Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

New schools, house in Tijuana, thanks to youth from St. Mary Parish

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 2, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Youth work 
in MexicoYouth from St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley spent part of their vacation erecting new buildings in impoverished areas of Tijuana, Mexico, this summer. (IR photo from Eric Thomason, St. Mary Parish, Spokane Valley)

Twenty-eight people, 21 youth and seven adults, from St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley traveled to Mexico last summer to work with the poor. The group spent a week in early August in a small neighborhood near Tijuana working on a couple of schools and a house.

Eric Thomason is the youth minister at St. Mary Parish. He said the group worked with a Mexican organization called Esperanza – the Spanish word for “hope” – a group which is similar to Habitat for Humanity.

Thomason and the youth group began planning the trip a year ago and scheduled fund-raisers to help pay expenses. They held a used book sale and a bake sale, made and sold Advent wreaths, and hired themselves out to parishioners for maintenance work. They will most likely do more of the same this coming year. “We are already planning next year’s trip,” Thomason said.

Tijuana is a fast-growing city with 10,000 people moving there each month. City growth sprawls outward, Thomason said, and there are many “little suburbs.”

In Tijuana the St. Mary group stayed in a facility “very similar to a dorm,” Thomason said. They cooked their own breakfast and dinner, but ate lunch with Mexican families in Esperanza. They joined with their Mexican hosts to attend Mass on the Feast of the Assumption in a small neighborhood church. Even though there was no formal choir, there was “quite a lot of music,” Thomason said.

Some of the teens had taken Spanish but no one in the group was particularly fluent. “We used a lot of sign language,” Thomason said. Ten students had traveled to Mexico before on similar trips.

The teens were greatly enriched by their experience. They became aware of their own riches in comparison to that of the Mexican people with whom they became acquainted. One of the things they learned was that people can be happy in spite of difficult living conditions. Another was that family is important. Some youth members shared their reflections:

Katie Weller: “I was surprised by the poverty. We’d see these small shacks that you wouldn’t think it would be possible someone could live there.” But as she became acquainted with the Mexican people, she soon learned that is spite of the poverty, “people were very happy and very welcoming.” She also noticed that they are hard workers who can get things done. “They’re really strong. Even the girls.”

Kyler Hood: “The scene was totally different than here in the U.S. Sewage collected on the streets” and drivers ignored rules of the road. In spite of that, they know what’s important. “Friends and family are the important things in life.”

Hood was also moved at seeing the border between the two countries and learning how many people had died trying to cross it. He wants to help any way he can, and one way is by helping organizations such as Esperanza “to improve people’s quality of life.”

Crissy Benage said that though the people of Tijuana are quite poor, “the families we worked with showed us wealth that transcended money.”

Kevin Entzminger: “I was surprised to see that though the country was in extreme poverty, everyone was friendly and content with what they had.”

Austin Stolp: “Though it was the hardest work I’ve ever done, I’ve never felt so good. Each scar and sore was like a souvenir that made you feel like you’ve truly done something worthwhile.”

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