Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Super Trip Part 2 -- Mexico

For the past few years I have wanted to take my children to Mexico and do some volunteer work. Part of this stems from a recent realization of a scriptural emphasis on the importance of caring for the poor. For example, "It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin" (Doctrine and Covenants 49:20 -- maybe I'll share more about those scripture ruminations in another post).

In any event, our efforts to go to Mexico have been stymied, primarily out of concerns about the safety of going to Tijuana (the most accessible part of Mexico for us). We did service trips to St. George in 2011 and 2012,  but still wanted to go to Mexico. We decided that this year I would take our two oldest children (Levi is 12 and Annemarie is 10) and test out the waters. It was an amazing experience.

Gordon Carter at Charity Anywhere, arranged everything, and on the morning of August 2 we crossed the border.

An incredibly kind man named Rick picked us up 1/4 of a mile later and began showing us around. He lives in Mexico and is a full-time humanitarian. He took us to a few different places, and eventually we arrived at the house of a woman named Abril. Abril is a teacher at the community center Rick sponsors and when Rick was asking about possible houses to paint Abril suggested hers as a candidate.

Abril lives in an area where there are no paved roads, and there are few painted houses. Here's the view from her front door (keep in mind that this is only 40 minutes from the US border). 


So we set to work on painting the house.They had recently patched several holes in the cement in preparation for the painting and we spent some time wiping down the cement, making sure it was ready to be painted. Then the fun began!

 After a few hours it was starting to look much better. Abril's mother made us a tasty lunch and we ate together with her family. We needed to get some green paint for the trim before we could continue, and that was across town, so we told Abril's family we would come back on Monday to finish the job.

We were staying at a retirement center, and one of the directors was also the primary president. As luck would have it, there was a primary activity that night -- going to see the Smurfs 2 (at the theater, in Spanish). So we went to the activity and everybody had a blast. I think my favorite part was how 25 kids and 7 adult leaders crowded into the 12 passenger van (which had seats removed to making squishing together easier) so we could all travel together. It wouldn't have passed US safety standards, but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday morning began with Rick taking us to an orphanage. A group in Bountiful, UT had made quilts for the children. While the children were happy to see us, there was a sick baby who was not cheered up by the quilts!

Overall, the orphanage was quite a discouraging place. There were about 30 children there with extremely poor facilities. I felt like I could take the entire resources of my little family (both time and financial) and pour them into the program and not even make a dent into helping their needs. 

We went to Rick's school and were amazed at the efforts he is making to provide a good education to his students. Then we arrived at the community center, which has been the target of a lot of vandalism (many buildings in the area were). We set to work on repainting the building.

It was a big task, one that we could not have completed alone. Fortunately, a group of teenage Mexican volunteers happened to be wandering through our area and volunteered to help. With their assistance we will able to paint all four sides of the building in just a couple of hours.

Rick had to go to work, so we next teamed up with Gordon and his nephew to build some bunk beds for some families in need. The process of building the bunk beds was pretty straightforward. I'll let the pictures tell the story:

We started at 1:30 and it took us about four hours to finish building two sets of bunk beds. We couldn't completely finish them because they then wouldn't fit through the doors when we delivered them.  When we made the deliveries, the recipients helped assemble the beds.

We went to the first home in which there are 5 kids and 2 parents (plus additional kids not at home). A son had just returned from a mission and my heart hurt as I thought of him being a VIP in Chile (on the mission) and having a better standard of living as a missionary than at home. Their home was about 600 square feet. Concrete walls and floor, no paint on the outside or inside. Some kids were sleeping on be concrete floor. We had not been able to locate mattresses and as we were leaving I said to the father, "I'm so sorry we find could not locate mattresses" and he said, tapping on the slats and plywood, "don't worry, this will be plenty comfortable." That did not make me feel better.

