Administrators, managers, and staff from Providence Saint Joseph and Holy Cross Medical Centers went to Tijuana on an immersion trip for four days at the end of October with the objective of helping poor families build their homes, which would eventually consist of four cement block walls and a cement roof and floor.
Pueblo Esperanza, which is located in La Gloria, a semi-rural suburb of Tijuana, was where Team Providence slept in sleeping bags on metal bunk beds and ate the traditional Mexican food prepared by the women of La Gloria.
Esperanza International is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering poor families to help themselves and others to build homes, community centers, and schools. A small monthly payment is collected from each family. This money is used to cover the cost of the housing materials. While they are waiting for enough money to be collected, they are also encouraged to help other Esperanza families who are already building their houses. Volunteers, like those from Providence, come from all over to help.
The work site was 45 minutes from La Gloria. To get there the group traveled on unpaved dusty roads with huge potholes and debris everywhere. Dressed in work clothes, hats, leather
gloves, and sun block on their noses, the volunteers arrived at the top of a dusty sun-baked hill. The family of five that were getting a new home lived in a room built of four garage doors with a covering of plywood to keep the glaring sun or pouring rain out. They met the volunteers with smiles. They shared what little they had with the group and helped in the building of a new home.
The week before, another group from Providence had helped this family work on the
foundation of their cinder block one-room home. The tasks for he second group on the first day were to level a mountain of dirt that had been dumped for the floor, oil molds for cement, bend wire for the molds, make cement, form a bucket brigade for cement to be carried up the hill, and carry cinder blocks. With the well-used tools that didn’t always work, the group completed their assigned jobs for the day. Everyone in the group agreed at the end of the day that they had never worked harder or been dirtier.
The families, including the young children and neighbors, helped as much as they could and became inspirations for the volunteers. One woman, who was a neighbor, hobbled over to the work site with a cane because she had a limp leg. She was able to lift large buckets of rocks, keeping up with the group, and at one point when she did not have a shovel, used her fingers as a rake to move gravel. For the lunch time break the women of the area prepared a hot meal for the volunteers.
At the end of a long hard day of labor, the volunteers hugged the family members, who cried in appreciation. Through an interpreter, the families told how they could not believe that Americans would come so far to help them build their houses.
One night the volunteers visited Casa del Migrante, which is a shelter for migrant s with no papers who have been deported from or are going to the United States. The migrants can stay for up to 15 nights while they get their lives together. Sitting on wooden benches with the migrants, the volunteers were able to talk and share rice, beans, and a little shredded chicken. Two migrants stood out with their similar sad stories. They were both 30 years old, spoke perfect English, and had just been deported from Los Angeles, where they were living and working. They had been raised in the Los Angeles County foster care system and were deported when they turned 18. The rest of their lives were spent trying to find family in the U.S., being deported, and going back.
After dinner the volunteers visited the fence that had been built on the border.
The last morning was spent at a clinic on the rim of a landfill close to the border. Gas could be seen escaping from the ground near the landfill in the valley where many tiny shacks housed whole families. Children were riding bicycles through the smoke as huge trucks puffed up the hill with garbage to be dumped.
The young Latina doctor who ran the clinic spoke about applying for medical school in the U.S. She could not support herself at the clinic and felt that she could better support her people by sending the money she would earn as an American physician back to the clinic, which relies on donations for drugs, bandages and equipment.
Those participating in the project commented that it was extraordinary how people from two completely different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds with limited common language could come together and work in harmony toward a humble goal.
This was an example of Providence employees living their mission to help the poor and the vulnerable.