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Down and Dirty on Spring Break

Some Horned Frogs discover that sometimes it takes a kid to raise a village.

By Allison Speer '91

While some Horned Frogs basked on the beach during spring break, others were up to their ankles in mud and manure.

The eight students and one adviser helped build mud-brick houses with Mi Casa Diferente, Mexico's version of Habitat for Humanity, which annually builds about 1,500 two-room adobe houses in rural communities. The trip to Guanajuato, Mexico, was part of TCU's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, and was the first ASB group to work outside the U.S.

The students mixed dirt, manure and water alongside residents of Mesa Cuato -- a village community -- to create a massive mud bowl. The gooey mixture was then poured into wooden molds to make bricks. They didn't have much time to waste -- it took four hours for 10 people to make 32 bricks, and 1,500 were needed to update the tiny house.

They used the bricks to rebuild a kitchen area and prepare a foundation for one 10-member household. In the process, they increased the pride of mother and homeowner Dona Lydia, whose home has no doors, and whose floors are dirt.

Social work sophomore Beth Mayberry said the little house was no bigger than her dorm room.

"The 10 children slept on the floor of the one room and the parents slept in the kitchen," she said. "They didn't even have a chimney in the kitchen so within minutes we could hardly breathe in there."

Mayberry said when people ask why she put adobe house building on her resume, she'll tell them about the people she met who had so little but were so generous and hardworking.
"It was overwhelming when the entire village came out to meet us," she said. "The hospitality they showed us was amazing. They always wanted to feed us even when they hardly had any food."

Tracy Dietz, the social work associate professor who accompanied the students, said she saw the students open their hearts and minds to people living in poverty in rural Mexico.
"The students showed their compassion and developed an understanding of diversity and increased their global awareness through this experience," she said.

During their supreme makeover for Dona Lydia, the students also raised $200 to purchase food, school supplies and shoes for the entire family. The group also planted trees around the perimeter of a park in Capulin de Busto, a small community a half hour from Guanajuato. As the students borrowed shovels and picks from happy community members, older women, or senoras, brought lemonade to quench their thirst.

Hunter Shelburne, a political science sophomore, described his experience as exciting, fulfilling and frustrating.

"We're here for a week and I think this is a good example of how doing very little can accomplish a lot, by just giving a minimum amount of time," he said. "What if we were here for a month or a semester or had an ongoing program here in Guanajuato? We could do so much more."

Student Kaity Volpe said the hardest part was coming home to her apartment.

"I quickly realized how much useless stuff I have compared to the nothingness in communities of Mexico. I have no right to complain about not having anything to wear or having nothing anything to eat," she wrote later in her journal. "I can't even begin to fathom the true equivalent of these statements. I have enough stuff to last a lifetime, and probably a few extra."

Other ASB groups worked on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee, mentored Junior Achievement teams in Gainesville, Fla., worked with Habitat for Humanity in Santa Fe, N.M., and served in the Campus Kitchen at Dillard University in New Orleans, La., which recycles unused food and delivers meals to the needy.

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