I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in Super Build 2018 the weekend of June 2nd. Super Build is a project-based program that has been working to assist and strengthen communities in Mexico for over 20 years. The Rotary Club District 5300 has built homes for families for several years and has also contributed funds towards the education of the families for which they build. My brother and I, and my friend, Karyn, were able to participate in the project through our Apple Valley High School’s Interact Club, which is the student counterpart of the Rotary Club. This year, the participating Rotary clubs were the Apple Valley Rotary Club, the Pasadena Rotary Club, and the Las Vegas Rotary Club.
We started our adventure that Friday, June 1st, as Karyn’s mom battled though weekend traffic. We arrived at our hotel at Otay Mesa, which is a city just miles away from the Mexican border. Most of the restaurants there close at 7 p.m., which surprised us, but there was an IHOP and a Jack in the Box still open! The next morning at 6: 30 a.m., we drove to the designated meeting place for all the Super Build volunteers. There was no bus or assigned vehicles taking us, as we first thought. We were not given the exact directions to the building site and Karyn’s mother had never been to Mexico before and so she tossed my mother the keys to her SUV. My brother and I were concerned. My mother has a military drivers’ license and has driven a variety of vehicles through all kinds of terrains, but her type of fearlessness is the kind to be definitely feared! Unfortunately, one of the lead drivers, who was driving a Tesla, did not drive slowly and wait for the other vehicles as was promised. He veered in and out of traffic and my mom veered in and out with him so that we would not lose sight of the “convoy.” We eventually drove over some abandoned railroad tracks and then a very narrow dirt road on a tipsy cliff. The Tesla got stuck a few times but we all managed to get to the little town where children were playing outside and seemed very happy and welcomed us with their cheerful smiles.
The transportation to the building site was definitely haphazard but once we got there, everything went very smoothly and all the volunteers worked incredibly hard. Super Build was started by Christine Montan and the Rotarians and others have built anywhere from one to four or more homes a year for families that have dedicated hundreds of hours to their communities. That day we were scheduled to build two homes for two families. The first family was a family of young parents with 6 children including a little baby girl. All 8, along with their grandmother, were living in a small one-room house that seemed very flimsy with a dirt floor and an uncertain roof. Across the road from them was another family of 6 who had also qualified for a home through their many hours of community service.
This year, the Rotary Club worked with Project Mercy which is a nonprofit organization that builds basic but sturdy houses for the poorest families in the outlying neighborhoods of Tijuana, Mexico. Since we were not experienced in construction as many of the other volunteers were, we were assigned to painting with the other “beginners.” We painted the inner walls of the house a beige-ish pink color and the frames a cool white. The coordinators of Mercy had already pre-cut all the wood pieces for us. The walls were all laid out in a row, and as we finished painting each one, a volunteer would come and carry the “wall” board to the house site where they were sawing and nailing and hammering all the pieces together. It was all very loud but exciting when my brother and I could participate in a “wall raising,” much like the barn raisings I had seen in movies and on TV shows. We were able to experience, first hand, how each little structure and framework went up and the incredible amount of detailed work that these volunteers were putting into each small part of each home. Each member of each family was also helping us, and my brother and I and Karyn were painting alongside the families’ 5-year -old and 8 –year- old sons. Karyn and I also became good friends with Rosamaria, the 18-year-old daughter of the other family of six. We were speaking to her with our limited Spanish and she spoke to us with her limited English, but somehow we understood one another very well! We are now Facebook friends and I hope that we remain friends forever.
Rosamaria was no longer attending school but she had 4 other siblings who were working elsewhere in Mexico. She and her younger brother were very detailed and careful painters and they worked extremely hard alongside us. Their parents had been working all day as well. Her mother had been painting and her father, who had previous extensive experience with construction, was a great help to all the volunteers there. Everyone was having a productive time and after several hours, we were becoming expert house painters!
The District Governor of the Apple Valley Rotary Club had ordered food from the local restaurant in the town. The volunteers rested for an hour and dined on the delicious varieties of local foods that were served under a small canopy along the steep dirt road. Karyn’s mother had brought watermelons which she cut into many mouth-watering slices. She brought enough so all the children in the neighborhood were able to eat several juicy slices. Then we went back to work again! It was exciting to see how quickly but meticulously each house was starting to take shape. Each home also had an upper loft area on its second floor. Then the roof went up and everything really started coming together. There was a separate room downstairs in each house and also a small area on the side for a kitchen type area. We painted the countertops for those areas a pinkish beige color as well.
The Rotarians of each club are very generous each year with their donations. Each home cost almost $7000 and some years, up to $8400. But this amount also includes the Rotarian’s commitment to assist and the families’ commitment to further their own education and to keep their children in school, to learn new trades to gain further employment, to learn how to grow their own food by planting gardens, and to assist their neighbors and friends in achieving their dreams as well.
At the end of the day, we were all exhausted and very hot and thirsty but so happy for the families. The family of 8 had a bright red house with white paneling. Rosamaria’s house and her family’s new outhouse were both painted a gorgeous turquoise blue. Ms. Raghada, the District Governor, had my brother and I and Karyn present each family with the keys to their homes. We also presented the families with new backpacks, school supplies and many countless kitchen and bathroom products such as toilet paper, cans and jars of food, and many other items. We also donated clothes and shoes and coats. Rosamaria’s mother cried when my brother and I gave her the keys to her new home and her children hugged her and we hugged them too. They were such a sweet family and we liked them so much. I was sad when we left but we had to jump back into Karyn’s mom’s SUV so we could race after the departing convoy again! But this time, they traveled a bit slower.
As luck would have it, however, going back was eventful as well, since there had been a carjacking and a shot fired at the border that day! We ended up being stuck in an endless traffic jam for more than 8 hours. It was almost early morning when we arrived at the border crossing. The rest of us slept soundly as my mom drove back and we finally reached home just as the sun was rising. Somehow, we still managed to get to Riverside Mission Inn by 9 a.m for the Girl Scout 10th Year Gala ceremony. Soaking up the beautiful and luxurious ambiance and architecture of the Mission Inn, I was struck by how different the setting was to where we had been just hours before. However, one thing that I have learned from being a Girl Scout for more than 10 years, and that is that happiness is not measured by money or ornate settings but by one’s close proximity to compassion and exchanged kindnesses and friendships. I was grateful to be a part of the Super Build project and appreciative of all the wonderful families we had met and helped and the wondrous volunteers we worked with!