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Of all the trips I have ever been on, the one that I hold most significant would be my journey to Mexico in the summer of 2006. That summer was a summer that had loomed long and unexciting during the school months prior. With no tropical vacationing excursion to look forward to and no plans to go to summer school, I felt driven by an antsy urge to get away. Not much later, I found myself signed up to join my church youth group on a mission trip to Mexico for seven days. Though I had never been on a mission trip anywhere before in my life, I was aware of what it entailed. The basics of the trip I knew; I would be going to the poverty-stricken city of Tijuana to build a small home for a poor family. What I did not know was how incredibly life-changing the experience would ultimately be.
When we arrived in Tijuana, we began settling into our campsite, a simple area that could be adequately described with one word: ground. There was almost nothing but a dirt floor and a small fire pit, as well as a few portable toilets and concrete walls for showers. It was no Hilton, but I had experienced my fair share of camping trips and I figured I could tough it out. Worse than our living situation was probably the food we had. We ate minimally and tastelessly, all in the efforts of maintaining our rather scrawny budget. Not one aspect of our dismal living situation, however, could be even compared to the lifestyles of the people who lived in Tijuana. The particular family we were building a house for shared a one-bedroom and one-bathroom shack between five people. There was, of course, no air conditioning or heating, and definitely no electricity. Running water was the largest luxury in their entire household, as it was for their surrounding neighbors. Witnessing such destitution firsthand was heart-breaking, eye-opening, and tremendously humbling.
The rest of the week I sweated it out under one-hundred-plus-degree weather mixing concrete for the base of the house, sawing and nailing boards for the structure, as well as completing other backbreaking tasks. Although it was tiring, to say the least, I felt an overwhelming sense of fulfillment at the fact that I was truly making a difference in other people’s lives. After six harsh days of working, we accomplished our goal of building a small, two-room “house”, and it was powerfully satisfying. That last day was a teary day for everyone, spent exchanging hugs with the family who could not thank us enough for what we had done for them. As we hit the dusty road and headed back home towards the States, I felt a strange mixture of contentment and sadness as I realized that my one week of suffering was somewhat easy to bear because I knew it would only be temporary. What that family and other unfortunate people suffer is a lifestyle they had to adapt as a result of dire circumstances. I could never even pretend to know or understand their struggling.
That summer was a life-changing summer, one during which I experienced a lifestyle that is very unlike my own and strengthened me in the process. It was one that has brought me to appreciate everything that I have and be sensitive to others’ plight. I came back more aware of how I can help make a positive difference in others’ lives with my resources and abilities, in high hopes that I will have another opportunity to do so.