Home Building

Love Your Neighbor by Anna Cunningham

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Home building season is upon us and we started our first week with a training build to teach our summer interns the ins-and-outs of the construction. Because this is the first build of the season, we chose the family with the most immediate needs. In this case our “family" was an elderly woman, her dogs, hens, and plants. 

She makes cookies and sells them in the market for money. All of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live in southern Mexico and do not have the funds to visit her very often if at all. Because of this, she relies on help from friends in the community and refers to her dogs as her, “familia.” She has limited mobility in her knees and recently had surgery to regain movement in the fingers in her left hand.

She was living in a quaint apartment in Rosarito for years, but the landlord decided that he didn’t want to rent out that unit anymore and told her she had to leave by mid-April. Through the glory of God she had a lot of support from friends in the community who saw her through this difficult time. A friend she works with in the market told us about her situation, so we decided to build our first house of the season for her. Another friend owned property near where we were building the new house and let her stay there during the 45 day transition. Someone else has been looking after the dogs.

Her friends constructed temporary housing near the new home out of left-over wood, boards, and bricks. Tarps were stretched over the top to create a roof. The space was well-constructed, and she was able to adjust her routine to acclimate to it. But each time we went to see her there was a new leak in the tarp roof. 

The land she bought is in a beautiful, peaceful area out in the hills on the outskirts of town. The owner of the land gave her 200 cinder blocks to use as she wished. Similarly, when we arrived on the first day there was a water tap conveniently located near the build site. She told us that a neighbor had put it in the night before so that we would have water during the build. She also prepared the land by hiring out a man with a machine, as many families do, striking a deal with him to exchange a chicken for his work.

Her community stepped up and helped her every step of the way above and beyond the services we provide. Project Mexico arrived with the gifts we are able to offer, built the house, and secured her living space. Project Mexico survives and thrives by blessings from God in the form of donations, interns willing to give their summers building homes, volunteers who work with us, and the local community that has welcomed us since 1988. 

“Let a friend be with you on every occasion, and let brethren be useful in necessities, for they are begotten for this reason.” (Proverbs 17:19, Orthodox Study Bible)

Glory to God for help from friends! 

The Straw-Bale House

Building Naturally at the Ranch

by Tina Cooper

One of the wonderful things about Project Mexico is the diversity of talents and gifts that God brings our way through our staff and missionaries as they work in synergy with the local Mexican community.

When we strive to dwell in community with one another, we see how each person’s offering contributes to our developing vision. Whether producing our own naturally made, environmentally friendly and vibrant limewash paint by iLia Anossov. Or our most recent venture into sustainable building. We see our ministry developing in fresh and creative ways when we allow space to bring forth ideas and collaborate together.

In partnership with OCF during the Spring break build session (March 11-16th, 2019) we will be building the new tiendita (Ranch store) using the straw-bale natural building technique. Natural building methods like straw-bale, cob, adobe, light straw clay and many similar methods can be traced back to ancient times. The word “Adobe” means “mud-brick” and originated in 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt.  In Omaha, Nebraska you can find houses built with this method that are over 100 years old and still standing!


Thomas Ingram, a Project Mexico missionary who specializes in developing agriculture on the ranch, recently visited a Montessori ecological school in Tecate, México. He met with established teacher and naturalist, Cesar Valdarama, who created a native plant palette for the ranch at Project Mexico. With his love for botany and ecology, Cesar has researched the biodiversity of native plants and their benefits for human development and the entire ecosystem in which we live. While there, Thomas was intrigued by buildings on the site that were made of natural building materials. The buildings were the work of the architect, Tonatiuh Magaña.

Thomas and homebuilding coordinator, Oliver Fahling, explored the advantages of building with natural materials. This construction had the potential to become a mainstay of our ministry. They contacted Tonatiuh and the proof-of-concept project of building our new tiendita using the straw bale method at Project Mexico was proposed. Tonatiuh agreed to lead the build! The project was approved by the rest of the Project Mexico team.

