In 2007, I served as an alumna volunteer for my high school’s annual house-building mission to Tijuana, Mexico. The program had been piloted in 1996 by new teacher, Mrs. McGarry. I should point out that my high school, Notre Dame High School in San Jose, CA, is a private, Catholic, all-girl college preparatory. Thus, the program in 1996 was somewhat controversial and the first mission was a comedy of errors, with young students literally hanging off rafters in a ramshackle attempt to finish a small house by the end of one week. I didn’t participate in 1996 because I was consumed with APs and PSATs/SATs and I had always felt sad for having missed out on the experience.
By 2007, the program was a well-oiled machine and I was ready! I was pulled into that year’s endeavor by my friend, Tina, who was a Math teacher at the school. I remember the launch of the trip: all participants gathered in the school auditorium for a liturgy (a Catholic ritual) to bless our efforts and pray for our safety. As we made our way to the awaiting vehicles, Mrs. Riley– the school principal at that time, who had been my HS French teacher– said to me, “You are brave. Girl, you are BRAVE.” I had a feeling she was referring more to the act of caring for 25 teenage girls than the house-building activity itself. As I settled into the driver’s seat of the large truck (I was transporting our supplies), I had a feeling that the eight hour drive to Mexico would probably be the easiest aspect of this journey.
Looking back, this experience was one of the most special things I have ever been a part of. In one week, the 25 of us built two small houses for two deserving families– all from scratch. We made concrete by hand. We cut wood, built frames and raised the “bones” of the buildings. After one week, we had transformed raw materials into not just houses but homes— sharing smiles with two grateful families as we gifted them brooms and basic supplies and then prepared to return to our homes in a world that, by that point, felt so very far away.