As you may have read in the Carmel Valley News on June 16, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church conducted its annual “Come Build Hope” mission to Mexico over the Memorial Day weekend.

This is an annual trip that I have participated in for 15 years or so. It continues to be one of the most satisfying things I have ever done – every time. Yet, I find myself asking every year whether I want to do it again.

You get to pay several hundred dollars for sleeping on the ground in a tent, outhouses, outdoor showers with sun-warmed (only) water, hard work with no power tools, and noises and smells you never experience in North County San Diego.

Lots of good food and fellowship though. And handing the keys to the new owner of these little houses is about as good as it can get. It is sort of a Mexican version (on 100th the scale) of TV’s Extreme Makeover. The homeowners are sooo tearfully grateful, and having gotten to know them a little bit in the three days we do this, it is unforgettable. I guess that moment, and knowing that we have truly helped them take a step upward, is what pulls me back.

There are several non-profit Christian organizations in Tijuana that manage similar programs. Amor Ministries was founded about 30 years ago by a couple that was moved to act when they became aware of the poverty so close to our border.  Amor provides a poured concrete slab on a typically tiny piece of land homesteaded by a family living on a few hundred dollars a month.

Before we start building, many of these families are living in unimaginable makeshift one-room lean-tos made of tarps and palates and old garage doors. Amor also stockpiles at the site the materials needed to completely build a modest little house with aluminum windows, lockable doors, and stucco walls and asphalt roofing.  They provide a tool barrel and step-by-step instructions to build the house. They insist on hand tools to give all of us a little of the reality of what it is like to try to accomplish something in a Third World.

This year, several of us from Solana Beach Presbyterian teamed with Boy Scout Troop 765 and their parents to build our casa. Having done this so many times, those of us who are trip veterans are able to give tips and instruction to many who have never built anything like this in their lives.  It is amazing how fast it all comes together with so many workers, and that is part of the fun. Some of the scouts (and their parents too) were really surprised at what we accomplished in such a short time.

– Lew Dominy