We arrived in Colombia on a Friday afternoon, the evening was spent pretty freely, getting to know the fellow Journeyers and later we enjoyed a lovely welcome dinner. The feeling of anticipation was present the whole evening, some of us had a hard time falling asleep that night, not fully knowing what the next two days would bring. This was my second trip with Journey, I thought I had an idea what to expect, but I now know how unlikely it is for two journeys to be the same. We were asked to have all of our things packed by 5 am, we would be leaving the hostel never to return again. The next morning, bright and early, we headed out to the home build, eyes wide, ready to be of service. We arrived at a local school where we would be sleeping that night, dropped off our belongings and started to get organized for a 20 minute walk into the community Barrio Nelson Mandela.
I was surprised to see how many other volunteers were joining us, surprised and moved. There were also volunteers from JetBlue working along side us. We gathered water, food, supplies, tools and off we went, into the community with a police escort to ensure safety as this was the first time Techo had organized a build in this community. During the next two days we would set out to build a total of 11 homes, working with around 140 volunteers. The terrain was a bit unforgiving, lots of mud, rocks, sand, it was also uneven and some of the teams encountered water and other things buried in the terrain they were set to build on. Of course nothing would go as planned, because you cannot plan these things, you have to show up and do what you can with what you have. So many instances in which we had to improvise, make it work and never give up. That was the thing, we would never give up until we did what we came here to do. We had setbacks, disappointments and frustrations but I am so thankful for those moments, those imperfect moments made the special ones that much more amazing.
There was so much to take in during the build, from bonding with others, to seeing the way some people live and the sadness that this brought to all of us. From feeling strong and useful to feeling hopeless because we couldn't do more than this. From the unforgiving heat and exhaustion to the happiness we could see in the families eyes, making everything worthwhile. There was so much going on, I remember feeling like I was taking things in and simultaneously telling myself not to focus much on any particular emotion, so that I could stay strong and continue to do what I needed to do. I did this continuously during my time there, I had a hard time experiencing the way some people live, seeing how some behave towards animals, the reality of their day to day lives and the basic need to survive and to have shelter. This was a difficult one, both physically and emotionally, I think for most of us. But you know what? The experience I had with the family that my group was assigned to build the home for, was incredibly positive. I believe it was the same for each of us. Señora Mercedes and her two sons were so welcoming, nurturing and kind, always offering a smile, filling up our water bottles, cooking us our lunches. I have found, in the last two Journey trips, it's usually the people that have the least to give, that tend to want to give the most. I find that beautiful and humbling.
As of right now, I have been back in the States for two full days and if I'm quite honest, I'm all over the place. I am processing, I am feeling, I am questioning. It feels wrong to be surrounded by so much privilege and luxury, it feels strange to be presented with so many options in life but I also feel calm and just wanting to spread love and understanding everywhere I go. I am also feeling so much gratitude, and my mindset and demeanor is like that of a watcher. I am feeling more comfortable being quiet, observing, feeling and learning as the days go by. I know that it is a hard thing to understand but trust me it is also very difficult to explain. I want to leave you with some photographs of the build, from start to finish. I also want to share that there was nothing like seeing that house be finished and given to Señora Mercedes and her sons. The look on her face was priceless and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am thankful for this experience, the wonderful families, the friendships that were born and blossomed during this journey and of course Techo and all the volunteers for their amazing work, it was a group effort and I am honored to have been part of this team. I know I will have more to share as the days progress and I gather my thoughts a bit but for now, enjoy this visual journey through my lens.