Tonatiuh Magaña

Tonatiuh Magaña

Tonatiuh, who holds a Masters degree in Architecture specializes in construction with natural materials. He began building natural structures about 12 years ago. Trained by international and national experts, he has worked on various ecological farm projects in South America. For the last five years, he has designed houses, cabins and educational spaces (such as the school in Tecate) made of straw bales, bajareque and Adobe. He chose to specialize as a natural builder because it allows him to leverage reusable materials and because he likes having the ability to build his own home. Likewise, Thomas who has some experience of cob building likes this approach because, “it allows for better stewardship of the environment.”

Aside from the benefits of using natural materials, these buildings have efficient insulation properties, reducing or even eliminating the cost of heating or cooling the home during winter and summer. Once they are very old, they can then be torn down and allowed to decompose into the ground without having to dispose of drywall or deal with any harmful chemicals.

It’s not just about sustainability for Thomas though, he also prefers the aesthetics of the natural built home stating, “You have the ability to make a natural building for the same cost or less than a conventional building while achieving a much better aesthetic value. These buildings look really nice when completed”.

Interestingly, the idea of using natural building methods are not new to the vision of Project Mexico. Greg Yova, Project Mexico’s founder had similar objectives from the very beginning of the ministry. Greg was intentional in establishing an environment on the ranch that was self-sustaining in a time when sustainability wasn’t as highly valued or practiced. Alongside staff that had an interest in gardening they recognized the importance of growing plants that are native to the land so that they could thrive and use less resources. Greg and his staff created a plan to assess which plants would do well on the ranch, paying attention to sun exposure and shade. From the outset, grey water (water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines) has been used to water the plants of the ranch instead of being processed through the septic system.

Pigs were also farmed and fed discarded food from local restaurants. The pig waste was then used for soil fertilization. Utilizing resources in different ways through their life cycle was something Greg valued and part of what he considered to be good stewardship of the earth and its resources.

The straw-bale method was also researched as a viable option in the early days of the Project Mexico homebuilding ministry. The team were much in favor of this technique for building their homes because of the numerous benefits including the acquisition of materials locally instead of internationally imported lumbar. However, the lack of expertise at a time when the ministry was still being established meant that it would have been a challenging road to take.

We’re thrilled to announce preparations for this exciting new endeavour are underway! During our Spring build session, we’ll be building the new Tiendita using the straw bale method. First, we must raise funds and recruit volunteers. You can help bring this to life this March! College students are encouraged to register through OCF. Parish groups of all ages are invited to register as well as individuals.

We have also opened up our Spring building schedule! Parish groups or individuals can provide a great service to our ministry and help Project Mexico on many different projects.

Day trips and week trips are available!

If you believe in this venture but can’t come and build with us your contribution to our Tiendita campaign. Your generous contribution will help us bring the project to fruition.


UPDATE: Life at the Border

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I wanted to take a moment to share a little peek into our life here south of the boarder.  My wife—or presbytera in Greek circles or kuria in Antiochian circles or matushka in Slavonic circles—and I have completed seven years living at the St. Innocent Orphanage.  Yes, it has been an adjustment, especially for my presbytera who was raised in a traditional Greek family—an experience very different than life in Tijuana. 

In our years here we have had many new experiences that come with living in a third world country and in a foreign culture.  One of these experiences was the immigration of thousands of Latin Americans traveling through Mexico hoping to find asylum in the United States. It definitely did not go as well as most of them were hoping but I would like to share some of the realities we have seen being on the ground.

Recent statistics tell us that the vast majority of the migrants have chosen to seek Mexican work visas or returned to their home countries. According to the Associate Press (see link below) of the 6,000 migrants in the caravan 1,300 people have returned to their home countries, 2,900 have received Mexican humanitarian visas that permit them to work in Mexico, and 1,300 migrants have been detained. The temporary shelters in Tijuana have been closed and migrants have integrated into the community, living in permanent housing accommodations.