We had to stop off at the retirement center and I decided to ask if we could buy two of their vacant beds and replace them later. Thanks to the incredible hearts of the workers we were able to get the beds. After delivering the 2nd bunk bed to a family (who also lived in really poor conditions) we returned with the mattresses to the first family. They were very glad to see them. I felt like it had all been worth it. We visited with the family for a little while. I learned that the kids had been baptized in 2008 and the father in 2010 . Within 1 year after being baptized, the oldest was off on a mission to Chihuahua. He's been home for a few years working and helping his family, now he's hoping to go back to school (he never completed high school).

Gordon sang a song that everyone enjoyed and we stopped by a store and a taco stand before finally getting home at 10 PM -- totally wiped out. We had a family prayer and debriefing and arranged blankets on the floor. Levi and Annemarie both wanted to sleep on the floor (one of the mattresses we had given to the other family came from our room) but ultimately Levi did and we finally got to sleep. We slept better because we shut the window and it was harder to hear the roosters (thankfully!)

Sunday morning we were blessed with hot water for showers (there had been none on Saturday). We went to church and the testimony meeting was awesome! People were getting up to bear testimony the moment the sacrament ended. Many powerful testimonies were shared that touched my heart. One came from a 21 year old who spoke of his efforts to fulfill the stake presidents challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 1 month!  He would wake up at 4, read 7 chapters, and then work/go to school until 10 PM and read 7 more chapters. His was an amazing example of faith. It was so inspiring to hear the wonderful testimonies of the saints there. 

That afternoon we went to the community center and played Uno with six children who were learning English. We played Uno to practice English with them and we also told stories to each other. It was a good time. These young people were amazing! I was so impressed with their desire and drive to learn.

Monday was our last day in Mexico. We got an early start and went to go and finish the house we had started on Friday. When we got there, la Senora told us that she wanted the house painted green and not white! So we painted over the white we had done and it looked pretty good. We didn’t have time to finish everything (we had thought we were just doing the trim) but we left the paint with her to finish with her kids, which I think she will enjoy.


We did a little tourist shopping in downtown Tijuana, the kids enjoyed using their limited Spanish to buy presents for their siblings.

Overall, the trip was a great experience. My hopes were to contribute in small ways to people's lives in Mexico and to help broaden my children's horizons. I know that the trip instilled in me a greater desire to serve the poor and I hope it did the same for my children. We are planning to return and hope you will come with us. We're so grateful to Charity Anywhere ... without Gordon and Rick (who was so kind and drove us all around, including to the border) we could have never done it. Learn more about Charity Anywhere.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Super Trip Part 1 -- San Diego Beaches

We were really blessed this summer with the opportunity to take a super trip! I'm going to blog about it in four parts -- Part 1 is the San Diego beaches!  We began our trip by driving to San Diego and spending the night with my sister Janet and her husband Jeffrey. They were gracious hosts and our kids had fun exploring their house and surrounding areas. 

The next morning we drove straight to La Jolla Shores, and spent a few hours at the beach. The kids loved it. We went "home" to Dale and Kathy's house. They are Lani's uncle and aunt and were incredibly gracious throughout our trip; it would not have been possible without them.

The next morning we went to La Jolla Cove and saw the Sea Lions up close and explored the caves. Some people tried to snorkel, but didn't do too well as the water was cold and choppy. That didn't stop the brave explorers from combing the rocks looking for sea creatures though!

We then went up to Torrey Pines. Even though Lani grew up in San Diego, she had never been there, but it turned out to be one of our favorite places. There were awesome hikes and and the kids loved boogie boarding. It was great! There was an incredible cliff hike, made doubly so as we hiked down cliffs towards the beach while the sun was setting. 

Wednesday we went to Point Loma and explored the tide pools, visitors center and light house for several hours. It was beautiful being out on the ocean, feeling the cool breezes upon our faces. Then we got pizza and went to Mission Bay to see some of Lani's old HS friends. Thursday we went to Silver Strand beach. Our kids were starting to get beached out (I didn't think that was possible!) and after a few hours wanted to go home. We stopped by the pier at Imperial Beach and had some seafood (Lani and I did this years earlier and have great memories of Imperial Beach. It's definitely underrated)! 

 It was good to go home early though, because we had lots of things to prepare for our trip to Mexico. Part two of the trip was about to begin....!