Saying goodbye: Truckee students bid farewell to new friends
(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a four-part series chronicling the efforts of a group of Truckee students and chaperones who spent their spring break building houses in Mexico.)
Throughout their journey in Mexico – to a place that included two families and their neighbors – the teenagers from Truckee who had come to build houses expressed hope, joy, sadness and regret that they had to leave the families they had gotten to know in just four days.
“We formed a relationship with them so quickly – just one week, it was so quick,” said 15-year old Amie Engerbertson. “I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be able to tell them that I love them. I wanted to speak to them.”
Even without a strong grasp of Spanish, many of the students said they felt a strong connection to the families.
“I didn’t expect to get so close to the kids,” said Lauren Nauman, a junior at Tahoe Truckee High School. “The first day I wanted to go home so bad, but the only thing that kept me back was the kids.”
“I want to play with the kids more,” 15-year-old Alexis Auckenthaler said on the last day of construction, just a day before we would pile back into our trucks and cross the border. “I just want to stay here and give the kids my stuff.”
We were mixing cement and mud to make stucco, our final construction task, when it started to rain again.
One group only got one layer of stucco up, just enough to make a wall. It rained so hard, the stucco would slide to the ground.
That afternoon we would dedicate the houses to the families. We gathered toys before leaving camp that we would later give to the children who hung out at the houses while we were building. Between the 32 people at the work sites, we managed to carry a whole toy store.
After smearing stucco on the tarpaper and chicken wire walls all day, we dedicated the houses to each family.
The De la Vega Gonzalez family – Rosario, Juan and Cinthia – stood for a family portrait in front of their house.
“A family like mine that doesn’t have anywhere to live or anything, I want to say thank you to everyone who built this house,” Rosario said to the group as she was crying.
Rosario wasn’t the only one crying. Many in our group – including myself – couldn’t help but cry.
Marina Lagunes Aguilar asked us to help others who need a house.
“I want to thank everyone who made the house and I love them with all my heart,” she said.
Almost everyone on the trip, at one point or another, said they wanted to see how the family would react when the houses were dedicated.
“I wanted to see their faces when their house was done and know that you helped someone,” 15-year-old Jamie Evans said on the second day of construction.
“It just feels so good doing something for somebody else,” said India Millholen, a senior at TTHS.
Even before much work had been done on the house, and before we got to know the families, a few noticed that the work they were doing would make an impact.
“It think [what we’re doing] is pretty cool,” said freshman Jessie Nauman. “And the lady is really happy.”
“It was really fun, it was hard, but in the end, today, it was really worth it,” said Natalie Singer, 15.
Although the rain was making us restless and we were ready to go home, it was still hard to leave that afternoon.
“I think the hardest thing about it is we could just build one house for one family when there are so many families that need our help,” said Courtney Brown.
Making our final drive from the Altiplano to camp, I couldn’t help but wonder what lay ahead for our families – what would play out between the walls we had built? In 10 years, where would Cinthia and Juan be? And the two girls who befriended me from the beginning, Sandra and Lupe. Would they ever make it out of the Altiplano or would they one day watch another group like ours build their family’s home?
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Olympic House was empty but for some maintenance workers and all those ghosts.