The difference a few miles make
Because of the prosperity that most of us enjoy, it is difficult to truly understand the basic and fundamental challenges that exist just beyond our borders. Only minutes south of one of California’s favorite vacation destinations, you will find Tijuana, Mexico, a city not only of considerable size and history, but of significant human poverty and hardship as well. With a population of over 1.3 million residents, it is sobering to appreciate that nearly half of them live on less than $200 (USD) per month.
Even more troubling is the difficulty that families face when finding a permanent home. The cost of land in Mexico can be very expensive ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 (USD) for a 200-300 meter parcel of land. Once families have saved enough money to pay for the mortgage on their land, they have very little left to construct a secure home. As you drive through the impoverished communities around Tijuana, you will see homes made of old garage doors, wooden pallets, tarps, tires or other materials that were, ironically enough, likely discarded from homes within the United States.
Finding the right families to build for is not an easy task. For this reason, we work closely with Mexican Social Services and other local resources to identify potential candidate families. Once selected as a candidate, the family will be carefully interviewed to determine their need based on annual income, family size, overall quality of life, employment and the potential benefit that a home will have on them. After meeting with all of the candidate families, their applications are then compiled and presented to the selection committee. Our goal is to serve those with the greatest need at the time of our evaluation.
Since 1988, Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage has been building secure, safe and weather-tight homes for some of the most impoverished families in northern Mexico. Built strictly by volunteer labor, these homes provide families economic security and hope for a brighter future. While serving these families, the volunteers discover that they have been transformed. Through their service to others, they realize that they have received much more than they had given. To date, we have hosted well over 11,000 volunteers on our 16 acre ranch as we continue to humbly bear the burdens of others in the name of Christ.
“I always feel a renewed sense of life and in my faith while here. Thank you so much!”
“I loved the whole experience, it gave me time to look on what I want my future to be like and the orphanage was amazing and the staff and the boys were so nice and it really changed my life.”
“I am leaving Mexico a new person, and I will be back!”
“A moving and truly life changing experience…”
“This is my second group trip down, each time I come down, God opens up a new area of my life.”
“I gained so much from this experience and was so inspired by the staff & fellow volunteers…”
“The experience of being with faithful Orthodox people from all over the country is really inspiring.”
“Everything about the experience was amazing, changed my life and my view of the Word.”
“Loved the entire experience! Treasured the relationships that developed, the team work, the sanctuary at the orphanage, it is very peaceful and full of love!"
“This experience has been so incredible. Everyone here has such a heart to help others and to seek the Kingdom of God - it’s really refreshing. It truly is special here, Glory to God!”
“…The experience was definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”
“Most amazing experience ever, I did not want to leave, I can’t wait to be back next year!”
“I am changed forever. In one week, I have been able to see myself in a different light and become the person I want to be. Best week of my life.”
“I never expected to feel so changed…I have gotten an interest in involving faith more in my everyday life! I would love to return to Project Mexico!”
“This past week was life changing for me. Outside of my children being born, I truly feel like I participated in a miracle! Praise God!”
“Thank you for all you do to make this such a great experience. This certainly makes a difference-bringing others closer to God.”
“Amazing people…Amazing experience.”
“I love to call Project Mexico my true home away from home. Thank God!”
“This was by far one of the most incredible weeks I’ve ever experienced in my life. The children we met in Mexico really opened my eyes to what’s actually out there, and how amazingly hard things are for so many people in the world. They were so much fun, and also so grateful for the small house we built for them. I loved everything about this week. I already miss our time in Mexico, and can’t wait to go back as soon as possible.”
“One friend asked me WHY I would go to Mexico to build a home for some poor family I don’t even know. He obviously didn’t understand our call as Christians to reach out to those in need, to help others less fortunate than ourselves, and to share God’s love in concrete ways, even with those who live in other countries far away.”
“May we always remember our responsibility to share God’s love through our words and actions – in our local setting, as well as throughout the world. May all glory go to God!”
“I was inspired by the joy that we saw in the Mexicans. Even though they have so much less than we do, we could still see a radiant joy shining from them, especially from their children.”
“This experience opened my eyes to a new way of life, and it helped me become more appreciative of all that we have. One moment we are in San Diego, one of the beautiful cities in the USA, and 20 minutes away we enter into another world, and see how different and difficult life can be. We have been blessed in countless ways, and should be grateful for all we have. But we also have a great responsibility in sharing those blessings with others.”
“We did something for them in building a simple home, and maybe they thought we would expect them to do something in return, and yet nothing was asked of them. It was an offering made in the name of our loving God. In truth however, they did do something special for us – they helped change a little bit our perspective on life, our worldview. We each have been enriched by this special experience.”
“It was shocking to see how one little girl saw the simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we prepared for lunch, and said that she was hungry because her father can’t buy food. They didn’t have much, and yet appreciated the simple meals that we gave them.”
“I never thought that we could build a house in four days with the unskilled workers of our group, and yet all these young people proved me wrong. They did a great job in working and we built the house!”
“It was nice to not having our phones for a week. I realized that what I thought matters in life doesn’t really matter or is so important.”
“I want to thank God for another wonderful, inspiring and safe trip, and I also want to thank each of our team members who participated, as well as everyone else who helped make this mission possible through their donations and prayers.”
