked their family as one of the families we wanted to build for, it was hard to ignore Jennifer’s smile – it spoke volumes to all of us. Jennifer is only 20 years old, but she has the kind of smile that reminds you there is a lot of hard-won history behind it. In fact, her smile is more than a welcome invitation to friendship; it is an invitation into her world. And for many of us, her world is hard to imagine.
This summer we built a house for Jennifer, her husband, Juan de Jésus, and their two young children. Their previous living conditions were deplorable: flimsy walls built from crates and other expendable material, a roof with massive holes that were rusted through and the continual exposure to flooding and the elements. Every time it rained, their children, aged 2 years and 10 months got wet, and Jennifer and Juan would cover them with their own bodies to keep them from getting too chilled while they slept. But in the end, the bottom line for their family was that without outside help, this is about as good as life would get.
One day, about half way through the project I was finally able to come and visit the Hero Holiday team and meet Jennifer’s family. Jennifer was up to her elbows alongside of our team as they worked at the concrete blocks that made up her walls. I had the privilege to sit for a moment and chat with Jennifer about what this house was going to mean for her. What she said surprised me a little. She told me that she was excited that her kids would be safe and dry and that they would have the security that the home would bring. But she also told me about what she was the most excited about: sharing her new home with her family and friends. She told me that she has always dreamed of hosting people in her home and she has never had a home that was fit enough to even sit inside, let alone have company in. This home was giving her a dignity that I hadn’t even considered before: the dignity of having the opportunity to offer something to someone else.
On the last day of our time with her family, we had our house dedication celebration. It poured rain and the muddy streets outside of her home were slick from the runoff. But we were inside her house, waiting for the others to arrive. There were about 5 Canadians, 20 neighbours and Jennifer’s family, squished shoulder to shoulder in her kitchen. The rain made it hard to hear anything between the echo off the roof and the chatter of excitement of everyone inside those four walls. But I caught what Jennifer said in reply to my comment about how much rain there was.
Her smile spread across her face, infused with pure joy. “Yes, there is lots of rain. But we can smile now when it’s raining!”
Yes, actually, you are right. You can – and it is our honour to know that together, we somehow helped to make that happen. Rain, schmain, right?
To find out more about LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s Hero Holidays in Dominican Republic, Mexico, Thailand and Haiti, check out www.livedifferent.com.