"Declining," "limited," or "depressed" are words you may come across when perusing current articles about Tijuana, Mexico. These stories might lead readers to imagine unstable and impoverished communities beyond repair. Recent negative media has also influenced travel and tourism, in turn effecting volunteerism in areas that would greatly benefit from aid.
Though I had crossed the border before, I didn't truly come to know Tijuana until my final undergraduate year at Seattle University. I took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the well-known Mexico Mission Trek, and my eyes were opened to the wonders that the city holds. It was on this trip that I was introduced to Esperanza International, the non-profit organization aimed toward creating sustainable, dignified housing for all people.
I am unable to fully describe the power and intensity of the Mexico Mission Trek experience, and I returned from Tijuana with so much more than I left behind. Esperanza, and the communities it serves, exhibit a faith that does justice – faith in "a world in which communities across borders work in solidarity toward a common dream." What my Jesuit education instilled in me was sincere as I worked alongside the families that week; there are endless possibilities when we believe in our ability to do and be more.
This is why the words I mentioned earlier seem so distant from reality. "Abounding," "plentiful," and "alive," are words akin to the meaning behind Magis, and ones that more accurately reflect the Tijuana I know and love. It is no wonder why I felt inspired to continue to serve. A year after graduating and with the help of Campus Ministry, I worked to establish an adult trek designed for alumni, and their friends and family. It was important to me that more people learned of the tremendous work of Esperanza.
As an alumna, I have returned to Tijuana with four adult groups as well as continued to support Esperanza from the greater Seattle area. I take part in an annual benefit for the organization which nets an average of nearly $20,000 each year, and have also raised around $6,000 in individual fundraising efforts through the generosity of others.
Today, in addition to home building, the reach of Esperanza has grown to include a water recycle system, composting program, enterprise program to increase family income, ecology education, and expansion to Oaxaca. However, the organization struggles to combat the loss of volunteer groups and needed funds to keep these life-changing programs afloat.
My Jesuit education and experience in Tijuana continue to empower me to be a catalyst for positive change. I will undoubtedly remain committed to serving others, and encourage my fellow alumni to do the same. Although we grow older and farther away from our university experience, we can hold tight to what speaks to us from the depths of our hearts; do more, be more.