Hola, Amigos! Cerveza por favor

By Andrew Barbero

Usually seeing snapshots of someone’s Christmas holiday in Mexico is never exciting, but this time, it was inspiring.

Thirteen University of Calgary students made the 36 hour bus trek down to Juarez City, Mexico, to build a house for a struggling family. Known as ‘Project Amigo,’ the initiative was spearheaded by U of C Chaplain Centre Director Kelly Johnson.

“There’s a lot of need, and it’s not that far away,” said Johnson at the information session and photo presentation the Project Amigo students held Tue., Jan. 24, in MacEwan Student Centre. “We’ve done it annually. This is the eighth home that we have built.”

The students paid their own travel costs, and also raised the necessary funds for building materials. Then, with guidance from a trained professional, the team assembled a house from the ground up, including laying foundation and providing electrical wiring.

“I never thought I would be able to put up a wall,” said Ben Giesbrecht, a recent engineering graduate and member of the team.

“The students do the wiring and all of a sudden the lights go on,” added Johnson. “It’s an amazing experience for them.”

Many team members did not realize the squalid conditions of Mexico before visiting.

“I was overwhelmed by how ‘third-world’ it is,” said Giesbrecht. “People lived in shacks, old busses and dumps.”

Beyond any acquired carpentry skills, the students also gain valuable life experience.

“It’s fantastic, especially the relationships that develop with the people who went down,” said Project Amigo co-leader and second year nursing student Janette Likely, who has taken part in the last four trips.

Johnson insisted the program is life-changing.

“We have students who have changed their degree programs because of this experience,” he said. “It motivates students to action. It’s a call to engage with the needs of the world, a chance to learn about the environment and the bigger world we live in.”

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