Hero holiday leads to appreciation of home

Oak Bay High students build homes in rural Mexican village

Oak Bay High School Grade 12 students Olivia Walton

Oak Bay High School Grade 12 students Olivia Walton

Spending a week in Mexico seems like the ideal spring break getaway.

But helping others during the trip made it more worthwhile for a group of Oak Bay High students.

In mid-March, 30 students from Oak Bay High School travelled to the rural agricultural town of Vicente Guerrero, Mexico to help build houses for two families in need.

The trip was part of the Hero Holiday program, organized by the Live Different movement. The program allows high school students to participate in humanitarian efforts by providing practical assistance to people living in extreme poverty.

Grade 12 students Cathleen Evans and Olivia Walton both went on the trip and said it was an amazing experience.

“We throw around the word ‘life-changing’ a lot … but that’s honestly the best way to describe it,” Evans said.

The group of students, ranging from the age of 15 to 18, was split into two groups. Each group worked on a house, along with the family the house was being built for, Evans explained.

Walking around the town and seeing houses that had been built previously, “we saw how much of a difference one house really did make,” Evans said.

Throughout the week, the students quickly grew close with the children there, Walton said.

Seeing the kids each day was exciting and knowing they were equally excited made her realize how much their help was appreciated, she said.

“You realize you’re making them so happy by doing this, but what you don’t really know, before you go, is how happy it will make you, and how good it feels to give something so important,” Walton said.

While both girls agreed the trip was emotionally straining at times, they said the trip made them realize not to take anything for granted.

“It was really shocking when we first got there,” Walton said. “We got to go inside the houses that they had and they weren’t even houses. They were made out of cardboard and tarp. … They don’t have electricity and they don’t have running water and their bathrooms were just like a hole inside.”

Seeing how close the families are with how little they have made the students re-evaluate what’s important to them, Evans said, adding that since coming back, she tries to help out more at home.

“I’ve realized how valuable (my parents) are and how much they do for me,” she said.

The part that really hit home, Evans said, was when they presented a young girl with her very own bedroom — something she didn’t have before.

“She started crying and she kissed all the toys on her bed and everything, she kissed her bed and her pillow,” Evans said. “That’s kind of when it hit home for me — what I’d done, what we had done.”

Through fundraisers such as bottle drives, a silent auction, and a Mexican-themed dance, students spent the majority of last year raising funds for the trip.

Supplies to build the two houses cost $24,000. Any extra money raised went to furnishing the houses and to the local school, Evans said.

Oak Bay teachers Brent Garraway and Tessa Logan organized the trip. The teachers have encouraged students to take what they’ve learned and translate it into their own lives, Evans said.

The trip also helped several Grade 12 students realize what to do after graduation, Walton said.

“I always thought I’d go straight to university (after high school) but I’ve thought a lot more about volunteering,” Evans said.

For more information about Hero Holiday, click here.