MEXICO – For those of you who do not know me, my name is Chey and I am a recent graduate of Madawaska Valley District High School.
While my friends were deciding what college and universities to go to I was worrying about not having enough room in my suitcase when I travelled to Mexico at the end of August. Instead of taking the path most travelled, I decided post secondary was not for me right away. I chose to Live Different. Live Different offers a nine-month academy program for students who have a passion for helping people and who want to be a part of the bigger picture of change.
I have just returned from my first semester with Live Different. I spent four months in Mexico doing many things, volunteering at a variety of places, and studying a social justice curriculum. Every week myself and my fellow peers would volunteer at three different places. We taught English in two different schools and afterwards spent time playing with the kids. It was a very fulfilling experience and I made lots of little friends along the way. We would also volunteer at a local old folk’s home doing various jobs. Some days we worked in the kitchen, painted nails, helped brush teeth, wash feet and even shave faces! The elderly at the home were always happy to see us and it was sad to leave on that last day of volunteering there.
One of the toughest experiences we endured during our Mexico semester was ‘shack week’. Shack week is all about living like a Mexican, and that’s exactly what we did. We built our own shack out of things we found and collected from the streets. Our shack consisted of plastic, cardboard, wood scraps and old mops. It was challenging to build a ‘house’ out of those materials. We were only allowed to bring limited resources and clothing with us into shack week, just the bare minimum. During the week we had several work days and made very little money to buy food with.
The first day consisted of yard work. We hauled manure and spread it on the yard, and planted grass, along with other miscellaneous jobs our facilitator had for us. The following two days consisted of field work in the tomato fields. Those days started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., with only a half an hour break. This was the hardest work I have ever done in my life. My back felt like it was broken into a million small pieces. But one day, when I looked to either side of me, there were two elderly people, about 65 plus years old. That was when I realized I shouldn’t be complaining about doing this work for two days, when these people have been doing it all their lives, and will continue to do it for the rest of their lives.
Shack week was a big eye opener and made me appreciate everything in my life a million times more.
We also did rock picking for two days and clamming for one. Each of the jobs we experienced during shack week taught us many things. I personally took so much away from shack week, and learned things that I could have never learned if I was to be in post-secondary right now. I have first-hand experience on what it feels like to live in poverty.
We also had the chance to build a home for a Mexican family. There is 15 people currently living in the house we built, and we would regularly go visit them. They were always very welcoming and, despite the language barrier, we would always leave laughing and with smiles on our faces. I learned that language is only as big of a barrier as you make it.
Story continues in the January 2, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.