The Humanitarian Experience: Crappy Jobs are Good Jobs

Sometimes you get stuck with the crappy jobs in life, and it is completely fair.
One of my most memorable trips that I have taken was to Tijuana, Mexico, in the summer of 2006. We saw the beach, ate tacos and got to spend a week in a trash dump. The dumps of Tijuana are not only a place where some earn a livelihood but it is also a place called home by many of Tijuana’s residents.
It is in the giant landfill that people work, live, strive for something better and even die. Within the dumps there are communities full of life and drama; there are churches and there is crime. It is here that there are extraordinary aspects of life that you will most likely not find in the contemporary cities of this earth.
Residing in this unlikely place was a church that was in dire need of a good scrub down. This meant painting, building an add-on for storage and cleaning an entire church that served the community. Everyday the church serves hot meals to hundreds of children, many of whom will not eat the rest of day. They provide support and child services to the women, children and families of the community and because of all they do the church was dirty.
The church leaders worked very hard to keep the facilities as clean as possible in the dumps, but due to the filthiness of the area it is inevitable that the grime will slowly creep in. Cleaning the church from top to bottom is an overwhelming task that required multiple people and days to complete. The dinning area where the children ate their hearty breakfasts, had white floor tile that was on the verge of becoming brown and the walls of the classrooms looked as if they were painted in the style of ombre brown, not necessarily the healthiest look.
The first morning that I arrived with my fellow do-gooders, we were each given specific responsibilities. There was painting to be done, building to be accomplished and a children’s fair to be put on by the end of the week. I would have loved to organize a children’s fair. Going around and inviting the community to our fair, while designing games and shows for the kids. It would have been extremely exciting and fun. But I along with 2 other lucky candidates, were presented with the task of scrubbing the kitchen floor.
Those brownish tiles soon became a memorable view of Mexico for me. The kitchen and dining area where we cleaned was much smaller than actually needed as it was packed to the brim every morning with hungry tummies. Because of the lack of space, we had to wait until breakfast was served and completely cleaned up to begin our project. After sweeping every last crumble and scooting out the kiddos we were finally able to start. We were handed buckets, bleach and brushes. With our heads down and on hands and knees we scrubbed and scrubbed. tile by tile we made the floor shine against the dark brown grout. 2 days in and we had finally hand scrubbed to perfection the tile of the kitchen floor.
Bringing in a church coordinator we impressively showed off our hard work and eagerly hoped to be able to join in on the planning of the children’s fair. Her response was,  “Looks good so far, but the grout needs to be done as well.” After taking a closer look we began to notice that the dark brown grout was actually white grout. The spaces between the tiles were dirtier than the tile themselves. With a strained smile, we looked at one another and began to find a brush that would scrub out the grime.
By the end of the week my knees were sore, my back was killing me and the children had a clean place to eat and play. The fair went amazing and the painted walls and storage building were all completed in time. The church and all the members were extremely grateful. For the church members having a clean place to gather in refuge is important, but because of the meager wages they earn gathering recyclables, there is not much time to do anything else but work.
Before we left the church, I asked the pastor, when the last time the floor looked so great. His response was, “4 months ago.”
Every 4 months, that floor is scrubbed to a gleaming white, and everyday it is mopped and swept. Every 4 months a team is brought in and some lucky soul like myself is tasked to scrub. It can seem unfair when your given the job, that looks like it is the lowest on the totem pole of things to do, and that is exactly how I felt the entire week. But it would have been unfair to the church for me to say, “Yes I will help, but not with that!”
When I came home I began to realize how petty my “fairness of the world” doctrine was. Looking back I realized that the floor that we cleaned was so integral to the work that was being done there everyday. The children that the church feeds, need a clean and healthy place to crawl, to eat and to play while they come for what may be their only meal of the day. It was not in my authority to determine the need for cleanliness based my desires.
So as I said before, sometimes you get stuck with the crappy jobs in life, and it is completely fair.

11 thoughts on “The Humanitarian Experience: Crappy Jobs are Good Jobs

  1. Great post. Sometimes doing small crappy things over and over again makes a big difference in enabling the larger things to happen. I bet you can’t smell bleach without thinking of that church and that floor 🙂

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