With every pothole in the road, our heads bounced against the felted ceiling of the twelve passenger van. For as many of us as were piled inside, there were nearly as many countries represented by our team. We were volunteering with a non-profit that connected us with a host campus in the Rosarito/Tijuana area of Baja California and allowed us to meet families living in barrios [neighborhoods] just south of the Mexican-American border. Our team had fundraised money for construction projects and we offered services as often as we could.
My outlook on humanity and our ability to value one another was challenged on this trip. Internal struggles still rage about how the divide between rich and poor is a matter of miles. How is it that a neighborhood with no running water or electricity can be located in the remains of a landfill when just a fifteen minute drive west you will find resort-like condos and pristine jacuzzies.
In one barrio, or colonia, we reinforced the drainage system of their rudimentary irrigation canal. These families had scraps of metal, wood, and chicken wire to provide shelter for their families. Exposing these visuals is only one way I can attempt to spark conversation and change. Absolutely – individuals can thrive in having a life off-the-grid and based on simplicity, but no one should be forced to endure this lifestyle because they are not given an equal opportunity to succeed. For the sake of this conversation, I can only consider the psychological effects on the parents and children who were obligated to live in survival mode… because the survival mode I speak of in this post is not a form of entertainment or one’s developing of their outdoor adventure skill.
Entering a different region, we were put to work digging new holes for outhouse structures because of the overuse and crowds that were living in poverty. The people living in Canyon Cordero were dedicated to working hard in order to save money. After being denied entry into the United States, they would often attempt to purchase land in Mexico. However, once they began building on the property, it was not uncommon for the deed of the property to be seized, including the new home they had constructed, leaving the family homeless once more. Large numbers of people had to resort to sifting through garbage to feed their children and survive their conditions. Why must things be this way?
One night a week, we visited downtown Tijuana, feeding soup to homeless people living in the streets. The conversations exchanged mostly consisted of people who had lived in the United States the majority of their life, but at one point or other had experienced a run-in with the law that led to their deportation. Many of these people did not speak Spanish, were forcibly removed from their families and livelihoods in the States, and were now struggling to create a life in Mexico. The lack of rehabilitation was devastating.
One of the most difficult realities I face as I write this post is how uninformed I am about the struggles people face in our immigration system. My time in Mexico opened my eyes to the relocation of families looking for opportunity, and the struggles of a person who was on the wrong side of privilege when they made a mistake.
So how do we address problems of poverty? How do we solve the heartbreaking puzzle of why we do not always value humans as they ought to be respected, loved, and appreciated? What instruction can be given to the generations who continue to follow in our footsteps so that their world will not be as void of esteem for one another as our own? Can anyone answer me?
Read more about Thirty by Thirty here…
Photography by Elisa Leage