When the word “travel” comes to mind – many of us think exploring, relaxing, or even cool content for the ‘Gram. Recently I had an opportunity to give travel a new meaning, helping others, and it changed my life in ways that I never imagined. I joined a three-day weekend with The Greatness Foundation and Baja Bound in Manaedero, Mexico to help build two homes for working poor families, visit local orphanages, and deliver supplies to a Migrant Camp.
I learned the experience was like Adult Camp paired with helping others and thought, “Where do I sign up?”. The former Girl Scout in me was more excited for this type of travel than any vacation. Today I’m sharing life-changing experiences that may occur when traveling for the purpose of helping others.
We arrived to the neighborhood in Manaedero, Mexico and as we met the two families we were building homes for – I tried to process what my eyes were witnessing. Although I work for a non-profit, helping the homeless in the U.S., this was my first time ever witnessing this level of poverty. It was a beautiful sunny day with mountains nearby, but many families were living in a shacks made of tarp, scrap metal, and wood. There were dirt roads, famished dogs, and the home conditions were inconceivable. Most of the homes had no access to clean water, dirt floors, no bathrooms and barely had four walls. We were advised to not drink out of water bottles in front of the families so that they didn’t feel uncomfortable. Until seen firsthand, we can easily forget that majority of humans on earth live in these conditions. It gave me a new perspective of how extremely blessed we are to live in the U.S.
2. Unexpected Joy
Unbeknownst, while building the homes we were able to get to know the neighbors. The absolute highlight of my trip was getting to know five playful and sweet sisters next door. While living a lifestyle we may not be able to imagine – they had constant smiles on their faces. On the first day while on the construction sight the oldest sister walk over to us. I noticed her look at my bracelet that I bought from a woman selling them down the street. I quickly realized that a $2 bracelet that meant nothing to me, was so desirable to them. I put a few on each of their wrists and loved seeing their faces light-up. This moment was an honor for me to bring dignity to the sisters and hopefully a reminder that they’re beautiful princesses.
Each day we got to know each other more and I had fun teaching them English. They were proud to show me the inside of their home, which had conditions that would be considered extreme poverty in the U.S. It dawned on me that although we were seeing their home, they have never seen how we live and may not know that it’s different. Lastly, I asked them in Spanish, “What do you think about Americans?” The oldest said, “They care about people”. I’ll never forget the time spent with the joyful five sisters and their simple yet quite rich lifestyle.
3. Sense Of Community
The morning of the first day fifty strangers gathered in a parking lot as we embarked on this life-changing journey. It was unique to be in a circle of people all with the same purpose that weekend – to help families in need. We assembled in a circle to introduce ourselves and shortly after caravanned from San Diego to Maneadero, Mexico.
As we traveled in a van over the weekend, we were quick to share deep life experiences – travel, relationships, death, after-life, you name it. It was amazing to me that some volunteers traveled from all over the U.S. to spend their weekend helping the underpriveleged families. Quickly with traveling together, building the homes, sharing jokes, and singing songs, we became close-knit friends. I was shocked that I felt like I knew these humans for a lifetime and they felt the same.
4. Heart Expansion
The light-hearted aspect of the trip is that the children of Manaedero, Mexico were extremely playful. Every day we were able to play, hug, and hang out with children. Unbeknownst to me, we had the chance to visit a local all girls orphanage. This orphanage was mostly girls whose parents aren’t able to care for them right now due to addiction but they’re also not up for adoption. I’ll never forget is when this beautiful little girl realized I was leaving and wouldn’t let me go. She clung to me for awhile and joked for the van to leave without me. My friends noted that I was “beaming” on this trip and I wouldn’t disagree.
Reality slapped me in the face when we visited a Migrant Camp, which is basically families living in storage units in exchange for working on a farm. As I was delivering supplies to one of the units, I opened it, and inside was a 12-year-old boy. He seemed pretty jaded whereas the other children were playful. He allowed me into the tiny unit which was had a dirt floor with no bed. His parents work on the farm and he doesn’t attend school. I stood across from this weary boy and I realized there was nothing I could do to help him. I asked in Spanish what he wanted, and was shocked to hear him say “pistola” – a gun.
I felt horrible that night thinking about the boy and his family sleeping in the storage unit. I realized that life is a mere lottery and that they could’ve been born in my shoes, and I could have been born in theirs. Yeah, it was a rude awakening that there are hundreds of thousands of people that live in these conditions.
Witnessing the reality of people living in poverty is confirmation that we, the fortunate, are the ones responsible to help those who need it most. Poverty is a direct result of the fortunate not taking full responsibility in helping others. Responsibility is the biggest lesson that I learned over the weekend.