by Amber Whelpton, Grade 10 participant

Amber takes a selfie with the local kids. /AMBER WHELPTON

The trip to Mexico was a life changing experience that I will never forget. From day one when we started fundraising, everyone going on the trip began building relationships. Live Different’s motto is this: “Life is about people, not stuff.” I can truly relate to that now.

On our first day we went to a local trades high school to build an eating shelter and some picnic tables in Emilio Zapata, Baja California, Mexico. It was a cool experience working with and getting to know teenagers our age in Mexico. They were very similar to us in many ways and even with the language barrier we communicated well and ended up playing soccer and volleyball together. It was interesting seeing how being born just two countries over can make such a difference in opportunities given to you. Most kids there quit school to work at age 13, or don’t even get the chance to go to school in the first place.

On the second day we started building the house. Our family included a single mother Maria (age 40) with two disabled boys, Ismeal (23) and Adan (20) and a daughter Raina (11). Their living conditions were worse than one could imagine. They were living on her brother’s land in a run-down motorhome. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was insulation falling from the roof, clothes everywhere, and it smelled like rotten mold. Knowing that four people had lived in that tiny space for two years broke my heart. The two brothers shared a single bed and so did the mother and daughter.

The mother worked 6-7 days a week in a zucchini field and made only 180 pesos a week, about $10. She would wake up at 4 a.m. to prep meals for the day because her sons were not capable. While she was at work, the daughter would go to school and then come back and babysit her brothers. They were 10 years older than her but did not act that way. The whole family had a very hard life. Maria looked like she was 60. Raina had to grow up quickly and take care of her brothers. But, oh, the look on her face when you asked if she wanted to play with you! Her eyes lit up the world.

Building the house was really fun and we worked well together. We built Maria a beautiful blue furnished house. We made her a clothesline and painted a mural of Canada on her shower house. They were so excited about their house that they ended up sleeping on the concrete pad as soon as the walls were put up!

Dedicating the house to the family was unforgettable. We had come to know the family and the surrounding neighbours so well. Especially a 15-year-old boy named Omar. He came by the first day we started building and helped us in any way he could. He skipped work (which paid for his mother and sister’s food) to help us and said he would work double time next week to make up for the lost money. He was the sweetest boy ever. Always with a smile on his face and willing to share the little he had. He taught me that you really don’t need stuff to be happy. And that helping out others is what really counts in life, even if you get nothing in return. In addition to Omar, there were a few neighbour kids who struck me hard in the heart. They were so trusting to strangers and just wanted to play. And seeing the smile on their faces when we did play with them”  was one of the highlights of the trip!

On the last day we went on a hike up the mountain and to a beach by the ocean. It was beautiful but not even close to the best part of the trip. The best, by far, were the relationships I made. I will remember them forever.

It is definitely a wake up call to what privileges we have here in Canada and what we take for granted. We live in an amazing country and should take every opportunity to help out others and whether they are in a Third World country or our neighbour across the street.

The finished home. /AMBER WHELPTON