Good Deed Travel: Building houses in Mexico. The why factor

When I told some people I was heading to Mexico to build houses there was a mixed reaction.

  • Some people wanted to know how they could go along.
  • Some thought that this was the greatest idea since sliced bread.
  • Some gave money to help fund our endeavor
  • Some were wary of the value of a bunch of high schoolers and adults descending into Mexico across from Tijuana to build houses in order to make the world a better place.
  • Some thought it was a good idea that we build houses in Mexico to help keep Mexicans in Mexico.
  • One person thought it ironic that I was going to Mexico to build houses when there are so many Mexican immigrants building houses here.

Such are the types of comments people make to those who are embarking on do good travel. Even Rick Steves has something to say.

Rick Steves is wary of groups, such as churches, who go to Mexico to build houses. (See post) In a nutshell, if I’m interpreting him correctly, he thinks these trips are feel good experiences for the participants, but don’t do much to help the world. He likes do good travel, but he doesn’t think this type of trip is it.

“Oh, that’s just great,” I thought as I was watching the video of his philosophical musings. I had already plopped down my deposit money for such a venture.

What was my motivation? Am I just a do-gooder at heart? Or was there something else?

I like the idea of doing good. Sometimes, I do do good, I think. But, being the curious sort who looks at most of life as a grand sociological experiment, I wanted to see what such a trip would be like–and I thought it would be a way to spend some time with my 9th grade daughter. Most of our days are spent flying about our lives at such a speed that we rarely settle down to see what’s going on with either of us. Those of you who have 9th graders know that sometimes getting info from them about their inner workings is like getting gold from Ft. Knox.

I also thought this trip to Mexico would be good for her to learn more about herself and see part of the world she hasn’t been before. Plus, she could see the value of being a do good traveler. She’s a traveler, but doing good has not been part of the focus.

The other truth is, I really, really, really wanted a trip where I could see something new. Seeing something new is how I stay sane. If it meant I had to do something good, so be it.

In all seriousness, because I was in the Peace Corps, I’m careful when it comes to do-good travel. I want to make sure that the organization offering help is not disrupting life in the country where the “good” is to occur. As far as I can tell, Amor Ministries is doing good. It works within the local communities where the houses are built.

This is not meant to push Amor Ministries or a church sponsored trip. This is just what I did. It was an easy fit. Sometimes in life, one just needs an easy fit. No fuss, no muss. There are many sectarian organizations that also do good work.

Although Rick Steves is not too enamored with groups that trot across the Mexican border for a week, I have a different take. It’s been a month since I returened from my journey to Mexico, so I’ve had time to sift through my thoughts.

What I have come up with so far is that because of our trip to Mexico:

  • 12 families have a better house to live in than they did before
  • a number of Mexican kids and American adolescents have great memories of each other
  • several high schoolers from predominately well-off backgrounds had a week where they could just be themselves without cell phones, distractions or mirrors to look into and fret over their appearance
  • adults had a chance to talk to each other about themselves and their lives without interruptions
  • adolescents and adults had a chance to work side-by-side which gave numerous opportunities to just be with each other on equal footing
  • in a pinch, I can build a house that at least puts a roof over my head, a floor under my feet and walls that should withstand wind.
  • because our church has repeated this trip for years, several people have developed a relationship with this part of Mexico and this has had an impact on subsequent work. (More on this in another post.)
  • I’d rather be building a house on a Mexican hillside than sitting out on a beach somewhere, although that beach is tempting, so I’m not opposed to those trips either.
  • Do good travel can be hell on sneakers. (Notice the sole is almost gone.)

Stay tuned for more on this do good travel in Mexico experience. I’ll even share the steps on home buildling.