Lending a helping hand in Mexico

Student helps build homes and gains an experence that will last her a lifetime


Photo by Tess Riecke

Marie Elena Villa Ruiz is overcome with emotion when she received the set of keys to her new home, built by volunteers.

Tess Riecke, Staff Writer

I wouldn’t be surprised if my future ends up in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. As much as I hate the grueling heat, I would be completely content living out my days near the beach with my loved ones.


No, it’s not because the piña coladas are mouthwatering or the resorts are like heaven on earth. In fact, I’ve only spent time on the beach in this location maybe a grand total of three hours.


The desolate poverty and the wonderful souls of the locals make me want to stay.


When I tell people I’ve gone to Mexico for the last few years usually the first response is; “you lucky bastard.” Then, when I explain I’m only in Mexico for just a few days and the time isn’t spent getting drunk in a chaise lounge on the beach, the next response is “well, why are you going?”


I go to build a home for someone whose current home is smaller than the dorms on campus. For the last three years, I and a group of about 25 people have worked with Amor Ministries to try to bring some comfort and security to a family.


This year the family was a mother, her daughter and the daughter’s two-week-old infant. I can’t imagine a 17-year-old trying to raise a newborn in house that is smaller than my closet. No electricity, no running water and no food, yet I have never seen a young woman look at her baby with such love and such courage.


In the previous years, there have always been young children involved, but it never crossed my mind that a newborn would also be living in such conditions. The Villa Ruiz family was very trusting in letting a bunch of strangers covered in concrete, dust or in my case face paint, hold Gael.


Leading up to the trip, I was questioning going because it was during the first two days of midterms, and I was going to be missing reviews and lectures and it was making me nervous. The moment that little boy was placed in my arms, I knew I was exactly where I should be. I looked down at his perfect face and instantly fell in love. Once my boyfriend saw my face he told me that I couldn’t take the baby home (a love-struck girl can dream).


The group finished the first day’s work in record time—about four hours. Normally we leave the worksite around 5:30 p.m., but this time we left around 4 p.m. I love finishing early because it allows for more free time to hang out with the family and get a chance to get to know the people we work with. The warm water for the showers that has been sitting in the sun all day doesn’t hurt either.


The next day a few others and I went into another part of the neighborhood to play soccer with some of the kids. I went over to one house that a group built three years ago, and one of the kids asked if a boy named Guillermo was there. He came over to the gate and saw me, then bolted out and ran straight into my arms.


I met him my first year and every year since then, we have managed to find each other and continue to build a relationship.


I think that is the most important part of these trips. Sure, building the house is wonderful but nothing beats the relationships that are created. These defy language barriers, long periods of separation and different cultures. Yet I can return to a house and can pick up where we left off.


This year was a different experience for me. I like to think it’s because I’ve grown up. In the past I would come home and feel guilty for living such lavish lifestyle (and yes having a buffet style cafeteria and access to water in our rooms is lavish). I would also get sad about not being around the people that I’ve connected with. I still went into a funk when I returned, but I wasn’t guilty or sad. I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps or do something that involves volunteer work as a career which sometimes made me hesitant, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle the emotional toll.


Going on multiple trips has taught me that I can do those things and make connections with the people but still be strong emotionally.