We can change the world ... one wall at a time! 2006
Welcome to the UPDATE Page of the 2006 Belmont PACE Global Outreach Project
While in Mexico (November 4-17) we will be posting daily journal-style updates on this web page. Those of you who are interested in following our students' journey-of-a life-time are invited to check this page frequently and read about our trip to Vicente Guerrero (Baja) where we plan to build a house for a family of ten in just eleven days and participate in various small development projects. Vaya con Dios!
(Click on image for full size photo)
November 5, 2006
We have arrived in Vicente Guerrero!!!!!! The journey was beautiful along the Pacific coast and through the Baja Norte all the way to our destination. The crew is happy and well-fed … just about ready to hit the pillow. We left San Diego before 9 a.m. and went through the border without stopping. The kids waived their (new) passports and papers, but nobody seemed to be on duty. Later, we had lunch in Ensenada … our first burrito in Mexico and the kids are starting to figure our currencies and language hurdles. We arrived at the ‘compound’ at 4 p.m. – just about an hour before it got dark! Under the light of the full moon Braden, Steph and Sarah prepared dinner (one of many spaghetti meals … we haven’t told them how many are yet to come!!!) and we later all went down to the local cappuchino bar to send some emails and slurp some frappuchinos. We met Geoff, Lorraine, Dave and family and the kids are off tomorrow at 8 am to start construction. We will be building for a different family than we originally thought. This family has only 9 instead of 10 members, father and brother in law are in jail and two single mums are raising 7 children under the age of 10.
Now we will have to close, because it is so hot here that we will have to enjoy a cool beverage. Yes, I know it is rainy where you are, but…. You WILL get another email tomorrow and that should keep you warm!
November 6, 2006
Our first day in the Baja has been very eventful and eye-opening for everyone. The kids woke up early in the morning pumped, as Sarah just said, ready to go to the worksite, which is about 20 miles north of Vicente Guerrero. Everyone started to wake up around 6.30, eat breakfast and wait for Geoff and Dave to pick us up to go to the construction site. Geoff was on Mexican time and arrived to pick us up at 10 instead of 9, but the students waited patiently in the vans, prepared with tool belt and dust mask.
Everyone worked for about 5 hours on the site, pouring cement, building walls, digging a hole for the outhouse, picking up garbage and shoveling gravel. Taylor says, that there were many kids eager to cling on to you until you cannot breath, but she loved it! EVERYBODY worked very very hard in the burning sun 92F. Of course, we went through a lot of water and sunscreen. There is just one small incident we would like to mention. Mr. Whittmire mixed, or shall I say TRIED to mix, some cement when the mixer tumbled over and covered Mr. Whittmire, one of our most valued counsellors, in a sloppy mess, which then created the location of the new porch.
Speaking of Mr. Whittmire, he also tried to open a giant jar of pickles, with hot water and other ingenious devices, until I, Ms. van der Leeden, had to rescue him and open the jar. Ruthie commented with one word....MEN!!!! Sarah is breathing heavily over my shoulder and keeps correcting me, because she wants to get the punctuation right for Mr. Froess!
Later tonight Ms Vos-Guenter taught an interesting astronomy class under the stars of the Baja. Taylor and Emma followed the lesson attentively and will get another lesson tomorrow. Until then ... Hasta luego!
November 7, 2006
Another great day has come to an end. The kids commented today that they could live here forever...familiar words.... Many students last year felt the same. Everyone is happy and getting more and more settled into the new routine and being on ´Mexican Time´. This is truly a wonderful group of students, very hard-working, compassionate, incredibly polite and patient and a lot of fun to be with. I can't remember laughing as much as I have in the last few days . But there are also many reflective moments, when the kids suddenly realize their own privilege and responsibility to reach out and give back. They learn many lessons and I am sure many of these lessons will only ¨surface¨ in the years to come. All of the 14 kids are wonderful ambassadors for Belmont and our district and we can all be very proud of them. Taylor also instructed me today to thank the PARENTS in my email, who contributed financially and in so many other ways to this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Today at 8 am, after a quick breakfast, Mrs. Vos Guenter took Breanne, Emma, Taylor and Braden to the worksite to continue digging the hole for the outhouse ... Ruthie and Janelle are getting a bit tired of doing their business behind the church... We thought that this crew would avoid the heat by leaving early, but we were mistaken. By the time they arrived at the jobsite it was 87F and rising steadily. The kids still dug another 3 feet and we should be able to install the outhouse tomorrow. The rest of the kids arrived about an hour later to raise the remaining outside walls and Mack, Julian and Keegs put the main support beam up and just before it was time to go home, the TWO SEATER DELUXE outhouse (in Spanish - banjo deluxo) arrived and is ready to cover in the hole sometime tomorrow.
