What is your idea of a fun spring break? Mine is building homes, and I’ve already built two. Every year, my school takes 50 students to Mexico for a week to build houses for poor families.
We don’t build mansions or even normal-sized houses. The shelters we construct are more like rectangular shacks; you could probably fit two in your living room. They have a concrete floor, wooden framework, walls covered in tar paper and stucco, and a simple slanted roof. With two rooms separated by a wall and one door and a window, the home is complete. Though these two-room homes may seem inadequate to many of us, they are huge improvements from the hovels the families had been living in.
My trip last year was an eye-opener. The family lived at the top of a hill and in order to reach them, we had to climb 20 shaky stairs made of tires. The front door was so small that anyone over six feet had to be careful not to bash his head. The home had several badly constructed rooms, each made of different materials. The bathroom was just a hole in the ground. Our work was a welcome improvement.
These trips are excellent wake-up calls for those becoming complacent and unappreciative of what they have. Our group had to spend a week without electricity, plumbing or air conditioning. Needless to say, we gained appreciation for running water and warm showers, both of which were beyond our reach in Mexico. We also learned to appreciate our homes and possessions. The families we met live in squalor, and though we shared in their troubles for only a week, it seemed much longer. However, the gratitude of these families when they receive the key to their new home overpowers any feelings of our own deprivation. The family’s happiness was overwhelming and we knew that we not only made a difference, but it was a tangible, physical improvement for a family.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.