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February 21, 2012 > A life-changing experience

A life-changing experience

Submitted By Ajjit Narayanan
Photos By Joni Jen

A few weeks back, a group of seven families from Fremont got into the spirit of Christmas. Realizing that the holiday was both about giving and receiving, this small team gave back on a major scale. We eschewed our normal celebrations to cross a national border and build a new home for a destitute family in Tijuana, Mexico.

It all started with an article that we had seen on the Internet about home building in impoverished countries. Intrigued, my mom, Latha Narayannan, began researching organizations that did this, and chose Doxa (, a Seattle based non- profit organization that has built 1,500 homes in Mexico, over the past 20 years.

After conducting informational seminars, seven interested families from Fremont decided to become involved. To raise funds for housing materials, students who were going on the trip raised funds by conducting a Day Camp for elementary school kids during Thanksgiving break. The rest of the funds were collected from friends and families who understood that their donation would reach people in need and have an immediate impact.

We learned that we were going to build a home for a family of four in Tijuana: parents Carlos and Lizette, their seven year-old son Imanol and five year-old daughter Natasha. It was very humbling as we learned about their tough life in Tijuana and how they wanted a better place to raise their kids; Carlos earned only $60 per week.

On the morning of December 27, we reached Tijuana and on the first day started framing the walls of the house. Executive Director of Doxa, Alex Maxim, who was our construction guide, told us that all we needed to know was how to use a nail and hammer. So we thought how hard could this be? As it turned out, our hammering skills were, well... terrible. We couldn't use hammers to save our lives! We tried as hard as we could to hammer in all those nails for the entire day.

On the second day, we started to put wooden boards on the frames. Equipped with our slightly better hammering skills, we managed to finish that task relatively quickly. By the end of that day we actually had four walls up. It was nice to finally see a solid reminder of all our hard work. That night, although tired, we reminisced about the enlightening experiences and played cards until 3 a.m., when our parents hollered for us to go to finally go to sleep!

The third day, we started on a more fun part of the house project-painting. The family had chosen green as the color for the house, matching their country's flag. For most of us, it was the first time we had actually painted on something larger than a canvas, ending up not just painting the walls, but ourselves as well!

It was all about the roof on the final day. We had a few "rafter monkeys" (some of us volunteers) up on beams putting bulky rafters in place. After the roof was framed, roofing sheets were layered with tar guns - a lot of fun! This was a chance to actually use a gun, even if it was filled with tar.

Finally, the entire house was finished on the fourth day. A "passing of the keys" ceremony transferred the house keys from one person to the next, while each one of us reflected on our experience and wished Carlos' family a life of prosperity for generations to come.

My classmate Jesse Jen remarked, "It was a great experience to see the reaction of the family. Coming here to Tijuana, Mexico really changed the way I view the world." Parent and realtor Nara Chidambaram added, "The joy of actually building a home was just immeasurable." The completion ceremony had happy tears rolling down quite a few cheeks. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Student volunteers included: Darshan Bagivalu, Sahil Bansal, Sumedh Bhattacharjee, Aneesha Desai, Jesse Jen, Phoebe Jen, Alison Kwok, Amandi Kwok, Aaakaash Narayannan, Ajjit Narayanan, Surya Somasundaram, Brian Wang and Sophia Wang.

Another home building trip to Tijuana, Mexico is being planned for Spring Break (April). Anyone interested is asked to attend an informational meeting on February 25:

Building Homes in Mexico
Saturday, Feb 25
5:30 p.m.
Union City Library
34007 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City or

To view a five minute video of the December trip, visit

Editor's Note: Ajjit Narayanan and Jesse Jen are both freshmen at James Logan High School.

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