I’m at a training conference in San Diego this week, and I played hookie today to cross the border into sister city, Tijuana, Mexico. I originally went for the famous night clubs but got mixed in with a group of do-goodie housebuilders. (The trip was actually one of the elective workshops for the conference.)
What a blast! We went to help the young family of a bricklayer, who is underemployed. That means, he has a job, but it’s not enough to make ends meet. The family survives on about $2 U.S. per person per day. Mom and Dad have four kids ranging from about fifteen to eight, and they share their two room house with Grandma. Here’s where they all live:
That’s rough livin’, and you would be impressed with how well they used the space and the resources that they had. Nothing goes to waste. Speaking of waste…here’s their outhouse:
I’m not sure which piece of plywood served as the door, but I’m thinking you don’t come out of there without at least a few splinters. This was strictly a “go before you go” kind of trip for most of us, although a few brave souls took the tour.
Our goal was to get the new house completely built in one, eight-hour day. Without power tools. Or bathroom breaks. Or experience. We had about 14 people, but only three of us had ever done any significant construction work. Judging from the way some of us swung a hammer, this would not be the group you would want working on your remodel.
To save time (and irreparable damage) the slab was poured a few days before we got there. So, this is what we had to start with:
Unlike the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team (as if anything in our group was like EMHE), we didn’t do any demo, so we built this beside the family’s other home. I’m thinking the old house is about to become the mother-in-law suite.
Also unlike EMHE, we didn’t send the family to Disney World. Mom and the kids stayed to help us paint, so that they could earn a little sweat equity. (Dad was working.) The neighbors came to see the house and talk to us in Spanish about paint drips and code violations (I think). Halfway through the day, here’s what we had accomplished.
I hate to give away the ending, but that’s pretty much what it looked like inside at the end of the day, too. No, we didn’t take a siesta. The ministry that puts these houses up doesn’t finish them inside. They allow the owners to decide how they want it to look and leave them plenty of scraps and extra materials to get creative.
There’s no electricity or plumbing, so the outhouse is still the outhouse, but Grandma likes it. (No need to fix what ain’t broke.) And so that your expectations are set and so that you are sufficiently impressed with our finished product (which, remember, we did without power tools), you should know that it’s also this ministry’s policy not to out-build the neighborhood. It causes problems with the neighbors if you suddenly have a pool and a jacuzzi when all they’ve got is a barrel of dirty water.
So, it’s time for the reveal! Say it with me:
Now, don’t comment on this blog and say, “Oh, well…er…it looks so small.” or “Why is it Pepto-Bismol pink?” I’m feeling very proud of our accomplishment (that was done without power tools), and these types of comments would not be welcome. The upgrade included windows that will shut, walls and a roof that won’t leak, a concrete floor that won’t get muddy and lots of potential for the family to make additional improvements with the materials we left behind. (And even if you don’t like it, the family did – HA!)
After we had turned over the keys, we straggled, limped and crawled back onto the bus and headed back to San Diego (with only a short delay as our Scottish team member was detained at the border for missing her visa paperwork). Something about that experience bonded us together as a team. Even though we were from all over the world with different faiths and different political views, we felt like old friends.
There’s goodness in giving yourself to help another human being, and there is power in unconditional love. When we give with no strings attached, we end up being the ones most richly blessed. It cleans out some of the selfishness in our hearts and connects us to one another. And that’s why Ty Pennington is better at making people cry than Baba Wawa.