Mrs. Vos-Guenter, Taylor, Breanne and Emma have devised a landscaping proposal, which includes vegetable garden and a few trees, possibly a palm tree.
Later in the afternoon I left the construction site a bit earlier together with the early morning crew to discuss some upcoming outreach projects with Erma, the missionary. We also went with her to visit two families where we dropped off some of our many gifts, toys, clothes and some of Emma's wonderful giftbags.
Dinner and cleanup tonight was provided by Calee, Ruthie and Ali. At the moment, the kids are resting after a large Chili dinner, not everyone's favorite although the cooks did a fine job. ...but we still have 9 cans!... They are also doing homework, which I am sure the teachers are glad to hear and Ruthie and Mack are playing the guitar. Mack and Taylor bought each a guitar today.
We will talk to you tomorrow.
November 8, 2006
Today, when I got up I spotted Mack and his cousin Keegan in the courtyard, munching on a poptart, and doing their Biology/Social Studies homework since 6.30 a.m. Wow! Slowly, everyone else woke up and after a delicious pancake breakfast prepared by Steph and Breanne we took off to the worksite. Taylor, Keegan and Mack went to the paintstore with me and we picked out some wonderful yellow paint for the exterior of the house. The kids paid for most of the paint from their fundraising money. We then took off 20 miles north to the worksite where most of the girls painted the house and the new baño and the boys framed the inside walls. Mrs. Vos-Guenter took her landscaping crew out to the market and purchased some palm trees, cacti and a mimosa tree for the garden.
After lunch, peanut butter and jam sandwiches and fruit and granola bars, best lunch in the world according to the kids, I headed off with Cal, Ruthie and Sarah to visit the Drug Rehab Centre. We had bought some female hygiene items and soap to bring with us for the women in the camp. At the rehab centre we took part in a church service and the had the opportunity to talk to two men, who had been at the center for the last seven months. Both of them told us their story. They grew up as Mexican Americans in the California and had led a life of drugs and crime. One of the men had been in and out of jail for 20 years and lost his family, his wife and children. When he came to the rehab centre ´La Esperanza´ he ´turned his life over to Jesus´ and with this his life started to turn around. He is now full of hope, is working as a volunteer at the centre and hopes to become a priest or mentor for young teenagers. His story was inspirational and taught our students many lessons about how easily a life can derail, especially when you grow up as a minority, and how the power of faith is so important in this country. These lessons can not be taught in a classroom and ... could not be found in Keegan's Social Studies book earlier. Sarah, Cal and Ruthie were definitely touched and perhaps somewhat shocked by what they learned. It was a bit more quiet than usual in my van on our way home. However, Mrs. Vos-Guenter's van went searching for landscaping rocks and ... found a beach instead. So Stephanie, Janelle, Ali, Keegan and Mack had fun in the waves. Apparently, it was too far off road for them to carry the rocks. No rocks, but a lot of fun!
For dinner, Breanne and Taylor made a three course dinner: Mashed potatoes, sausages and carrots - RAW! Keegan said it was the BEST meal yet! And I think he was serious! We are off to bed as we will have to start on the roof tomorrow. This year we will build an A-frame roof. We will also build a chicken coop and buy some life stock! Of course, we will also have to paint the inside... and buy furniture.
Thank you for all your wonderful messages - especially those from the students who came to Mexico last year. We appreciate your thoughts and good wishes.
PS: Quote of the day by Ruthie, who else... Vandy has a soothing voice, just sometimes it sounds like glass breaking!
