After 3 days on a Greyhound style bus, Ayrelea and Zion Nimchuk of
Hedley arrived in Zapata, an impoverished village in Mexico. They were part of a contingent of high school students on spring break. In four days they would construct simple houses for 2 families living in tiny one room shacks. Sitting at the table in our sun room, drinking tea and munching on Linda’s home made chocolate cookies, they talked with evident fervour about the poverty, the people and the building project. They seemed deeply humbled, and also excited by what they had experienced.
“The family for whom we built a house was living in a shack about the size of this room,” sixteen year old Zion said. I wondered how a family of 4 could live in a home measuring approximately 12 ft. by 12 ft. “They don’t have electricity or running water,” Ayrelea, age 14 added. “They cook meals outside on a 2 burner propane stove. One of the burners wasn’t working. They wash clothes by hand. Their bathroom is an outhouse.”
Neither of the Nimchuk youths speak Spanish. Zion has studied Japanese in school and Ayrelea has focused on sign language. It wasn’t a problem though, they agreed. They feel they came to know the family. “We learned a few simple words, like how to say dog,” Zion said. “This helped us to explain to the people, with gestures, that we would build a little house for their dog.”
Wanting to learn more about organizational details concerning the project, I called Les Clark, pastor of the Community Church in Kaleden. He has gone to Mexico 11 times and is the local organizer. “It’s done under the auspices of Live Different,” he said. “We draw youths from local schools. The cost is $1500 per individual. This covers all expenses for travel and staying in Mexico. It also pays for the materials to build the homes.”
This year they did a major bottle drive in Kaleden and hosted 2 spaghetti dinners to raise funds. A number of people in the community see the value for the students and the recipients. They contribute funds. “When a home is completed,” he said, “we furnish it with beds, mattresses, a 3 burner propane stove, a table and chairs, plus a fruit tree and other items.”
Shannon Beglaw of Keremeos again made the trip with her 2 children this year. “We want the kids to see that it’s possible to make a difference by showing kindness,” she said. “We are really grateful to the community for helping make this happen.”
According to Live Different, the sponsoring organization, “what we do allows our volunteers to see first hand how two thirds of the world lives. It expands their world view and gives them the opportunity to consider how they can build hope and change in their own lives.” They state further that “our programs are designed to inspire students to take immediate action to make a positive difference in their world.”
I wanted to know what impact the project had on Ayrelea and Zion. “We developed relationships with the family,” Ayrelea said. Zion nodded and added, “to really understand the conditions the people live in, you have to go there and see the one room shacks. We know now that they all need help.”
Ayrelea then offered another thought. “Even though they have so little, they are happy. They smile a lot.” Zion agreed, then added, “we have so much. We really are blessed in this country.”
Were there any significant interpersonal issues in the group? “Yes,” Ayrelea said. “The boys were getting to do all the hammering on the roof, while the girls painted. We wanted the experience of hammering too, so we brought this up at the evening debriefing. The next day the boys were painting the house pink, as requested by the family. The girls were on the roof hammering.” She smiled at the memory.
Do they hope to go again? Once more Ayrelea responded without hesitation. “Yes, I really want to go back and see the family.” Zion was equally certain. “I want to go back every year.”
At a time when challenges abound around the globe, the Live Different emphasis on being grateful and helping others is enabling local youths to make a positive difference internationally.