At the height of the Migrant Caravan event, the city of Tijuana had several pockets of migrants waiting in tents looking for guidance for the next step.  Because of the hundreds of displaced that were in these temporary camps, the local municipalities were burdened to say the least.  Despite the sheer numbers, Mexican authorities handled the situation well and at no time did it become a national crisis for the country. 

Yes, the border was closed for several hours coming into America, but everyone forgets to mention that there was another border crossing that was kept open less than 20 miles to the East.  At no time did any of the missionaries feel “trapped” or in danger.  We are grateful that the situation has calmed and that those individuals and families are finding stability.

So people always ask me, “Is it safe to travel to Tijuana?” or “Will I be able to get back into the United States?” 

The answer to both these questions is, “Yes.” 

As an Orthodox priest, husband and father, and the Associate Director of Project Mexico, I would not be living here with my family if it wasn’t safe or we couldn’t travel freely.  And, I definitely would not bring hundreds of youth to the ranch every summer unless I could ensure their safety. 

We understand the fear people have.

How the nature of media can exacerbate and fuel those fears. But I encourage all us who have been called to help the families, orphans and widows to come and live the gospel.  Let us not be controlled by people’s biased opinions or false perceptions, rather, let us be guided by strength and love to courageously give and change the lives of those who are truly in need.

Thank you for your support of the ministry and please if you have any question you can contact me on my cellular phone which works perfectly fine in Mexico.

In Christ,

 

Fr. Nicholas L. Andruchow

Priest

Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage

fnicholas@projectmexico.org

cell. 619-309-8745

 

Spagat, E. (2019, January 16). Last year's Central American caravan dwindles, new one forms. Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/be98c131631d49f0943e1f7ac6a4993b

2019 Summer Internships Open!

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Introducing 3 exciting new internship roles for Summer 2019!

 

Anyone who has been involved in a home building trip with Project Mexico knows that our faithful and hardworking interns are at the heart of everything we do. Interns from across the nation dedicate their entire summer to living in basic conditions in Mexico. They work diligently alongside our home building coordinator to facilitate 600+ volunteers to build homes for impoverished families in Mexico.

 

They become part of daily life on the ranch, helping maintain and prepare all that is needed for the arrival of volunteer groups. Not least of all, they become family to the boys of St. Innocent Orphanage. Our internships can be a milestone of spiritual growth and maturation. For many it has been both a transformational and life-defining experience.

 

If construction isn’t your thing but you desire to serve with us next Summer, then we have some great news for you! In addition to our homebuilding intern positions, we have expanded our program to include the following new positions:

 

Group Facilitator (must have youth leadership experience): Your main responsibility will be to mentor, supervise and facilitate the other interns, conducting debrief and processing groups, provide one to one guidance, assisting in coordination of intern activities and trips and facilitate volunteer group discussions.  Seminary, teaching, youth work, camp staff experience would be very helpful. This position may suit school teachers or seminarian students/graduates.

 

Media Intern: Your main responsibility will be to document through photographs, video and writing: the volunteer groups, home builds, families, events and activities of the boys of St. Innocent Orphanage. You will also be responsible for hospitality of Volunteers both on the build site and ranch.  Depending on your skill you will be assigned to a media role and work with Project Mexico’s marketing team. You will also work in other areas as needed.

 

Medical Intern:  If you have medical training, such as first aid, CPR, EMT, Nursing, please indicate the experience, any certifications, experience, or training you have.  We hope to have several trained individuals on staff each summer.

 

The positions above may overlap depending on a volunteer’s skills and experience and the number of suitable candidates who apply.

We are now accepting applications, please submit your applications before November 30th, 2018.

Update Me!

Fill in your contact info and download HomeBuilding 2019 Internship Application Form.

