by Wei Chang
As we stepped into the Laredo airport, it was an unexpected scene of cultural influence from the local and perhaps from the country that borders the town. As the chapter director of Habitat for Humanity at Laredo explained to us, “We are a little bit of Texas, a little bit of Mexico, but mostly a whole lot of Laredo.” In the few days that we were there, it was incredibly interesting for us to see the elements of U.S. and Mexican culture blend in the area. Laredo is home to the largest inland port on the U.S.-Mexico border. However, it is also one of the poorest area of the United States with 29.8 % of people living below the poverty level between 2008 and 2012 (U.S. Census). With the low income level, many people cannot afford housing. Habitat for Humanity in the area serves its mission by building affordable housing in Laredo for families that would have otherwise been in difficult living conditions. Among the construction site leaders and people from Habitat for Humanity, many stories were told describing the powerful moment of the house ceremony. For families that had to all share one room before to have their own house, it was a transformation. It was also a reminder of hope and a chance for the children in the family to receive education opportunities and perhaps be the first in the family to attend college. Stories of family from the past and the possibilities for the children in the future demonstrate to the volunteers and the community that change is possible. In that sense, the neighborhood cannot find a more suitable name than “Tierra Prometida” or Promised Land.
One of our site leaders, is living in one of the Habitat for Humanity houses just across the street from our construction site. During break, she told me about how much she struggled through high school. After high school, she did not continue with college because having dyslexia made life too difficult. She said Habitat helped her find a new goal in life, helping others makes her really happy. Moreover, I can truly sense her excitement when she told us in a few years, she plans on returning to school with scholarship money. Personal stories from the local people we encountered were powerful and a testimony to how Habitat is able to train and provide people with valuable skills.
Through reflections, I know as a group, we are extremely grateful that our site leaders were truly genuine people who share their stories with us. Although where we came from may be drastically different, knowing that we are all working on an issue that we care deeply about creates a powerful sense of camaraderie.
For many of us, this trip was a personal challenge as we learn to be comfortable when using various power tools. But beyond that, I know that the people I encountered on this trip will be the ones to make the experience forever vivid.