The dirt and grit was caked to my old, stained tennis shoes. My forehead was dripping salty sweat into my tired eyes. Our group had been working all week constructing a small shack – large enough to fit a family of four, in Tijuana, Mexico. We were near the finish line – almost done with our project. As I reflected on that hot roof about our experience in Mexico, with a nail gun in hand, I realized that I was never more proud to be so tired.
I went on this trip to Mexico with my youth church from my faith community when I was in 7th grade. I knew I loved to travel. I knew I loved people. But little did I know how this trip would forever change me.
In 7th grade, I was focused on my friends, soccer, church and school. My world was about as big as my small town. I couldn’t conceptualize poverty, hunger or struggle because I had never truly seen it. When the opportunity arose for me to join a group of teens my age from all over the U.S. to go to Mexico to serve, I said, “why not?”
I spent about a week in Mexico. We were located just over the wealthy California board in the outskirts of Tijuana, the poorest slums in the area. Our job as a team was to construct a small home for a family. I thought that I was embarking on an adventure that would help others. I thought I would be going to Mexico to build a house, help people and leave. However, between roofing and nailing siding to the house – I met people. Real people, like you and me. I played soccer with teenage girls my age. I knew Spanish, so I was able to ask them about their lives – what did they like to eat? What did they do during the day? Did they have many friends?
By the end of the trip, I quickly realized that the girls I met in Tijuana were happy – truly joyful. Their joy did not come from a new pair of shoes they bought, or the new iPhone they purchased. They were joyful with so little – and it made me realize how beautiful that simple joy was. While I worried about my new outfit, these girls lived in complete poverty – with no option to go to school, to grow and to learn. Because I hit the geographic lottery, I was born the U.S. – where I could go up in a safe home, with healthy foods and the right to vote and learn. It didn’t seem fair.
Because of that trip, I was unable to look at life the same again. Since that time, I have served on several service trips, worked for a family homeless shelter, and now I am a grant funder – providing funds to local nonprofits who are changing our community for the better.
Our world is so much bigger than the school we go to, the town we live in – or even the country we occupy. Had it not been for the first trip in 7th grade to Mexico, I would be a very different person now. That trip taught me humility, compassion and that I could do something to make a difference. You don’t need to be an adult to make a BIG impact in our world – you just need to get started by making an impact on something that matters to you.