On September 8th 2015, 14 students and 4 chaperones from the community of Eskasoni boarded a plane to the Dominican Republic to help build a home for a family.
The 12 day trip was facilitated through the organization Live Different.Live Different Builds, which was formerly known as Hero Holiday, gives volunteers from across Canada the opportunity to make a difference in the developing world as they build houses, schools, and complete other much needed projects. The program allows volunteers to see first-hand how two-thirds of the world lives, and gives them the opportunity to consider how they can build hope and change in their own lives.
“ The idea to work with Live Different first came up about three years ago but the commitment just wasn’t there ”, explained Newell Johnson, Principal at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni. “ This time, we began planning a community trip and a number of High School Students committed to the program. We sent in the deposit and there was no turning back!”
Students spent six months fundraising the amount required for the trip. They did not only need to fundraise for their travel and accommodations but also for the cost of the building materials for the house they would be building.
The students sold tickets on items, hosted a dinner theatre, an 80’s dance, a silent auction and a bake sale. They also catered several events in the community. “The community was extremely supportive,” said Johnson. “Donations came in for the silent auction from everyone once they knew what it was for.”
During their 12 day trip, the youth got up early every day and worked long days building the home. They also had the opportunity to spend a day in the life with a family. They helped prepare a meal and shared it with the family they were visiting that day. They cleaned up and helped with other chores that would normally be done each day in that household.
These experiences had such a huge impact on each and every one of the students. “This changed how I do things at home,” explained Jack Dennis. “There was an 84 year old woman who was always on her feet doing what needed to be done. Now I try to help my mom more with dishes and taking out the garbage. I never did that before.”
Most of the students expressed how seeing that level of poverty changed how they view their own lives. They came away with a much deeper appreciation for things they take for granted.
“When we were at the hotel we were complaining about having to pay for wifi,” explained Raven Stephens, grade 12 student. “Meanwhile we didn't even realize that most of these people don't even have a house, let alone wifi. A lot of these people have so little, and yet, they are so happy.”
The chaperones, Janean Marshall, Ronnie Martin, Terry Bernard and Newell Johnson, noticed huge changes in the students, especially those who had experienced loss before going. Many of the students had lost close relatives and important people in their lives over the year leading up to the trip. Some of them were almost at the point that they didn’t want to attend. As they spent time working with the family to build their home and met other youth from the area, they began to express joy for the first time in many months. It was described as if they “found their smile again.”
They also felt that this trip was an opportunity for the students to share their strengths. They noticed a huge boost in the confidence level of the group. The students believe in themselves now and have such a strong desire to make changes in their lives and communities.
“I want to change more lives and help more families”, said Camryn Sock, grade 11 student.
Her desire to change lives is shared by her peers as they plan to try to “educate others and encourage others to pay it forward”. They all want to continue the work of living differently even within their own community and family. They spoke about how they plan to make small changes to give back by volunteering more often and helping others who need it. This trip was life changing for all who attended.