We awaken in our tents – backs a little sore from our partially deflated air mattresses, woken not by an alarm but by the crow of a rooster, we scramble out to the communal bare bones bathrooms feet covered in a thin layer of dust, as are all of our belongings at this point, and while all of these discomforts remind us we are far from home, as we drive along the unpaved roads to our worksite, the conditions we witness make us feel like our lodgings at St. Innocent Orphanage are that of a king. It is hard not to be reminded each moment of this trip how much we have to be grateful for.
We are only two days into our trip, but we are already experiencing growth, fullness, and authentic joy. Our group of 19 high school and college SSPPers have come down to Tijuana to build a house for a family in need, and yet, it has become quickly apparent that we are the ones in need.
As we have begun to reflect on this experience so far, we acknowledge how important it is to step away from the craziness of our lives at home, to lean into a bit of discomfort, and to settle into the peace that comes from this foreign stillness. We are here to offer our time, energy, strength, and talents to a family in need, but the beauty of this life is that as we offer ourselves to the other, it is us who become more abundantly blessed.
We are building a house for a family of 7. The mother is Maria. Her husband was killed several years ago. She and her eldest son Elias work the night shift at a local factory to support the rest of the family. All seven of them live in a tiny poorly constructed shack with a roof that could not possibly withstand rain season. We spent our first day on the worksite preparing the foundation of their new home.
The first day on the worksite is the most grueling. After a morning of leveling the foundation and preparing the walls, we had a long afternoon hand-mixing and laying the concrete floor. The process includes constantly filling buckets of sand, rocks, pouring them into a trough with cement and water and then four people mix together the batch of concrete. And then we do this about 50+ more times. It is a physically exhausting process but our team worked extremely hard, everyone pulled together and the energy was high as we worked as a group to lay a solid foundation for our new friends. During our lunch break Maria treated us to an incredible homemade meal of Chicken mole and rice – this beautiful expression of gratitude sustained us through our long afternoon of work!
We concluded our work day, hugged our new friends goodbye, and returned to the ranch to shower, have dinner, pray as a larger community, enjoy a talk by the priest of Project Mexico, and unpack the day’s experiences in small groups.
We have had a wonderfully full day. We are physically exhausted but spiritually and emotionally energized!