A Typical Home building Week
Frequently Asked Questions
What will I be doing during the week?
As part of a home building team, you will participate in the construction of a home for a family in need. This task will include a variety of different jobs such as, mixing cement, sawing, driving nails, painting, meeting the recipient family, and playing with the neighborhood children. You will be housed at St. Innocent Orphanage where you will have the opportunity to meet the staff who work there and the boys who live there. The evenings will be spent together talking about the missionary experience and getting to know one another. If coming during an OBT week, there will be a chance to hear speakers during the evenings.
When does the typical home building season take place?
Our home building season usually begins in May and ends in August and we normally offer 7-8 build weeks depending on several factors. We also try to schedule a spring time home building event for those who might want to participate during spring break, but this requires an interested group of at least 15 participants.
How many people can work on a home building site?
Due to the amount of work and the site size, we limit the number of participants in a group to 25. Having more than 25 people would impact the overall home building experience, as well as safety.
What personal items should I bring?
Please see our resource section on our Home Building page for a individual packing list.
Do we have to bring our own tools?
No. We provide all the necessary tools for the week. If you have preferred tools or want to donate tools for our program, this is encouraged.
What does it cost to come and build a home?
The cost to participate in a Home Building trip is $490 per person. The cost includes administration, building materials, food, tools, supplies, staffing and other costs necessary to sustain our program.
What other costs am I responsible for?
Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own flights or travel from their hometown to San Diego and back. Once in San Diego, individuals and groups are responsible for their own vehicle/van rental that they will use to travel into Mexico and drive to the home building work site each day. In addition to the vehicle, rented or personal, Mexican insurance is required. You will also need to arrange for a hotel if you arrive before or plan to stay after your home building work trip. There will also be opportunities to buy food and merchandise at a local market (except for OBT trips), as well as Project Mexico merchandise. Plan to bring some cash for these opportunities, if you intend on purchasing any additional items. U.S. dollars are accepted in Mexico and smaller bills are better.
What legal documents do I need to travel into Mexico?
In order to re-enter into the United States, U.S. citizens will need a current passport. A new, less expensive passport card is now available, but it is valid only for land and sea crossings into the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Due to possible long application wait times, it is wise to apply for a passport as soon as possible. Legal permanent residents must bring their green cards. Non-U.S. citizens should check with their local consulate office about requirements for re-entering the U.S. from Baja California, Mexico. Usually a passport and valid visa are required. Canadian citizens need only a passport.
Which immunizations are required for a trip into Mexico?
There are no immunizations required by the U.S. or the Mexican governments, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that ALL travelers, regardless of destination, be up to date on the following normal childhood immunizations: 1) Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR Vaccine), 2) Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis (DTP Vaccine), 3) Polio (OPV), 4) Haemophilus Influenza type B (HbCV Vaccine), and 5) Typhoid and Hepatitis A shots are also recommended for travel into Mexico.
Can my group bring donations to the orphanage?
Donated items are always appreciated and our Needs List for the orphanage is available on our website. Unfortunately, your donations will need to be delivered to our home office in Chula Vista so that they can be properly inventoried and legally receipted. After processing, donations will typically be delivered to the orphanage within a week. We ask that you do not give any donations directly to orphanage staff or to the boys.
Is it necessary that I speak Spanish?
No, but it may help to learn some basic Spanish phrases so that you can better interact with the family you are building for, as well as our boys at the orphanage. There are plenty of Spanish language apps that you can download to develop your Spanish speaking skills before you come.
Is it safe to travel in northern Mexico?
The safety of our boys, staff members, and volunteers is our highest priority. For the past 27 years, we have worked diligently to ensure the safety of all individuals involved with our ministry. Perhaps the strongest endorsement for our commitment to safety is the fact that we have not experienced a single safety incident in our 27 year history, which spans over 11,000 volunteers and 289 homes built.
Do I really need to bring my own tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and pillow?
Yes. Unless the group leader of your group has been informed that any of these items will be provided, it is expected that each group, or individual, plan to bring all of the above items.
Will there be internet?
Internet is only provided to group leaders if there are extenuating and necessary circumstances; otherwise the expectation should be that there will be no internet use during your visit.
Will there be electricity?
There are minimal outlets available in the main group area for charging phones, for camera use and alarm clocks. We ask that phones never be left unattended while charging. For this reason, it is often preferable to leave phones at home and instead bring portable alarm clocks and cameras for the build week.
Will there be opportunities to spend time with the orphanage boys?
The boys are kept on a full schedule during the summer vacation to keep them busy and continually learning during their time off. For this reason, the boys will be available at specific times during the day, usually in groups rather than all at once, and it is best to expect spending short periods of time with them, rather than all day together. Meals are eaten with the boys and there are a few planned activities together during the week like bonfires and soccer games.
Can we give anything to the families we build for?
You are more than welcome to bring toys for the children and/or gifts for the family. Please buy these gifts at home and bring them with you as it cannot be assured there will be an opportunity for buying these gifts after your arrival.
Do I need to be Orthodox to come?
No. We welcome everyone to participate in the Project Mexico Home Building experience. Please note, that during the week, all the worship services will be in the Orthodox style and most of the participants will be Orthodox. However, over the years, many non-Orthodox have been involved with Project Mexico in all aspects of the ministry and we encourage others to join us in friendship and service.