My name is Rena, this is my ninth trip down to Tijuana, with Esperanza. Last year I spent three months living here as a long term volunteer. Instead of talking about what we did today, I'd like to reflect on the trip as a whole...
For me, this year's trip has been different from all of my other trips, having lived here for so long last year, returning is a little strange. I missed Mexico so much while I was gone, and now being back I am slowly realizing how much this place, and this organization has changed me and helped me grow as a person. While I was down here last year I saw small changes, but mostly I was wrapped up in what was going on while I was here, and the work we were doing. When I returned home change was slow and I'm not sure if I ever fully took the time to reflect on my time here, but now having been back for about a week and a half now (I came down a week earlier than the group), I have really had time to examine everything that has changed in Tijuana, and in me in the last year, and over the past nine years.
It's easy to come down here for a week each year, and to have an amazing time, meet kind and caring people. It's hard to return home and continue living out the lessons learned while here. We get sucked up in the fast pace of our lives and work and forget this wonderful place. Being back here the last two weeks has been completely refreshing. People talk about how selfless volunteering is, and how amazing it is for people to come here, to somewhere perceived as very dangerous and give their time. It's hard for me to see this trip that way, I almost feel selfish coming here, because of how much I get out of this trip, and how much I love it here. I have never been somewhere that I felt more welcomed and loved. The people we meet open their homes and hearts to us daily. They would give us the shirt off their back if we asked. Even though for many of us there is a language barrier we still find a way to communicate, we find a way to work side by side with people from the communities to accomplish something.
I'm often asked why I come here when we're only building one part of one house. There are so many problems in Mexico, we can't possibly solve them all so why should we try and help. The world is full or problems, on all sides of the border, why should we try and fix anything when we can't possibly fix everything? For the one family we are helping we are making a huge difference. We've helped to create a strong house where a family can grow and their children can feel safe. We've helped them put down roots, and feel at home in a place they love. We have no idea the ripple effect we are creating. In the nine years I have been coming to Tijuana, I have seen so much change and growth. When we first came the trash disposal system was simply dumping it over a hill. Now there are waste management services, and recycling, people are taking pride in their land and their country.
Many Americans have this notion that all Mexican people want to cross the border, they all want to come to America. I have had many people comment "why would you go help them when they are ruining our country." First of all I don't like gross generalizations, saying they and them like you can lump a few million people together and assume they are all the same. There are certainly people that have crossed the border into the states, because they felt it was their only option for a better future. Many of the men and women that have crossed find that the grass certainly isn't greener on the other side. Mexico is a beautiful country full of beautiful landscapes, strong communities (both good and bad, but strong nonetheless), and in many cases the families they left behind, for what they had expected to be a free and welcoming country full of prosperity. They often find that jobs are scarce and in many places they face harsh discrimination. Border crossings are drastically lower now than in past years. And to those we ask why would we help here when people are crossing my answer is always this, the people who we are helping want to put down roots here, they want to stay and improve their country. We are helping them to do so, but also learning about their culture, and getting a chance to take a step outside of our little boxes, and our lives at home, and see what is really going on in another part of the world.
In conclusion, I think for many of us that keep coming back here this week is one of the best weeks out of our year. We keep coming back because we love it here, and it's an amazing experience. Each year seeing new people come here for the first time gives us a new perspective on the trip and this country, and it's refreshing to see something you love through someone else's eyes. I hope you can all come and experience this wonderful place, or find somewhere else that you find equally fulfilling and inspiring.
Vaya con Dios,
p.s. Tonight we visited Las Ninas orphanage, before we leave each year they sing, to us this year they sang a moving rendition "Imagine" by The Beatles.