Sixteen students and four Temple administrators went to Mexico. They had fun in the sun on the beach, made some cute friends and talked the night away while playing games.
No, they weren’t on vacation in Cancun. Instead, they were in Tijuana days before Christmas, renovating schools, playing with children, trying different foods, taking showers outside and living under one roof with no TV.
Every year, Project Mexico, organized by the Office of Community Service, lends a helping hand to Mexican communities. Students traveled to Mexico from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23. “I’ve always been in love with the Spanish culture,” said freshman volunteer Hong-Hanh Khong. “And I wanted to get involved with community service [at Temple].”
Khong’s interest in visiting a different country left her with a deep impression.
“It was beyond my expectations,” she said. “I was blown away by the people’s hospitality. They barely knew us and all we did was make cement.”
Every afternoon the students’ local chaperones, who also helped with the renovations, prepared lunch for the volunteers.
“It was all home-cooked and most of it was vegetarian,” Kong said, “but it was so good, you didn’t notice.” Khong also mentioned that one day a group of chaperones bought a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the students. Working with Los Ninos, a community development program, the 20 Temple students
helped restore a school in a different community every day.
“Every day was productive,” Khong said. “[After work] I wasn’t like ‘Oh, my God! I’m tired.’ It was really nice.”
“You see very little progress and that was really shocking,” said junior BTMM major
Ryan Piccone. “We worked six or seven hours making concrete and we would lay down a couple steps. … It was really crazy how all that work was for just a bit.” Khong said that one of their accomplishments was that they made one of the schools handicap accessible by building a ramp. Both Khong and Piccone wished that the trip could have been longer. Chirag Patnaik could not have agreed more. Patnaik said that even though they stayed only a week, they still made a difference.
“To get changes done, it’s never top-down. It starts from the bottom-up,” said Patnaik, a sophomore accounting major. “It starts with the people.” The volunteers and Mexican natives had no trouble communicating with each other. Piccone, who lost all the Spanish he learned in high school, had the help of interpreters.
But for Patnaik, his “Spanglish” and hand waving worked well for him. “Gestures say a lot more than words,” he said. Besides working, the members of Project Mexico learned more about the Mexican culture, cleared up misconceptions, heard stories of unsuccessful migrants and made some new friends.
“The highlight was to play with the kids,” Piccone said. After a long day, the students bonded under Tijuana’s stars.”You’d be surprised by how much you can do with no TV,” Patnaik said, regarding the house the students stayed in.
He described it as an empty house in a middle-class neighborhood, where everyone
took turns cleaning and doing the dishes. Nights were chilly and hot showers were missed, but the volunteers filled the void with group activities, games and conversation.
For those interested in getting involved with Project Mexico and other programs, contact the Office of Community Service, located on the second floor of 1509 Cecil B. Moore Ave.
“You walk in with certain expectations, but when you walk out you’re blown away,” Khong said. “Don’t be afraid to try something.”
Anne Ha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.