Oak Bay High students stand outside one of the homes they built during their 2014 visit to Vicente Guerrero

Oak Bay High students stand outside one of the homes they built during their 2014 visit to Vicente Guerrero

Oak Bay students making a world of difference

May 2 Jail and bail event will raise funds to help build two homes in poor Mexican village

A group of Oak Bay students are preparing to embark on a journey that will change their lives as well as those they encounter. And a group of prominent Oak Bay residents are prepared to do some time behind bars to make sure they get that chance.

Oak Bay High teachers Brent Garraway and Ben Turner will be accompanying a group of 34 students in grades 10 to 12 to Vicente Guerrero, Mexico during spring break 2016.

“We build two homes for two families while we’re down there. We’re fully immersed within the community the entire time, so from the moment we get there in the morning we’re with the family all the way until 5 at night,” said Garraway, who has led Oak Bay students on three previous trips to the poor, rural community.

“Half the kids are normally building and half are entertainers and piggyback providers. You bring a ball out to the field and within seven minutes there’s 60 kids running around the field so happy to have people to play with.”

He said many families live in shacks made of wood pallets, tarps and cardboard, sometimes with as many seven living in a single room. The students help construct a pair of pre-fab two-bedroom homes with a small kitchen area. The building may be less than 500 square feet in size but they seem like mansions to those who will call them home.

“One thing down there is they don’t like showing emotion very much, especially the males, so to watch them crying at the end is such a big moment,” said Garraway.

While each of the students is responsible for covering their own costs for the trip, the cost of constructing the homes and supplying basic furnishings along with a few months worth of food is likely to run about $30,000. And that is where the support of the community comes in.

“The big fundraiser for us is our jail and bail where we hope to make the majority of what’s needed to cover the costs,” said Garraway.

The jail and bail event will see more than 40 local ‘inmates’ rounded up and carted off to a makeshift prison in the Bay Centre. The volunteer inmates will work to pre-raise their bail amounts before doing hard time – two hours behind bars in the Bay Centre while wearing prisoner garb.

“They’ll make some phone calls and friends will come down and make fun of them. What happens a lot of time is people will come down and pay money to keep them in a little longer,” said Garraway.

The jail and bail event will be held Saturday, May 2 in the Bay Centre courtyard from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the public is welcome to come down and take in the spectacle.

One of those who understands the value of the event is Isabella McNamee. The Grade 11 Oak Bay High student went on the trip last year and will be returning to Vicente Guerrero next spring break.

“Every time there’s two or three kids that we’ll take for a second time and they become our leaders on the second trip,” said Garraway. “They’ll help organize fundraising and when we’re down there they’ll take a major role in the house build.”

McNamee called the trip “life-changing” and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the families she met on her last journey.

“It completely changed my outlook on everything – on community, on family – it really taught me what matters,” she said. “I feel like here we really take so many things for granted. It taught me a lot of lessons on how to deal with family because family is everything. If you have nothing, all you have is your family.”

The thing that remains with McNamee from her past trip to Vicente Guerrero is the memories of those who she met there.

“The people are amazing. You’re swarmed with kids, they’re just so happy to have you down there. Obviously they’re grateful for what you’re doing for the community, but even just for a hug or to play soccer with them.”

And McNamee is not alone in the experiences she took away from the program. Garraway said the importance of family in the culture is something that strikes all the students who make the trip, and all return to Canada changed by the experience, with one student calling it “life awakening”.

“To see kids smiling through most of the day who have no video game systems, no second set of clothing – they have nothing and they’re still enjoying life to the fullest,” said Garraway.

And after seeing the difference those little things can make in the lives of the villagers, not having the latest i-Phone doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

“When the kids come back, a lot of times the parents will be, ‘Who’s this?’” said Garraway. “They’re hugging their brother and sister all the time, they’re appreciating what I’m doing for them – this is a different kid than went down there.”





Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Royal Roads University president Philip Steenkamp said they are aware of hateful graffiti spray-painted in an area of the forest surrounding the campus. The graffiti in question includes anti-Semitic content and a racial slur towards Black people. (Facebook/Royal Roads University)
Anti-Semitic, hateful graffiti spotted in forest near Royal Roads University

Royal Roads working with West Shore RCMP to remove graffiti “as soon as possible”

A cougar was spotted at Royal Roads University on Sunday, Jan. 24. The sighting was reported on the western edge of the campus. (File photo)
Cougar spotted at Royal Roads University Sunday afternoon

Animal reported on western side of campus near Langford Fire Department

Saanich-based St. Luke’s Players community theatre company has been making the most of their opportunities to keep busy during the pandemic, including staging a Christmastime panto of Alice in Wonderland on Zoom. (Courtesy St. Luke’s Players)
Saanich’s St. Luke’s Players: Bringing the stage to the people

Community theatre company holding online auditions Jan. 23-24 for March production

Frank Bourree was awarded the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s first Governors’ Award of Distinction for his leadership in the business community. (Courtesy of Frank Bourree)
Frank Bourree receives award of distinction from Victoria chamber

Award recognizes positive role model in business community

The Habitat for Humanity Meaning of Home contest is open to students in Grades 5 to 6. (Screenshot/Habitat for Humanity video)
Habitat for Humanity launches national writing contest

Entries accepted from students in Grades 4 to 6 until Feb. 19

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read