I recently had the opportunity to travel to Mexico with CHOICE Humanitarian and ASEA’s Advancing Life Foundation. In the small community of La Concepcion, located in central Mexico, we were able to assist the people in building water cisterns, outdoor ovens, stoves, and chicken coops.
Before venturing into the village we spent some time in Tequisquiapan, a beautiful colonial town. A weekend in the the plaza consisted of markets, street vendors, and multiple cups of Mexican hot chocolate paired perfectly with fresh sugar donuts.
Throughout the week I was reminded of five critical things:
- Material things do not bring happiness. The people of La Concepcion earn around 80-100 pesos a week. That is only about 4-5 dollars! Hardly enough to provide for a family. These people had next to nothing! But they were genuinely happy! They were not concerned with having the latest iPhone or wearing what is trendy. They are happy living the best they can. I see people here at home who are able to purchase any luxury item they desire whenever they want, and still not appear happy. Being in this rural Mexican town I saw things that brought true happiness: family, hard work, and gratitude. They impressed me with how resourceful one can be, using corn bags for a number of things; and with a great amount of generosity, offering us a Coke or warm tea as we worked. With everything I have I hope to be as happy as them.
2. For life to be beautified, it must be simplified. As we worked with community members closed friendships were developed and they invited us into their homes. They were simple one or two room concrete homes. One thing that really stood out to me was that most of the homes were kept very clean and had hand embroidered curtains hanging in the windows. They took the simple things they had and made them beautiful…or maybe they seemed beautiful because they were simple.
3. A strong sense of community makes a difference. This community looked out for one another. They seemed to be one big family, relying on each other when times were difficult and celebrating together when times where happy. Men and women worked along side us mixing concrete and building structures. These people wanted to do a good job and complete the project to bless the lives of another family though they were struggling just as much. Here at home I think that sense of community is dwindling as people become too busy to stop and chat with neighbors or help out those around them and be happy for one another. It is something we need back.
4. Human connection is the most important. The only Spanish that I know is what I learned in my eighth grade class. As I tried to communicate with the people they either looked at me confused or giggled as I slaughtered the pronunciation. Through a language barrier I have learned that people are connected in other ways. We built things that change the livelihood of these people in drastic ways, but the most important thing about the trip was connecting with the people. Love was felt when words could not be expressed. As we were getting ready to leave the women of the community gathered us together to thank us. As they spoke through tears, expressing gratitude from the bottom of their heart, the thing they said the most was, “Thank you for loving us and for loving our children.” That’s what mattered to them! I heard this quote this week, “The greatest waste is to underestimate human value.” Each person matters. I hope to make the people around me and the ones I meet feel like they matter to me just like my new friends in Mexico made me feel.
5. Preparation is required. I was so impressed with the amount of preparation that went into awaiting our arrival. The town had a wonderful welcome ceremony prepared where women danced in traditional outfits, children sang and danced to numbers that you could tell had to be rehearsed over and over. They presented us gifts of candy necklaces and warm hugs. They also prepared foundations for the projects we came to build. Many families had already started the work for us. There is a group in the village called the Saving Box Women. This is a group of women that meets together to help each other decide how much of their money they can put to savings. CHOICE has a very sustainable model which includes the families receiving aid to help pay for material and work along side us. Without this idea of saving they would not have been prepared to improve their lives with a new stove, oven, or water cistern.
These are the hands of a strong, hard working woman
An older women grabbed a shovel and mixed concrete by hand right along side me. She kept going when the men or I needed a break. Another women stood on a ladder spreading concrete with a baby tied around her back. Women cooked delicious meals for our group with all that they had. Women made sure their kids had clean clothes to wear to school, even if it was the same outfit every day. Women slept on the streets of the city to get a spot to sell their hand made crafts on the weekend to provide for their family.
….and after all the hard work a women deserves a refreshing Coke.
The main project that we worked on was building water cisterns. Over one week we were able to compete eight new cisterns, something that would take them moths without the extra funding and hands we provided. The people in this community receive their water from a well in the area. But this well goes dry for months. A cistern allows them to store water to use when the dry season comes. This cistern holds the water that they have to make last for up to three or four months. Water equals life so this really is life changing for them. It made me wonder what can I fill my “cistern” with when life goes through “dry seasons”??
I was able to lean about one woman’s story of growing up in this community of La Concepcion. She was one of four kids. Her mother passed away giving birth to her fifth child because they did not have money to find a ride to the hospital. This left a father with four young kids, the oldest being six. She told me that the common thing for a man to do was leave and find work else where, leaving his children orphaned. But their father was a good man. He went to work everyday leaving the six year old at home in charge of her three younger siblings. Before he left in the morning he would say, “You are God’s children so be good.” He returned each night to make tortillas and do the laundry. They had nothing and barely made it through. All of the four kids are grown and still living in La Concepcion. As I sat in her concrete home that only had a few belongings in it she said, “…but that was when we were poor, I’m grateful we aren’t poor anymore.” Tears rolled down my face as I let that sink in.
These people didn’t see themselves as poor, though they are living in extreme poverty. They are rich in many ways that I am poor.
I worked the hardest I ever have. I was dirty and stinky. BUT I have never felt so much love and pure joy of helping people. I would go back tomorrow if I could.