Summer 2019 Home Building Registration Open Now

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Hurry Up and Register Today!

Home Building 2019 

Wow! We’re at 50% full for Summer Home Building 2019 and Weeks are filling up quickly!

Time to gather and register your group before all the spots are gone!

Week 1 Thursday, June 6 - 12 (25% full)

Week 2 Tuesday, June 18 - 24 (90% full)


Week 3: Thursday, June 27 - July 3 (80% full)


Week 4: Tuesday, July 9 - 15 (55% full)


Week 5: Thursday, July 18 - 24


PM OCMC‌ Building A Home For Missions ‌week

Week 6: Tuesday, July 30 - August 5 (90% full)


Week 7: Thursday, August 8 - 14 (OPEN)

Building Homes and Relationships by Olivia Neslusan

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As I sit on an old wooden bench, warm Mexican sun beating down on my hair, and the laugher of young boys playing on the soccer field in the distance, I cannot fathom the fact that my time here at the ranch is winding down. This summer has gone by in the blink of an eye, but contrastingly, it feels like I have been here forever. Looking back at this time last year, I was an eager group member dreaming about being accepted into this internship position. One week simply just wasn’t enough for me, and I couldn't wait to apply and spend three months here at this incredible ranch.

I had so many expectations of what I thought this summer would be like based on my past experiences here and what I heard from past interns, but quickly I learned that it is so important when doing mission work similar to this, to have no expectations and have an open mind. The summer was full of laughter and tears, and certainly was exhausting at times. Building a new home every week and having the energy to greet each new team like it was your first is something that is both beautiful and challenging. But more than the build, this place and this summer for me has been about building relationships.

Theodora and I arrived two weeks later than the rest of the young adult interns that would dedicate their summer to leading home building. In my journal on the first day of arrival I wrote about how I was nervous that close relationships and friendships had already formed, and perhaps we wouldn't get to know the other 17 interns as well. This trivial worry quickly faded within the first couple days. It is so beautiful and easy to connect with other young Orthodox Christians. Growing up in the faith and sharing the same values is something that allows us to truly connect on a deeper level, and I know that these will be people I stay in contact with long after this summer is over.

Connecting with the 19 boys here at the orphanage, though, has been by far the most rewarding part of this experience. Boys ranging in age from eight to eighteen live on this ranch, and each of them have their own vibrant and inspiring personalities and stories. Between group activities and home builds, we get the opportunity to spend as much time as we please with them. Despite their backgrounds of neglect, these boys are some of the most loving people I have ever met. They are eager to learn more about you, make you laugh, and if you are lucky, they sometimes share their personal stories about their past.

This summer the ranch was blessed with three new little boys ranging from eight to ten years old. Immediately after arriving here in this new home, the boys were always eager to participate in church and had so many questions about the faith. It was truly something special to see how they transitioned with such grace. It is a challenge, however, especially with these three new little boys, to connect with them without getting too close and allowing them to get too attached. It is so obvious that they need love from the way they run up to almost any female who they are familiar with and cling to them calling each one “Mama.” Although this can be tough at times, it is comforting to know that the family here at the ranch will indeed give them the love and permanency they so desperately need and want.

That is what is so special about this place.

It is a community where everyone is a part of the family that makes up St. Innocent Orphanage and Project Mexico. It is going to be bittersweet to leave this country and its people, but I leave knowing that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and also knowing that it was not really me who made it, but rather God who called me to be here.


Home Building Registration Opens October 18

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2019 Home Building registration opens Thursday Oct. 18, 2018 at 9 am Pacific Standard.

We're excited to build hope with you next year!

