Friday, 22 March 2013 14:26

Medicine Hat College student from Burstall helps with Hope

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It was a trip of a lifetime — as were the ones from 2006 to 2012. Dakota Smith, a nursing student from the Medicine Hat College, hasn’t missed one since she was 15 years old and a student at Burstall School.

Every year during winter break, she takes her vacation time and heads down to the destitute and economically-poor part of Mexico as part of a mission to build a structure which will help improve a community.
“We built a two-room school. It’s something you don’t get a chance to do every day,” explained Smith of the 18-desk school house which should house about 30 youngsters. “Every year, you go and it keeps you inspired and motivated. It’s lots of fun, but I get more out of it than the areas we help. God has really blessed me with everything I have.”
She can’t stop going even though she’s not in Burstall anymore.
While they are there building, a handful of others are spreading the message of the Bible to families while also having fun with the children who don’t often get an opportunity to play. They host puppet shows and have Christian-themed storytimes.
It’s serious job, but the volunteers get so much enjoyment out of it, it’s like a holiday with a purpose.
The Hope Mission, the Burstall-led group, hosts fundraisers throughout the year where they raise money to go down to complete the project. They raise thousands of dollars where they not only buy all the building materials at local Mexico stores, but then they ensure they have leftover money to help food banks purchase much-needed food.
Smith’s seventh trip to Mexico included 29 people this year which went from Feb. 15-Feb. 25. Participants ranged in age from 15 to 73 and were from southwest Saskatchewan and southeast Alberta. Six of them were under the age of 20.
Smith said usually when a teenager goes, one of their parents will be there as well.
“It’s always interesting to watch how everyone takes it in and reacts,” explained Smith. “Everyone is different.”
She said in this case, the school was to replace an old shack which acted as their school. No lights, no window and they propped open an area of one of the “walls” to let light in.
Smith said the protocol is similar every year. You visit the site, go over plans, have a prayer circle involving all of those involved as well as some of the locals. Then comes the work with framing, rafters, roofing, sheeting and painting and it’s all done within a handful of days.
“This year, the community members made us homemade tamales,” explained Smith who couldn’t emphasize enough the amount of effort and sacrifice it is for an underprivileged group such as those in Mexico to undertake that project.
The Hope Mission changes locales all the time and in Smith’s seven years they have built anything from houses to a daycare last year and school this year. As part of the program, some of the group can go check out what exactly they built years previous to see what kind of impact it had on the families and communities themselves.
What made the trip particularly special for the 22-year-old Smith was reuniting with a little girl she had made friends with while building the 2012 day care.
To say there wasn’t a dry eye when they reunited would be an understatement. In fact, Smith’s description of the reunited scene at the daycare, which was built last year, was tear-jerking.
“Last year, I bonded with this one little girl Susanna who was six and she had three younger siblings she was looking after,” said Smith who was amazed at the maturity and gumption of the child. Smith said both her parents worked picking strawberries in a large company patch for $9 to 10 a day.
“I mean I understood why they would go off, they need to make money and be able to feed their family. But Susanna is such a little mom. But when I was there she was basically with me the whole time and wouldn’t let go ... things like that as much as the building are what makes this program special.”
Witnessing the poor living conditions is often a shock for those who are going for the first time. It’s sometimes difficult to deal with, but for those who have gone a few times, coming back to Canada and through the United States is hard too.
“Seeing that is difficult, but it’s almost as hard as when we went through Disney,” Smith said with a cringed look on her face. “You see those families in Mexico and they’re so happy and they have nothing. You go to the theme park and you have all of these kids whining and you’re just like ‘why don’t you appreciate what you have?’”
Organizer Pearl Plato noted that is often the case, when they go to these regions that when they arrive, the area is destitute, dirty and not well maintained.
However, when they come back the town itself feels a sense of pride in their community with the new structure. Often the entire town is well kept and not just the area around the new building. That’s a major source of pride for Plato and all of those who have gone on the trip.
Smith was concerned that Pearl and husband Harold were retiring. They have led and organized the event for so many years.
“It’s a lot of pressure to organize that,” said Smith who noted she would like to play a role in it if she can. She’s not sure what her schooling will allow her to do. If there’s anyway she can continue to contribute, she will.
Smith feels blessed to have had so many opportunities to go and highly recommends it.
“It gives you such an opportunity on so many levels,” said Smith who added proudly her parents have come along on the trips. “It has made me a more mature person for sure. It makes you thankful and it teaches you — you don’t need to have a lot of things to be happy in life ... those people there are happier than you are and they have nothing (material-wise). It gets you to take off those rose-coloured glasses.”

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Ryan Dahlman

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