Raising a Little Light in Mexico

by Becky Degnon

"If we have the illusion that we can make the world a better place for just the few, we will make it uninhabitable for the whole." - Kofi Annan, Secretary General, UN

I recently went to Mexico with Habitat for Humanity International on a short-term mission. With the help and support of many people from my community, including Old South Church, I was able to experience a whole new way of living and believing.

When I went to Mexico two years ago on my first community service project with the Experiment for International Living, I never thought a relationship would form between me and this country. From that first week till now, more than two years later, I have been fascinated with Mexico. It has such history, culture, beauty, and poverty. I have met so many new and amazing people on my various trips. On the first adventure, I spent three weeks in Tlaxcala, a small city two hours northeast of "la ciudad", Mexico City, in a homestay. My project partner, Amy, and I worked in a very rural community where we planted over two hundred trees in a schoolyard. Each time we went back, a few more trees would have been stolen unfortunately, but on the other hand, many more faces would be familiar. When the two "gringas", as American girls are called, would walk down the street, everyone came out to greet us and smile. When we were finished and it was time to leave, we were extremely reluctant to go. The second hardest step of my life, after the first onto the plane in Boston to fly to Mexico, was the one to get on the bus back to Tlaxcala to leave. None of us wanted to leave, even to go to the beach, where we were headed for rest and relaxation. Fortunately, the relationship is ongoing, and my Mexican sister is coming to Boston this spring to live with my family.

Last October, my friend, Kristen told me about this trip to Mexico in January. On January 18, I got on a plane to Mexico, for another community service project. I went with Habitat for Humanity International and the Christian Environmental Association, whose motto is "serving the earth, serving the poor." For two days, I stayed with my family in Tlaxcala and then returned to Mexico City to meet yet another group. After a night of orientation in Mexico City, we traveled to a poor, rural area, Ixmuiquil-pan, where we would live and work for the next week. Habitat had built several houses there three years before, but there was still nothing to sustain the community economically. Our task was to help establish an economic base. The community welcomed us and was grateful for our help, and worked along with us. We planted fruit trees, pine trees, and over two thousand (2,574 to be exact) sabila cacti, from which aloe vera is extracted. The community also has a small co-op where the fiber of another type of cacti is woven into loofah materials, which are sold at the Body Shop. The last day, back in Mexico City, was hard because I had to say good-bye to another new group of friends. Our group consisted of us two teenagers, a few 27 year-olds, some middle-aged people, and a spry 80 year-old who probably did more work than I did. We formed a bond that made it hard to get on the plane to come back to my United States home.

This last trip was a wonderful experience for me, especially because of the wide range of ages. I was able to talk with people who had experienced a lot more than I had. We had very interesting conversations at our nightly devotions. We talked about everything from white rhinos to how we felt God had ever come to our aid. One man said he felt God had turned on him at one point during the day by allowing him to wish he could have more food for lunch. One lady said she had seen God that day in a little boy who was helping us plant cacti.

Returning to school was hard. I sat in classes thinking about the work we had done and what we accomplished. However, as the quote above says, one should never only concentrate on a certain area, but think of the whole. Maybe someday more people, if not everyone, will realize the need there is in the world, and try to make more of a difference.

Becky & Friends hard at work for Habitat for Humanity

I would like to thank the people who helped me with this trip. Without your support, I don 't think I could have gone with so much energy and enthusiasm. I didn' t think this trip was going to be anything like it was, amazing.

As I look over the journal I kept on this last trip, I find so many memories. One entry brings back the vision of the land owner, who had donated her land for this project, standing in her big straw hat, looking over the cacti field we had planted with so much happiness and pride. In these moments, the phrase, "love thy neighbor as thy loveth thyself", comes to mind. I feel very attached to Mexico, and I would like to end with this thought:

"If you spend yourself on behalf of the poor. . .
your light will rise in the darkness." -Isaiah 58:10 +

To contact the author, click here Degnon Family

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