Summer 2019 Dates:

  • June 6 - 12

  • June 18 - 24

  • June 27 - July 3

  • July 9 - 15

  • July 18 - 24

  • July 30 - August 5

  • August 8 - 14

Building Lasting Friendships by Tina Cooper

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This summer, in celebration of our 30 years of homebuilding, we’re launching our online community for home building alumni of Project Mexico! We recognize the importance of relationship and community to help us stay engaged and connected to the things that really matter. On projectmexico.360alumni.com members will share stories, photos and nurture friendships built during their service. Keep up to date with the latest news and information from the ranch and home building. Our goal is to help volunteers remain connected to acts of mercy before, during and most importantly, after their time building homes for families.

This Summer, volunteers are assigned to a group on our Alumni site along with all other parishes and volunteers from that week. Simply log in to activate your account. You'll have your own space to help finalize the last-minute details of your trip and connect with other groups coming out in the same week. You can share your experiences and stories and better yet, the ways in which God is moving you to live your faith in your own community.

None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful. - Mother Teresa

Organizing your own event? You can do it right here and share opportunities with other active Orthodox Christians all over the country. 

At Project Mexico & St Innocent Orphanage, we want to keep the momentum going in whatever way you feel lead and sometimes all it takes is stepping out with a community behind you.

To sign up, contact tina@projectmexico.org or set up your account below.

Striving for Good By John Touloupis

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I pulled out a greasy old aluminum pan and kicked on the stove. Searching the fridge, I finally found my eggs. I tossed a little bit of butter into the pan along with two slices of white bread. For the past two months, whenever I wanted a little alone time in Mexico, I cooked a small breakfast for myself. I found peace and harmony in the kitchen amidst the morning chaos as my nine roommates ran around brushing their teeth, checking tools for the worksite, and looking for missing work boots.

However, I wasn’t in the 800-square-foot intern house in Mexico cooking up my favorite breakfast meal, but rather back in my sweet home state of Alabama. There were no early morning shouts for keys to cars or people asking to borrow a pair of socks. Only silence and the sound of eggs frying in the pan.

I thought going home would be easy. I was wrong.

While I missed my family and friends dearly, I found comfort in my life in Mexico.

I got to go to church twice a day, a rarity for a college student like me. I spent time getting schooled in soccer by the boys on the ranch. A local man befriended me and helped show me the ways of construction, culture, and life in Mexico.

I saw poverty I’ve never seen before. People living in shacks made of scraps of plywood and garage doors. People living in holes on the side of the highway. Children with special needs peddling chocolate bars in the streets.

In the midst of all of this though, I saw some of the purest happiness I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never forget the excitement on a four-year-old’s face as we finished painting his new red house.

Words cannot do justice.

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Each and every week when we started leveling the rocky terrain to pour a concrete pad we gave families hope. As I learned during my time in Mexico, we were not simply building homes, but building futures.

The houses we built for people like a loving grandmother, hard-working factory employees, or a mother trying to build a better for her four children were going to be more than a home to them. Not only did their new house allow them to stop paying rent on other's property, they now had a safe, secure place to protect them from weather, diseases, and intruders. Finally, the families had somewhere to build the rest of their lives.

I’ll never forget the joy a tough, young construction worker shared with me as we put the finishing touches on his roof one day. Through a crooked smile and soft tears in his eyes, he exclaimed how much he loved his new big house (Project Mexico houses are 13 feet by 26 feet).

Every single week, no matter the family, I saw tears of joy. They were tears of relief, comfort, and peace. While we served the families, they would serve us, cooking meals as an offer of thanks for our work.

It took seeing with my own eyes to learn happiness doesn’t come with material things. Since returning home, I have been living in a totally different world. But just because I’m home doesn’t mean my mission is over. I’m still learning the importance of our Orthodox faith to navigate these worlds.

While I’m not building houses anymore I know I’m going to take the importance of service and humble leadership I learned in Mexico and apply them to my life in the United States. I know just because I’m in a different world now doesn’t mean I have to change my lifestyle. The world is a pretty messed up place.

As Orthodox Christians, we should all strive to do just a little bit of good.

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Opportunities for volunteering are now available