On June 26, 40 volunteers from Gilroy’s St. Mary Roman Catholic
Church continued a tradition the parish began a decade ago. The
teens and adults gave up a week of summer vacation to travel to
Tijuana, Mexico, to work in Colonia La Morita, a poor neighborhood
on the outskirts of the city.
On June 26, 40 volunteers from Gilroy’s St. Mary Roman Catholic Church continued a tradition the parish began a decade ago. The teens and adults gave up a week of summer vacation to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, to work in Colonia La Morita, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.
Each year the goal is the same: to build new houses for families living in substandard conditions.
The group stays at a large compound owned by the Catholic Church. They sleep in a two-story building called “The Dome,” and have their meals there about a 10-minute drive away from the construction site.
They arrived with blueprints for constructing two homes, each with two bedrooms. During the course of the week, divided into two teams, they raised the walls, built roofs, installed plumbing and electrical wiring, and even painted the walls. With the help of the families that would be living in them, the houses were completed by the end of the week.
A daughter of one family mentioned that she had been sleeping on a mattress spread on the floor of the shanty where her family had been living and that she was afraid each night because of the danger of bites from scorpions and other bugs. In response, the Gilroy group built her a bed so that she could sleep safely at night and purchased bedding.
This year’s mission team, despite having a large percentage of first-timers, was unusually productive. Not only did they complete both of the scheduled homes, but they began construction of a school back at the compound. It is expected that volunteers from Palma High School in Salinas will continue to work on building the classrooms during their trip to the Colonia at Easter. St. Mary’s group hopes to complete the project when they return next summer.
Participants followed a busy schedule:
– Breakfast at 6 a.m.
– Morning prayers
– Pack lunches and leave for the building site
– Return for dinner at 6 p.m.
In the evening, however, they were able to relax. One popular activity was singing around a bonfire while toasting marshmallows. One evening they held a talent show. Other times they participated in “Lumber Olympics,” featuring such athletic contests as sawing boards or hammering nails. They all enjoyed lengthy conversations and sharing of life stories.
Although the St. Mary Parish Council donated $6,000 toward the trip’s expenses, each participant was responsible for paying $525 toward the cost. To help defray this expense, the group held fundraisers all through the year:
– Selling lemonade at the Garlic Festival
– Holding a Mexican fiesta dinner dance
– Hosting rummage sales
– Painting curbs with water pollution warnings.
The highlight of the week was a fiesta held on the last evening. A priest came to the two homes for a blessing rite, and the keys were officially handed over to the new owners. Some families who were recipients of previous homes returned to join in the celebration, which included a festive meal, piñata breaking, soccer games, singing and dancing. Nearly half the Gilroy visitors arrived in the country speaking Spanish, and the others picked up many words through their experience, so they all enjoyed talking with their Mexican hosts, wishing them well and bidding them goodbye.
One success of St. Mary’s Mexico Mission trip can be judged by the willingness of volunteers to return. James Benson, a senior at Christopher High School, was on his third trip and served as a co-foreman this year. He was “overcome with emotion at the key presentation,” realizing how his efforts would improve the lives of the families involved and seeing their gratitude.
Angelique Geiger, a June graduate of San Jose State University, has participated in seven of these trips. She has found these experiences very moving, and feels that seeing such poverty “opened her eyes” and made her more grateful for the abundance we have in Silicon Valley. She has become so interested in the problems of people living in other cultures that she will begin graduate study in anthropology at San Francisco State University this fall.
Planning has already begun for next summer’s Mexico Mission. To learn about how to become involved, including purchasing tickets for the fund-raising dinner on April 14, contact Clorete Almeida at (408) 482-0554.