Doing Good Works in Mexico
by Tandy Cook Hennings, Guest Author
Note to readers: While most of the Blog Posts on this site are written by me, about my experiences while traveling, that is obviously limiting. When people have done something interesting and want to write about it, I am happy to share this forum so that others can benefit from those experiences as well. This Post describes the experiences while volunteering to build a needed chicken coop for a Children's Home near Tecate, Mexico. Tandy does want to remind readers that while her experience was positive and safe, these are indeed troubled times in Mexico, with violence a serious concern even in what were historically safe areas. So, anyone considering this type of volunteer activity should be aware of possible dangers and take appropriate steps to minimize risk.
I like to be a positive influence in the world but I am not a political activist or religious do-gooder. I attend church intermittently for the sake of my elderly mother who no longer drives. It is a sensible, Methodist congregation. I wasn’t in the habit of paying attention to extra-curricular activities and it was my mother who alerted me to an interesting opportunity: an upcoming church-sponsored “mission” to Mexico, spanning one week in April, 2018. She thought I would enjoy the chance to revive my Spanish language skills. Despite my skepticism, I attended an organizational meeting and was impressed by the team leader, a highly experienced woman in her 50s. The mission would have a practical focus, to build a much-needed chicken coop at a
Children’s Home near the small border town of Tecate, which is located about 30 miles driving distance east of Tijuana. There also would be a need to interact with the children and babies who resided at the facility. The plan included Christian fellowship within the team but no proselytizing to the Mexicans, who have their own, deep-seated Christian traditions. I was comfortable with this approach and so I signed up.
Funds to purchase building supplies were donated by our Methodist congregation but each team member was responsible for personal expenses: airfare between Seattle and San Diego, room and board at a seminary dormitory, food, and a share of ground transportation costs. From the San Diego airport we entered Mexico in a rental van: four men and seven women.
Team members came with varying skill sets: construction, poultry farming, Spanish language, child care, and always a willingness to do whatever tasks were assigned. Ages ranged from 70s down to one young woman of college age, with most of us in our 50s or 60s. I and another woman were the only ones who knew Spanish well, having studied it in college. I became the team’s de facto translator. On day one, our team’s first task was to move a large pile of chicken manure to clear space for the coop and yard. Shovel in hand, I filled a wheelbarrow with manure, delighted to be doing this simple work towards achieving a practical goal in Mexico, a country I love.
At the Children’s Home we worked to build the chicken coop according to previously prepared plans. The resident chickens had scattered into the brush during a recent coyote attack but slowly, as work progressed, they came out of hiding. They seemed to understand that a wonderful new home was being prepared for them.
Three of the older women on the team spent most of their time helping the paid staff care for infants and toddlers in the so-called baby house. It was heartbreaking work, as many of the children were severely withdrawn and lethargic. But as the days passed, the babies’ expressions brightened and some smiled for the first time.
We learned that most of the children at the home were not orphans but had been given up by their mothers or removed by social services due to any number of problems that transcend national borders: broken homes, abuse, unemployment, drugs. Some would be reunited with their relatives; some would be adopted out. Many would age out. All school-aged children attended local schools and were encouraged to do their homework.
Delicious and hearty midday meals featuring home-grown vegetables were taken in the home’s dining hall. A staff cook prepared the food in a carefully controlled kitchen and team members helped themselves, buffet style, or were served by the children. Nobody on the team experienced any intestinal illness.
Little by little, the children lost their shyness and joined us at meals; some even helped with the construction. The week was capped off by an evening campfire during which the director presented each team member with a certificate of appreciation.
I may never again see any of the Mexicans I met during the week I was in Tecate but the experience will stay with me. I believe our team made a meaningful contribution, however small. We did not visit Tecate as tourists or as saviors, but as fellow human beings. It was about love and respect.