Volunteers Build Tijuana Homes over Break


Vaughn Luthringer, Staff Writer

Student volunteers from various area high schools spent Spring Break in Tijuana, Mexico, building houses for families in need. The annual trip, in its 26th year, is organized by Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church (MVPC.)

“We were building 12 houses and 2 classrooms for homeless families,” explained freshman Luke VandenBerghe.

According to freshman Cassidy Moellering, the houses the students constructed replaced families’ smaller homes, which often had only one room for an entire family.

Student work teams were designated by colors: Team White, Team Purple, Team Neon, etc. A veteran senior was designated as a leader for each team.

“As a leader it’s a lot more like facilitating the building process,” explained senior team leader Spencer Giglio, a veteran of the service project. “In years past, I’m mostly just focused on actually hammering nails and stuff, but this year you had to focus on the dimensions for the house and the actual  minor details.”

For the rest of the team, Moellring said, “We had to make a slab, so a foundation. We had to mix cement. The second day, we made the walls.” Each team constructed its house from foundation to roofing. Students learned about all aspects of the home building process; They did everything from mixing their own stucco to wrapping their houses in chicken wire.

“It’s quite a bit of work, but there’s a lot of people on each team –it’s 15, 16-people teams. It wasn’t too bad,” Moellering added.

In addition to houses, teams built 2 classrooms “for a local church that are going to be used every day of the week” VandenBerghe said. “That was the adult team that was doing those.”

When the houses were completed, each team had the opportunity the meet the family that would be moving in. “On Friday we do a dedication of the house to the family, and we do this little ceremony, and we give them the keys,” Moellering explained. “A lot of them don’t have a house that locks –a door that locks– so when we gave them the keys, they were all very touched by it and some of them started crying.”

“They spoke Spanish, but we all got to talk to them,” Moellering said. Her team, Team Purple, built for a family of 4: 2 parents, and 2 young boys.

“Our team got super close with the family because they were around, and they helped us build,” Giglio said. “On the last day they make food for the team that builds for them.” Giglio’s team also had the chance to visit the school of 1 of the children for whom they were building. “They were doing  a festival thing, and so we got to see all the different grades do different dances,” he said.

Volunteer also learned about each other through team building exercises. “We do lunchtime discussion questions, and they get pretty deep and emotional,” Giglio explained.

Moellering added that “you open up, and you get to know people really well.”

Students encountered minor bus problems to and from Tijuana. “We took 4 buses, so it was a 15 hour bus ride there and back,” said Moellering. “It’s not supposed to be as long as it was, but on the way down, a bus got a flat tire, and then on the way back, a bus broke down.” Nevertheless, Moellering said that the trip was still “super fun.”

“You get to be doing something that’s good. You’re doing work for other people who need it,” Moellering said. “It’s an overall really incredible experience.”