November 9, 2006
This morning we were able to sleep in a bit as Geoff had to buy some materials for the roof at around 8 am. At around 9 am we finally arrived at the worksite, where we finished the outhouse and put a third coat of yellow paint on the outside of the house. Keegan, Mack, Julian and Braden helped Victor and Dave with the construction of the roof. The house is quite big, about twice the size of the house we built last year, and therefore it took us all day to finish the roof. Emma, Taylor and Breanne continued cleaning up the yard and shoveled gravel to fill in our new garden / yard. I took Ruthie and Calee to the paint store to buy some interior paint (green) and we picked up some of the shoes we had brought from Canada. When we returned all of the girls helped us distribute shoes. Most of the kids in the neighborhood did not have any shoes and walk in their bare feet on the dirty roads. The shoes were a big hit and ran out of shoes as many many children came from the community to get a pair from our girls.
At 3 pm Erma came with some of her volunteers and the kids observed a bible-class for the children in the neighborhood. After that, our students helped at the feeding station and distributed peanut butter, milk and soup to the children and women of the neighborhood. Sarah, Kirstie and Steph were in charge of the soup station and did a great job. Braden and Julian swirled the children in the air and at some point everyone was forming a large circle singing and dancing.
Right now we are off to Victor's birthday party where we will enjoy some traditional Mexican food, a bon fire, music, singing and a piñata game. Braden volunteered to bake a cake yesterday, which turned out very well. Sarah made the card and Mack and Ruthie, our guitarists, will provide the musical entertainment.
We will talk to you all again tomorrow.
Quote of the day by Keegan: IT'S INTENSE!!!!!!
November 10, 2006
November 11, 2006
Later in the afternoon we picked up Mrs. VG and her crew and we went altogether to the house we built last year. To our delight we found out
that the family had expanded their livestock and vegetable garden, which
gave them some kind of increased economical independence. We took the opportunity to distribute more items to the children in the neighborhood.
Now we are off to a nice meal in a local restaurant, where we will have another opportunity to discuss the impact of
today's activities. Until tomorrow....
November 12, 2006
November 14, 2006
November 15, 2006
Our last day in the Baja! Our wonderful students finished strong and we can all be so very proud of this extraordinary group of young people, who opened their hearts and minds, who worked tirelessly every day to complete the construction of the house (in just 9 and a half working days), reached out to this Mexican community, shared and learned so many lessons, focused on their homework in between and even did their chores after very long days... I think I speak for all the chaperones on this trip when I say that our kids have gone above and beyond and I salute them all for taking this journey and exceeding all of our expectations. After breakfast we loaded our vans with all the household items and furniture that we had purchase for the house. We picked up some last-minute necessities, such as a broom, cleaning products, propane for the new stove of the house, and Mrs.VG purchased twelve chicks for the new chicken coop. At the construction site, there were many loose ends to tie up and everyone pitched in to get the job done. Sarah and Calee helped Dave paint the front of the house. Julian, our artistic woodworker, added a few squiggles at the end of the kitchen counter top (...his own ingenious idea) and he then went on to roof together with Steph and Kirstie. All three of them ended up covered in tar... but smiling and being quite proud of their accomplishment. Emma, Janelle and Sarah painted the white window trim and Breanne moved the chicks into their new home. She gave two of the chicks to each of the neighbors. She also landscaped and decorated the backyard and put up a clothes line. Keegan and Mack painted the gables and Ruthie did a fine job painting the family sign, which she had designed together with Taylor and which was put above the front door. Keegan, Janelle, Ali and Sarah put up the curtains and blinds and everyone helped arranging the pots, pans, dishes and furniture throughout the new home. The family, a single mum with five kids, whose husband is in jail and her daughter in law, a younger mum with 2 small kids, whose husband had ran off with another woman and all of their possessions, spent the entire day in the house, watching the flurry of activity in awe and being quite visibly touched by how much care the kids put into the interior decorating. In the afternoon, Mack presented the bike he bought yesterday to his little friend, Gustavo, who is one of the sons of the older single mum. He had spent hours last night fixing up the bike and when he gave it to Gustavo and I explained that it was a gift from Mack, Gustavo jumped up, clung to Mack's neck and said...Muchas gracias! This was a very special moment and it was wonderful to see Mack being so proud and pleased and the little boy so happy for his gift.
