A life-changing trip to Mexico for 36 Oak Bay High students to build houses for impoverished families had the students receiving as much as they were giving. Though building houses was the aim of the trip, the students now have a new and profound perspective on wealth, family, and love.
“I not only came to terms with what I value most in life, but what I should value. The families there have taught me so many things but the most important thing to me was how much love they have for each other,” said student Katie Elsner. “They have next to nothing and they are so incredibly happy to just have each other, whereas, you look at families here and we have everything we could possibly want but yet we are so unhappy. These people opened my heart and filled it with so much wisdom and joy.”
“It was so eye-opening seeing how little these families had but how much love they had. What they miss in objects they make up for with family and love and it shows you how important family is,” said student Jack Boden.
The students spent 10 days in Mexico building three houses through Live Different, a registered charity in Canada that builds houses in Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Thailand. That was just a piece of the puzzle though, as students worked – volunteering and fundraising – for the 14 months proceeding.
”The students were absolutely outstanding, not just on the trip, but also during the fourteen months of fundraising and volunteering,” said Oak Bay High teacher and trip organizer Brent Garraway. “We couldn’t be prouder of this year’s crew.”
One major fundraiser called Jail or Bail raised $42,000. Community members volunteered to be jailed on the day of the fundraiser, in jail cells constructed at the Bay Centre. The Oak Bay Police Department picked many of them up and escorted them down. Then they had a few hours to achieve bail before they were released. Some set their bail for $2,000 or $2,200.
“It was incredible the support we received. Many in the Oak Bay community helped immensely,” said Garraway. “And what it allowed us to do is instead of doing a lot of fundraising events for this one, we were able to do a little more local volunteering like beach clean ups, working out at Woodwyn Farms, doing Christmas hampers, and working with Soap for Hope. Just trying to get as much volunteering and bonded as possible.”
By the time the students headed to Mexico with Brent Garraway and his wife Nichelle, they were already well-versed in giving back. But Mexico proved to have even more nuggets of wisdom and perspective on the power of community and happiness.
“Building the house for the family was special as the family along with lots of neighbours and kids helped us and wanted to do as much work as they could. It shows how building a house can affect the whole community for the better,” said Boden. “Other than the actual build of the house it was such a great trip for becoming closer to a group of amazing kids who are all like minded in that they want to help for the better.”
“It reinforced many important values within me, such as enjoying all aspects of life, remembering to be appreciative, living in the moment, and most of all taking advantage of all the opportunities life brings,” said Cole Van Hinte. “The trip itself was very emotional, with highs and lows like no other. Over the period of 10 days we developed a very deep connection with the families we were building the houses for, making saying goodbye no easy task.”
“I am forever grateful to have been a part of this trip and I know that this isn’t the end for me. I’m hooked forever,” said Elsner.
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