Erecting a building in tropical temperatures can take a lot out of a dedicated volunteer, but not Elmira’s Carol Jongerius, who spent time in Baja, Mexico helping Waterloo Region volunteers build a school.
Jongerius and her sister joined a group from Kitchener that travels to Central America every year to participate in local projects. They also collaborated with a Guelph Vineyard youth group.
The two women ended up raising $20,000 for the trip through private donations and a silent auction, Jongerius explained, but the real rewards of the trip, she said, were speaking to the locals and getting busy with building for a good cause.
“You’re always learning something. We took 16 cases of not just clothing, but articles to give away to a couple of outreach programs. I could sit and talk to the people there about what their life was like. It was a helpful experience when you speak the language,” she said.
She also acted as an interpreter and had a chance to coordinate the pricing of building materials for a three-room school. As for the kids, they were around every turn and ready to lend a hand.
“They hung around the worksite all the time and they were helping us paint. Part of our project was to get them as involved as we could and so they felt like they were a part of the building of their school. Sometimes they would go home more covered in paint than we were,” she said.
This wasn’t Jogerius’ first trip to the region. She spent time in Guatemala four years ago, helping to build a medical clinic and speaking to the women and children while they waited for a physician.
“I have to say that speaking Spanish to the people was definitely a highlight,” she said of her trip.
Jongerius first expressed an interest in the language when she visited Cuba and realized that many Westerners can be somewhat closed off from the world.
“I met a fellow once in Cuba that spoke five languages. I thought, if he could learn five languages on his own, and us North Americans, most of us know only one language, I was adamant that I should learn at least one other language. I thought, we’re so negligent in not expanding our horizons,” she explained.
“Once I learned the language, all I want to do now is go to Spanish-speaking countries because there is nothing like the feeling of being able to communicate in another language.”