There are times in life when you have a moment — one that changes you in such a way you can’t go back to the way you felt or thought before.
I had this moment last year when a friend asked me to help build a school in San Quintín, Mexico. This area produces a huge quantity of the tomatoes, avocados and fruit that find their way to our grocery store shelves. Up until this point I hadn’t really thought about the lives of the people working the fields so I had access to cheap produce; now I can’t forget.
Paid $6 a day, I saw firsthand where these farm workers live and the conditions in which their children are raised. I witnessed the way women are treated like property and discarded when no longer desirable. And my heart dropped to see the number of orphans create by this cycle of poverty.
Born “on the fields,” and not in a hospital, these people are classed as non-registered. Without the paperwork to prove they’re Mexican citizens they’re not allowed to go to school, they can’t vote, or hold a driver’s licence — they’re essentially trapped. After returning home, I felt obligated to help in some way, although I had the same concerns everyone does when faced with an issue that feels so big — where do you start?
I spoke with Lorraine Yeung, my friend and colleague who had invited me on my first trip. We agreed to take more people from the Sea to Sky community to build another school. Although education is only one area that needs to be focused on in the San Quintín area it seemed like a good place to start.
The building of the schools was almost a side project to getting people face to face with the people of this community so they could better understand the challenges they have. It’s this human interaction that I believe will start to change things for the better.
We worked hard to raise the $23,000 needed through garage sales, a Cinquo de Mayo celebration at The Summit Hotel, a barbecue at the Pemberton Motocross — just to name a few initiatives. We found 23 incredible people who were willing to come with us for a week to help build and spend time understanding a situation far removed from their own.
The schools are built in conjunction with the Mexican government to ensure that qualified teachers will be sent to educate the children, and project leaders who knew what they were doing led the build. Those who didn’t trust their building capabilities would be given a paintbrush.
We left on Oct. 7 and were in San Quintín for a week. The schools we planned to build would enable the children in the area to gain at least a Grade 6 education, which means that they could apply for work away from the fields, or at least aim for supervisory level roles.
We would start the day at 8 a.m. and work through until the afternoon heat made us stop, usually around 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. When we started this project we were getting to know each other’s names, but as we built walls and erected a roof we somehow became a family.
We worked on hard questions together; how could the world be OK with exploiting these workers? How much should we pay for our food? What are we willing to give up in our life in order to pay a fair price for food?
One afternoon we went on a group trip to a dump where around 30 men live off scraps they pull from the waste. It looked like a scene from a Mad Max film. We were told they were ex-gang members who had addiction issues and this was the end of the line for them.
We stood there with sandwiches — that was the extent of the aid these men would receive. It was awkward and humbling. It drove home just how desperate this situation is. Our combined hope was that the fundraising we were doing would somehow affect change, no matter how small. Building those schools meant that 75 children will be given the chance to attend school this year, and who knows what they will go on to do.
On behalf of The Summit Lodge, Lorraine Yeung and myself we’d like to thank those who gave a week of their lives to build a school with us. If you’re interested in joining us next year please get in touch to find out how: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks also to Nick and Heather, Glen and Janice, Kristen and Dave, Wayne and Heather, Jeff, George with The Rock Church; Marco and Joeanna, Julie and Dawn from The Summit Lodge; Paul and Grizzly, Sean, Anna with the Pemberton Lions; Dorris from St. David’s Church; Diago, a Pemberton exchange student from Spain, and Derek and Kim, Nate and Karen, Jess