At 3 pm Erma came to the house, which was finished by then and Victor performed the dedication, blessing the family and the new home and thanked our students for their hard work and help. We took many pictures and some tears where shed. Some of our kids talked to Erma about sponsoring children that they had become attached to during our stay. After presenting each mum with a key to the house, we all moved inside the house for another blessing and some final words from various people. As the sun set over the hills of the Baja we drove back 20 miles to our town. There were very few words spoken during this ride as most of the students seemed to reflect on the many emotional moments of the last few days, their amazing accomplishment and perhaps the inevitable end of their journey. Before heading home, we stopped at our favorite Cafe ´´MIKAZZA¨ for burritos and smoothies. Later the kids cleaned the entire premises as well as the three vans in preparation for our trip home tomorrow. Keegan and Mack did a particularly good job as they virtually detailed Mrs. VG´s van and it smells and looks better than it had ever done before. The courtyard is quiet as everyone finishes packing to be ready for tomorrow's 7 am departure.
Buen viaje, muchachos!
November 16, 2006
After an early rise today, everyone loaded the vans and we had an emotional good-bye with Erma, Victor and his wife Josephina, who had come by to wave us off. We left the Ministry of Hospitality at 7.15 am and enjoyed the ride north passing by the beautiful red desert landscape of the Baja with a deep blue sky above us. The kids were very quiet in the van as we passed the turn off to the building site and continued up through the winding hills of the Northern Baja. For an extended lunch break we decided to stop at La Bufadora, just south of Ensenada. La Bufadora is a tourist destination which consists of an avenue filled with souvenir stands and restaurants. The kids strolled down the street for about two hours and enjoyed some last minute shopping as they spent the rest of their Mexican Pesos. Many students have developed a fine talent of bartering. After this turn off we continued our journey through Ensenada to Tijuana. Both cities are quite insane to drive though, many narrow lanes and the traffic seems to be all over the place completely disregarding the usual rules of the road. In the confusion I missed the no-honking sign - who would have thought such sign existed in Mexico? When Mr. Whittmire cut off a Mexican lady driver at a round-about and the lady cut me off in return...I honked! Quickly and out of nowhere the Tijuana Policia on the motorbikes (with sirens!) encircled our three vans and we were all pulled to the side. The Mexican lady who had cut me off went free, I might add. With my semi-fluent Spanish I responded calmly to the policia's request to follow them to the police station by suggesting a small donation would suffice. I also encouraged Mr. Whittmire to provide a small donation for his infraction. After a total of 800 Pesos everyone seemed happy. I might add that Mrs. VG had previously bent a few rules of the road (in order to keep up with us)...did not have to make a donation. The policia agreed to escort us to the border. However, I had hoped for a large escort with lights and sirens. Sadly, only one police motorbike went through the Tijuana traffic with me in tow which left Mrs. VG and Mr. W in the dust!!!!! Eventually we all connected at the hour-and-a half line up at the border crossing to the US. By the time we crossed the border it was dark and we quickly made our way to the hotel and to a nearby restaurant for a tasty supper. The kids are relaxing in the hotel's hot-tub as we speak and many of them are frantically trying to fit today's purchases in their luggage.
We are all sad that our wonderful time at the Baja has come to an end, but we are looking forward to seeing all of you soon. We will bring back many memories and hopefully some sunshine! Please stay tuned for a link to our photo site and some final words in the next few days.
Hasta luego, Mexico!
Quote of the day by Ruthie (again!)...after she modeled her newly purchased dress (in Little-House-in-the Prairie style) she said: "If this is decent, I can wear it to the Homecoming!" Does she mean the prom or tomorrow's return to Victoria....?
We have safely returned to Victoria and I am sure that many of the fourteen incredible students who have been part of this year's journey to Mexico, will spend the weekend re-living their many wonderful memories of the last two weeks. Seeing our students embracing this opportunity, reaching out to their global community and opening their hearts to those who have so little makes me very proud to be their teacher and to be part of this experience. I have to agree with the British activist Tom Mann who once noted that "The future of the world belongs to the youth of the world, and it is from the youth and not from the old that the fire of life will warm and enlighten the world". I know that the Mexico experience has and will continue to change our students' lives as they will come to their own personal crossroads and are beginning to understand that there is a different, more complex world out there that requires them to become involved and apply what they learn in their families and classrooms. All of the fourteen students who came to Mexico have made me laugh and cry, but most of all they have made me proud to be part of their journey. Thanks to all the parents who have trusted us with this precious cargo.
Take care and always remember the many lessons you have learned.
Until next year...
Want to read more? Check out the MEXICO 2005 UPDATES