Meanwhile in Baja California, Mexico…

For the past 5 years my husband and I were a part of an organization that took high school and college students to Baja California, Mexico, to build homes. The homes that we helped to build, were for people who owned their own land but were unable to build or pay for a home to be built. All of the families that we helped were hardworking field workers who spent all day striving to feed the kids and get on to the next day in one piece.

For the next few weeks the team we were apart of is making the long journey and giving all they have physically and emotionally to build a house that someone can make into a home.

Although we have moved on from the work that we did with that organization, we still like to brag about our friends and the awesome things that they do. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspire me.

Below is a post from a trip in 2012:

The Humanitarian Experience: How the students of Grant High are changing the world 

Mexico 2012

Mexico 2012

All this week I have been without my wonderful husband, but for a good reason. He is on a humanitarian trip this week, building a home in Mexico.  I recently wrote about a group of inner-city high school students that were giving up their spring break to go on this very trip and would like to give an update of what they have encountered so far. The location that they are staying has pretty sketchy internet but I have received a few messages and want to share the details of the trip.

Below you will find a picture of the family, that the students are building the house for. When the team arrived they found that the small 3 person family was living in a tent structure. The mother’s name is Lluvio, she is 23 years old. Her daughter is 4 years old and named Milagros. Her son is Miguel and he is 5 years old.

The Gaxiola Familia

23 years old, 2 kids living in a tent and no father in sight. Their story doesn’t end there. Both children are special needs kids. As with all special needs children much care and time has to be provided, and I am sure that living in a tent does not make this easy. I am 24 and I cannot even imagine being able to survive like this.  I know that these circumstances are found everywhere in the world but looking at this picture bring it all into perspective. She is so young and has more battles to overcome than I will ever have to overcome. And yet as I look at the picture above I see her young face, bright and hopeful.

Milagros was born prematurely, and because of  this she is now nearly blind and has severe leg problems. Miguel suffers from mental deficiencies, it is unknown what the exact diagnosis is, but he has not developed mentally as a typical child would.

On average when Lluvio can find work, which at this moment is picking strawberries, she makes around 240 pesos a week. Converting that to American dollars that averages to about $20 dollars a week. This family definitely has the odds against them. Her ability to provide for her children is being stretched and to give them adequate housing as they grow would have been out of reach.

Yesterday, the last nails were nailed and the small structure that the team had been diligently worked on became a home. It is a simple home, that many of us would call a shed here in the 1st world, but in the small town on the San Quintin bay of Mexico, it is a life changing home. The picture below is of a past home that we have helped build, they are all the same physically but what makes them unique is the people who fund them, the people who build them and the people who live in and make memories in them.

I am so proud of the students that gave up their spring break. They and their classmates sold shirts and raised money to go and build this home and because of all their hard work life has become so much better for the Lluvio and her children.

No longer will they have to sleep on the ground, no longer will they have to be crammed in a small tent. No longer will they have to be tormented by the wind and dust. They can focus on being a family, and Lluvio can now have a safe place to care for and raise her children in.

Thank you, Grant High School students for making this world that much better, you bring tears to my eyes and give me hope in my heart for a better tomorrow.

My previous post about these amazing students can be found below:

Meanwhile in Inner-City America…

Meanwhile in the Midst of Cancer…

The month of October in America means fall leaves, spooky costumes for Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness. Throughout this month, shades of pink colored items are proudly displayed. Items range from the pink cleats that NFL players sport during games, pink pumpkins and pink ribbons pinned to a lapel, all in the hopes that the cure will soon be found.  Last October 2011, this month of awareness became a reality for my friends and I.

My friend and co-worker, Sarah* sat at her desk that Autumn morning anxious. She had found a lump a few weeks back and it was the morning that the results were due. We were all anxious. We were an office full of women clicking away at their computers trying to work but fully aware that life changing news was on its way. I am not sure how she was able to get to work that day, in such a put together manner. Her hair was done precisely and her make-up perfectly in its place. The phone rang, and we all stopped clicking and clacking away at our keyboards. It became very silent in the small office. Not a breath in the room was spent while Sarah listened closely to what the doctor had to tell her.

She quietly hung up the phone and walked to a private office. We knew it was bad and that she had breast cancer.

The month would end with her planning for a life event she had not expected. Being a single mom with 3 kids, ages ranging from 4 to 14 was going to get a lot more complicated. Sarah was in and out of work the rest of the year, as she underwent a series of procedures and surgeries. When she was back at her desk she worked with a smile on her face even while in pain. She inspired me. In an attempt to eradicate the deadly cells from her body she went for the double mastectomy, a surgery that is intense on so many levels. Just last week and nearly 1 year from her date of diagnosis, she had one of her last reconstructive surgeries and is cancer free. We all are thankful that she is healthy again and of course being the hard worker that she is, you can find her already back at work.

The most extraordinary thing about Sarah is that while fighting cancer, getting her kids through school that year and working her butt off at work to provide for her family, she was a humanitarian. On Sunday mornings, I often open up Facebook and find a post from her. Her posts those Sunday mornings share the work she is doing while serving the homeless community at that very moment. She serves others even when she is one in pain, the one battling an unpredictable enemy, the who probably should be in bed resting.  Throughout this past year — on her day off, she has taken her children along and served the homeless community of Sacramento Ca. Passing out food, clothing, and listening to their stories, she is serving those who need. She has given her time, energy and heart to strangers. When I asked her to describe her work with the homeless she said this:

“Ahhh Yeah! — Working with the homeless & giving back feels so right. I’ve been so blessed, even with Cancer and I love that I can teach my children how to give to others in need.   — so ‘Ahhh yeah’ it is the best feeling ever.”

