MAD Students Build 8 Homes Near Tijuana Mexico for Families in Need

On Wednesday morning, as the bell clanged and students ran to their classrooms for another day of tests and classwork, 200 MAD students gathered in the rain-soaked parking lot with backpacks and sleeping bags piled at their feet. Names were checked off one by one; bodies piled into cars and settled in for the long journey. Parents and teachers pulled away from the school and surged down the coast toward the rising sun. Six hours of snacks, music and staring-out-of-the-window later, the caravan pulled into the border control checkpoint. After a long wait and shuffling of documents and inspecting of trunks, the procession took to the road once again, guided by a white van with Amor painted on it in bold script. It led them east along the border, through rocky mountains and green pastures, so different from the freeways and suburbs they had left behind.

The group also passed clusters of villages; spartan dwellings built of miscellaneous pieces of wood and metal; mangy dogs picking through heaps of garbage for scraps; and the choking smoke of trash fires. In the last few miles the terrain opened up into rolling, rocky field spotted with small farms. Horses watched placidly as the cars bumped along the dirt road and at last pulled into the campsite.

It was an large dirt field framed by a small church lined with golden paint, a school and horse pastures. The students hurriedly set up their tents as the wind began to pick up and the sun fell behind the horizon. They threw on their jackets and were welcomed with an authentic homemade meal. Bright stars winked down on the group as they settled by a fire. Stories were told and laughs were had. After a long day of travel, the MAD academy got some sleep for the big day ahead.

Thursday morning seemed to come earlier than normal. The students awoke to a frosty sunrise. Their breaths steamed as they wolfed down eggs and beans. They gathered their packs and gloves and piled on to local buses, rattling down the bumpy dirt roads to their worksites. The groups met the grateful families that would have a house built for them and each received a booklet with the plans for the structure.

With little help from the supervisors students got to work planning and measuring the foundation. First they built a perimeter and leveled the ground for a stable platform. Some worksites were more challenging than others; many groups had to level ground for their foundation on a slope by using shovels and rakes.

Next, students hand-mixed foundation concrete using various tools and then piled the mixture onto the floor. They leveled it with a two-by-four, piled on more concrete and leveled it again and again until the frame was filled.

All the while they worked the sun climbed higher and grew hotter. At last it began to sink into the west. After a full day of filling the foundation with concrete and cleaning up the site for the next day it was time to head back to camp. When students arrived their backs and arms were aching, but they were greeted with warm food and the promise of a roaring campfire.

“I’d like to thank all the mother’s for allowing their kids to come because it would be hard for me to do that” -Mother of Family Receiving Home

The next workday began in much the same manner. Again the students rose early and again buses took them to the worksites. Most groups had finished their slab the day before and could move on to walls. Working assembly-line or tag-team style, students measured and sawed two-by-fours according to their instructions. Other students fit the pieces together into a frame and nailed them into place.

The frame, which had been assembled flat on the slab, was then lifted by several students and set in place as one of the walls. By the time all four walls had been set up it was creeping toward late afternoon. The sun streamed through the skeletal house, throwing sharp patterns on the slab. Using a similar technique to the walls, a roof frame was cut and and hammered and hoisted up into place.

Simultaneously, a team of students stretched wire on nails between the boards of the wall skeletons until a spiderweb of thin metal wire was woven all about the house. With this finished (or nearly finished) it was time for the exhausted workers to head back to camp and swap stories with the other groups over dinner.

“Students not only go back more thankful and grateful for what it is the have at home but some students have changed their whole perspective as far as a career goes”

-Dan Williams, MAD Academy Director

By the next morning, all weariness from the previous day’s work had melted away; the students were determined to finish their houses. Working quickly, the students rolled large sheets of thick paper onto the walls of their houses and tacked them down. Over the paper they stretched sheets of chicken wire. Several adventurous students clambered up the walls and onto the roof where they nailed down sheets of wood and tar papered the entire surface. The sticky black tar smeared into their clothes, irrevocably staining them dark brown.

The roof tarred and the house wrapped, the entire team turned to mixing stucco. Each house required at least three layers of stucco on its walls to be a strong defense against the elements. By now all the groups were beginning to feel time catching up to them and they worked at a furious pace. They slopped great piles of stucco from buckets onto trowels and spread it on the walls. The stucco clung to the chicken wire. Every trowel was working and some students used their hands. Seniors reached over the heads of freshmen to cover the walls. Team members without trowels carefully fitted the windows and door into place. The students worked until the last possible second as the light faded.

Whether a team finished their house or not, the most memorable part of the trip for all was the very end of the third day as they students prepared to pile onto the bus. While the others watched, one chosen student handed the front door key of the band new house to the grateful families, many of whom would be sleeping in the house that night. Satisfied and proud, the teams returned to camp for the last time, ate one last meal under the stars, and had one last campfire, after which they returned to their tents, thinking of morning and the journey home.

Written by Emma Perme and Benjamin Speirs

Photography by Benjamin Speirs

Spanish Translations by Gorge Garcia

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