It is not hard to figure out why people go on mission trips to Mexico to build houses. The buildings are needed. The actual construction brings people together from all over, including the local residents, and finally, the camaraderie created by the lengthy travel to and from Mexico.
St. John’s Minster Anglican Church in Lloydminster sent four people on this Saskatoon Diocese trip to build three homes in Baja, Mexico. A total of 26 volunteers were on the bus out of Saskatoon and they built a house in the Village of Zapata, Los Aves and Vavente Guerrero. The four who went were Roy Clark, Joyce Jurke, Luther Jurke and Canon Michael Stonhouse.
There is one sentiment that all four agreed on from the start, it was an unforgettable trip. Never mind that the trip took about five hours on a bus and another four on a plane, starting from Saskatoon.
The mission began simply enough with a short hop to Saskatoon, where the local four joined the others from the diocese. There were 26 from the diocese who comprised the Baja Mission Team. The team was hosted by the Live Different Group, who also arranged for the houses to be built and took care of many of the details in their construction.
Working in teams of eight or nine people, the group was divided into three teams. The trip itself took about two years of planning. And in the end, it only took them five days (4.5 really) to construct three new homes.
All the homes built through the Live Different group are constructed based on the same basic set of plans that economizes labour, material, handling and makes the actual construction very smooth. Another factor on the plus side of the equation, all materials are purchased in the local Mexican market, providing an extra bonus to their local economy.
While in the area, all four noticed and took away different memories. Although Roy Clark was on a different construction team, some of the same things were front and centre in the memories they took home. One of those being the way the locals work is set up, so that if they miss two days work, they lose their job.
Another had to do with local plumbing and access to water. For the plumbing, a two-inch major drain pipe used all over the area, is not capable of handling toilet paper, what we consider normal waste. The other sticking point is that some people and corporations own the water.
That means everyone has to buy their water from trucks that travel around. You will also find, as our four did, that water conservation is at maximum with the Mexicans, who first use it to drink, or cook with, then wash with, then what is left goes on to the vegetable garden.
When they saw the lush strawberry fields next to the dry dessert, they knew where a lot of water was going, considering the strawberry fields are a big part of the local economy and provide many jobs.
On the final day of construction, the mission team had a few more surprises in store for the three lucky families that received new homes, to replace the cardboard shanties they had been living in. The houses were then completely furnished and bags of groceries were divided among the three families. There were also toys for the little ones.
Each new building was 22 feet by 20 feet in size with a concrete floor. Each had four windows and two doors, although there was no plumbing or electrical. Even so, just the bare frame, with beds, a real proper floor that could be kept clean, was a huge step forward for these people.
While one thinks of a dessert climate as being very hot, the nights in this area of Mexico were very cool, and jackets were definitely required. The winds were cold and always blowing to the point where it was common for the locals to erect a six-foot plastic coated fence around their house to keep the dust down.
The middle class that we are used to here in Canada is not the same as in Mexico, but theirs is growing, a positive sign for the future.
These new houses are a big deal for the families who get to live in them. In many cases children are farmed out to live with other families because there is no room at home. Despite the size of these new houses, they are sturdy and can accommodate all the family’s children, so they are all able to get back home together.
For most of the children, school is just a dream, because when they need to earn money for the family, it is off to work they go at much younger ages than we would expect or perhaps even tolerate here in Canada. But, that is their way of life.
Building these houses brings families back together, and also helps get kids into schools, which promises a brighter future for them, and the hope that goes along with it.
It should be mentioned, that one house consists of three buildings – the main house, the outhouse and the shower building.
Some of the people they met while working will be remembered forever. Stonhouse described a group of young local workers helping to build the houses. He said they were hard workers who knew very well what they were doing and provided excellent results. He also said it was a shame these youngsters couldn’t get their carpenter’s (or equivalent) papers. Although they have the talent and ability, they lack the opportunity because in most cases, the families need them to work in the strawberry fields for minimal wages.
There was a little addendum to the request for help in constructing the houses. The four were asked to bring some old suitcases with them. It seems there is no such thing as a chest of drawers or dressers for clothes storage. Old suitcases work just fine for the task, are readily available, easy to transport and very cost effective.
Throughout the school year, school groups are organized and through Live Different they build the houses. In the summer, church groups take their turns building houses, and finally unaffiliated groups who want can also go and build houses. It all gets arranged through Live Different, whose business is to create a better world in Mexico, Thailand and Dominican Republic.
In case you are wondering why go to Mexico to build houses when houses are needed here at home through Habitat for Humanity, Stonhouse said, “We do both. The diocese decided to have external outreach projects and internal outreach projects.”
The diocese and Habitat are now looking at Humboldt and Lloydminster for their next projects. Cause for hope and happiness if it becomes reality, Stonhouse asked, “What if we had a church-sponsored Habitat build. A group from the diocese, then maybe from First Baptist, Southridge and all sorts of churches on a build here?”
One idea can inspire others, just as one person can inspire other people and help all live better lives. The memories created on this mission trip will last forever, simply because they helped make other peoples lives better and their futures brighter. These four people didn’t just build houses, they built friendships on a oneone- one and personal basis.
As the mere mortals that we are, all of us, how can anyone involved with this house building trip, not have a special place for the memories they shared over the course of just a few days. These are memories that will help inspire the future.
As it should be, you have not heard the last of this trip. A special evening will be planned early in September for these four individuals to share their experiences and their photos. It will be an evening worth remembering.