Thank you Sarah for fighting so hard against Cancer, inspiring me  and making this place a better with your heart of gold!

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

*Name has been changed

The Humanitarian Experience: Friendship Bracelets

I have failed to post about my most recent trip to Baja for one reason. It was overwhelming. There were many small experiences, each having so much depth making it hard to express even verbally. So I have decided to start with one of the many experiences and work my way from there. FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS…

Razz 2012

My friendship started in 2009 with a girl named Lucero. When I first met Lucero I was on my first house build and my Spanish knowledge was restrained by 3 years of high school courses and 4 years of neglecting the language. Upon moments of our arrival to the neighborhood where we will build for the week, various Mexican curios and trinkets appear, lining the streets surrounding the lots we work on. The vendors sit and wait a short distance from where we work, they wait for the Americans to take a stroll through the dusty neighborhood over to their tables of colorful goods. They wait in the strong winds with their families and bake in the sun. They are diligent vendors. The people selling these tourist curios in the area where we are working are not price gouging. They do not hike up a price to a ridiculous amount of Pesos and in return we do not try to haggle them down to a lower price. It is as if there is a common agreement of respect between the visitors and vendors.

Back to Lucero. I remember the first time I saw Lucero. She and her sisters were setting up tables and precisely arranging their merchandise in an organized manner. They were preparing for the day, just as we were organizing our work site. After we finished organizing and had worked several hours on the home we were building, my husband and I walked over to the tables and began to browse. Lucero and her sister patiently waited for us look (no pressure sales). I chose a simple woven bracelet paid 1 dollar and went back to the house build.

During lunch time I noticed that there was a group of women standing in a circle around the Van that Lucero’s family had transported their merchandise in. There was cooing and awing along with soft whispers. With my PB&J and Oreo cookies in hand, like a true outsider, I walked up to the van to see what was going on. There lay in the arms of one of my female team members was a 1 week old infant. My mother who was also on this trip was asking how old the child was and when our trip leader asked what the child’s name was they said she (the infant) had not been named. The family started to ask us what our names were in an effort to find a name for the baby. They laughed as they tried to pronounce some of the names we gave, and we laughed with them. As I looked around at that moment in time I saw women at their best. Women nurturing a child. The baby was Lucero’s youngest sister.

I spent many of my breaks throughout the rest of the week near the stand. Occasionally my time was spent looking at the baby and other times speaking broken Spanish with Lucero. I asked her how old she was – 15. I asked her if she went to school – Yes she did. I asked her where she lived – Triki and I asked her how much the bracelets cost – $1.

After the last nail in houses we build is driven, we give our teams a day off and the opportunity to explore the little town we work in. There is a small flea market in the park where paletas and churros are sold. It was there that I noticed a familiar face. It was Lucero. She and her family were selling their merchandise there. We timidly wave hello to one another and I bought one last bracelet to bring the trip to an end.

The following year in summer 2010, I helped to build a second home. As usual we began with organizing our work site and like clock-work the vendors showed up, only this time I saw her and recognized her. Lucero smiled at me and waved. I began to remember the baby and the van and the bracelets from the year before and walked straight to her. I went through the basic greeting and smiled, and soon I ran out things that I was able to communicate to her, leading to awkward nodding and hand gestures that make very little sense. The ability to communicate is very important in any relationship, but it is not always necessary.

Bundles of yarn which signify of Baja for me.~ Razz 2012 ~

I returned one last time that same year in Autumn (2010) and of course Lucero and her family were there, waiting for us and the team we would bring. At the end of the Autumn trip I told her I would return the next summer but I did not. Life took hold in the form of a new job and I could not make the trip in 2011. My husband would go on 3 trips without me from 2011 to this summer 2012. Every time he saw Lucero she would ask for me, and when he would try to buy me a bracelet she would refuse his money and give the small bracelets to him for free. It broke my heart that I could not be there to see her and thank her. It broke my heart that I was not able to see this friend that was asking for me and it broke my heart that I could not be a part of something as big as this. It made me realize that although, we are there for only a week at a time, and although it is like a sprint the entire time we are working and helping, we truly are making an impact. Many times we are making an impact in ways that we may find to be unlikely.

Even more than all good things we try to do, the trip has left a lasting impression on me personally. It has created a friendship that would have not been possible. I am not the only one who has a friendship evolve despite language barriers on this trip. I see it happen every time we return, team members will tell us how they are looking forward to visiting or finding a person that they met on the trip the previous year.

This summer when I journeyed back to Baja she was there, waiting for us all to return. Waiting for the opportunity to sell and maybe even to meet up with me again. When I saw her I could almost say for certain that time stopped that moment. Up and down our feet left the ground and finally we embraced with laughter. Had she thought as much about me as I had about her? Maybe. But what mattered the most at that moment was that I was back with a very important person. I tried to give her as much of my time possible this past trip, and she did the same for me. She attempted to teach me how to weave the bracelets that she sells and laughed happily at my feeble attempts. I grinned the entire time. As I began to leave she asked my favorite color, she grasped my forearm and tied the purple and black bracelet to my wrist. There it sits today.

When I left this time we both cried. I cried because I cannot promise I will be back anytime soon. I cried because she fills my heart with joy, as it is her who passes through my mind in my memories of these trips. She is 18 now and from the cell phone in her hand (we have her number now) and the smile on her face an in her heart, she is doing better than most who live there. I hope to return one day to my friend Lucero.

This friendship will be greater than the miles between us and whether we live to see one another again, I will remember to the end her friendship bracelet.