House-building inspires students

Mexico trip concludes two years of planning, giving two families houses of their own

Oak Bay High students (from left) Libby Corr

After 15 months of preparations before spending spring break building two homes in rural Mexico, 36 students are back at Oak Bay High with a fresh perspective on life.

The students were part of the Live Different program, under the guidance of teacher Brent Garraway. Through various fundraising initiatives, the program raised $36,000 to pay for building and furnishing two homes in the rural community of Vicente Guerrero, Mexico. The students also paid for their own portion of the trip.

“The students were absolutely amazing throughout the entire process (and) as a teacher at Oak Bay High School, I am immensely proud of each of them,” Garraway says.

While in Mexico, the students were divided into two teams, each assigned a family who they then built a home for, says Grade 11 student Libby Corr.

While the program required significant commitment both before and during the trip, it was worth it, they agree.

“We had heard all about the good things from people who had gone on the trip two years before,” says Alison Robertson, Grade 12. Even having experienced the trip now, “it’s hard to really explain how amazing it is,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I didn’t know we could do so much in a day.”

While Robertson has travelled to other areas, “it was really nice to live amongst the community.” she says.

It was one of the most significant parts of the trip for Oliver Boucher, in Grade 11.

“It was unlike anything I have experienced and the most meaningful part I will remember was connecting with the family,” he says. “Even during our downtime we were thinking about something or discussing something (related to the experience),” Boucher says.

“They made such a big impact on us,” agrees Carmen Andiel, also Grade 11, noting everyday experiences youth often take for granted here – warm showers, going to school, lots of food to eat – are true privileges others often can’t access.

“It definitely gave me a bigger picture of life … and about the world (beyond) Oak Bay,” Corr agrees.

As the students eye the future beyond high school, and paths that will take them in all different directions, they agree their experiences in Vicente Guerrero will be with them beyond Grade 12. As Boucher plans for business school in Vancouver and continuing his pursuit of hip hop dance, “I want this experience to still be part of my life,” he says.

Andiel, who was born in the Ukraine, is considering a gap year, perhaps volunteering at an orphanage in that part of the world.

For Robertson, who would like to pursue an interest in First Nations studies and a trip to Haida Gwaii post-graduation, “I definitely want to consider my options, especially learning how they didn’t have those opportunities.”