Getting back from the TECHO build is like coming back from another world. In fact, it is coming back from another world. Driving home last night and running some errands in my neighbourhood today, I couldn’t stop marveling at the pavement on the roads, yes! even our potholed pavement, (to put it into perspective, I have a student doing his entire senior project on how to improve the potholes in the streets of Guadalajara), the lights above the sidewalks, the trees lining the avenues and the lack of dust and garbage, comparatively speaking. I looked around my living room and estimated that one of the TECHO viviendas (houses) that we build for families could fit in my living room alone, not to mention the additional space in my bedroom, my roommates’ bedrooms and the personal bathroom each of us has. I was particularly grateful for my hot shower, my bed and the luxury of being to able to buy and eat whatever food I desired today. And I kept thinking what my cuadrilla (building team) was thinking and feeling – were they having similar reactions?
And then my thoughts went back to my new friend, Bet: one of the strongest, kindest ladies I have ever met. I had met her a couple weeks ago when I joined the TECHO team to interview some of the families who we were potential candidates for the houses (the TECHO pre-build process is significantly detailed and transparent). I found out how she, as a single mom, was worried about making sure her 4 boys never lacked anything and that she made enough money so that her eldest wouldn’t drop out of high school to work. I talked to her a bit more during the build and I saw her house getting completed and then, when we were done our 3 day build, I went home to my luxuries.
In the evenings, during the build, we would all go back to the local school where we were sleeping. On the first night we had an activity where each building team got a certain amount of “money” to buy the food that was listed on the dinner menu. Teams quickly made calculations to buy the food they wanted – one can only imagine how hungry a group of teenagers is after being out in the sun, doing physical labor all day – only to find out that some teams weren’t assigned enough money for dinner and some had none at all. A revolution ensued and emotions started running high. One young empathetic gentleman suggested all the money get split equally, while others grumbled about their hunger. Soon we learned that the amounts assigned represented the daily budget of each family that we were building for. A reflective silence followed.
In the debrief (post-dinner, thank goodness!), when students were sharing their reflections, one student said: “I noticed that the teams that had the most money for dinner had the hardest time giving it up”. I was moved by what he said and asked myself today: Would I be able to give up the luxuries (including my pot-holed roads) I have to make sure everyone had something to eat? Realistically, no. And when we are truly honest with ourselves, most of us would say no too. Some of us might argue: I don’t have luxuries, I have student loans, car payments, a mortgage, bills to pay, etc. Yet, how many of us need to ask: what is my budget for dinner? Is it something that even needs to get budgeted?
When I once had my students read and reflect on the “The Singer Solution To World Poverty” where Peter Singer suggests we donate all money in surplus of the $20,000 we need to survive, many of them felt his proposal was too drastic and unrealistic. And maybe it is or maybe we just all (myself included) have a hard time really sharing the lottery that we’ve won.