Sandy beaches, crystal blue water, parties and slums.
All of these exist in Rocky Point, Mexico, but one is often left out of a typical spring break itinerary.
Rocky Point is a popular spring break destination for ASU students, but just miles away lies poverty-stricken communities in need of help.
The students spent their weekend not as tourists, but as volunteers, building two houses from scratch for two families in need.
Hanna Weidhaas, a junior accounting major who has participated in this mission before, returned this year as a leader and part-time staffer for Young Life.
Weidhaas said the conditions in which the families live prior to moving into the new housing are unhealthy and unsafe.
“A lot of the times they’re coming out of places like a cardboard box or some trailer that’s so old and tiny,” she said. “Giving them a house is not only a place to live, but it gives them better health.”
Weidhaas said Young Life partners with another organization, 1MISSION, which pairs them with a family they will construct a house for.
“They find families that have served in their communities for a minimum of two years, and we are assigned to them,” she said.
Weidhaas said the families also work on building the house, allowing the Young Life students to directly connect with the people they are helping.
“I was able to work alongside the mom in particular,” she said. “Being able to mix concrete and break down those language barriers was huge because I don’t know very much Spanish, but in the broken Spanish I do know, we were able to bond.”
Ryan Wilson, a sophomore majoring in future innovations and society, said he visited Rocky Point before for spring break, but he would not return there for vacation after witnessing the degree of poverty found in the nearby community.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” he said. “I don’t know if I could make that drive and not look around and think about the families that are in desperate need, the trash and the stray dogs, because it hurts now.”
Wilson said he thinks students are aware of the situation down the road from the resorts, but would rather not think about it.
“Maybe they don’t want to take the time to help because it seems hard, but I don’t think they forget about it,” he said. “They pass through it and just put their head down and say it will be fixed or somebody else has them covered.”
Wilson said it was a new experience to see how grateful and cheerful a poverty-stricken community could be.
“Some kids were walking outside without shoes or without adequate clothing and these kids were still just smiling when they saw us,” he said. “Seeing how much this house meant to the family really changed how I think about these communities, and I want to do more to give back.”
Wilson said the housebuilding mission also allowed him to interact with the children of the community.
“I was actually distracted because the kids were really wanting to play,” he said. “All these kids kept calling me ‘mi amigo,’ and that was special to me because maybe they don’t know the impact of this, but they’re smiling,” he said.
Wilson said the hardest part of the trip was leaving.
“Realizing what our group had done in three days was very emotional,” he said. “I struggled because everybody in this community around them needs help, and I didn’t have enough time to help everybody.”
Kate Ballan, a junior elementary and special education major, said building houses from the ground up taught her how much she enjoyed working for the benefit of others.
“We’re not allowed to use power tools because we want everything to be literally by hand, so we bring hammers and saws,” she said. “I think there’s so many ways to serve, but the way that I am keenest is doing hands-on work."
"It has shown me how hard I can work for somebody else and not myself," she said.
Ballan said the days of hard work put into the foundation, walls and roof of the house pays off when the family they sponsor finally receives a home of their own.
“We give them a Bible and the keys to their house and it’s usually a lot of crying, hugs and happiness,” she said. “They’ve never had something of their own and something they can lock, which is really important to them.”
Ballan said she has vacationed at Rocky Point but prefers housebuilding to a party on the beach.
“It is these slums, houses falling apart and people who have nothing, but we’re going down and spending so much money on things that are temporary,” she said. “It’s been a crazy experience seeing how much more beneficial this part is and how much more fun I have doing such hard work.”