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May 4, 2012 > An Experience of a Lifetime

An Experience of a Lifetime

Submitted By Vinay Putreddi
Photos By Alex Maxim

During April 2012, I was part of an enthusiastic group of seven families from Fremont who decided to forego their usual plans and head south of the border. But this trip was anything but a spring break vacation; we were headed to Tijuana, Mexico to build a house for a family in need. Our group of about twenty-five had detailed plans from informational sessions led by Ajjit Narayanan and Jesse Jen of Olive Children Foundation, Fremont, who had been on a previous homebuilding trip.

A Seattle-based organization known as DOXA ( has been working to improve the lives of families in Tijuana for many years. Though many such organizations exist, our group chose DOXA primarily based on the experience of the previous group.

On April 6, the participating families traveled separately to San Diego. The next morning, after purchasing everything needed for our stay in Tijuana, we started the drive to Mexico. Crossing the border took a mere five minutes, and since the orphanage where we would stay was just two miles from the border, it hardly took us any time to arrive there. Since it was still early afternoon, we decided to go check out the building site. Then, we returned to the orphanage and feasted on a home-made dinner.

The next day, April 8, was the first day of work. We arrived at the site in the morning with construction materials and started to plan the work of the next few days. The girls decided to take charge of painting. They worked very efficiently, and finished before the first workday had ended. The rest of the group started cleaning and prepping the concrete slab on which we were going to build the house. We then began the framework for the first wall. With the painted plywood sheets provided by the girls, our volunteers finished assembling and erecting three walls during the first workday.

April 9 was also a day of setting up walls, but the group finished quickly and started work on the roof. First, rafters were set up and then each rafter was nailed down by volunteer "rafter monkeys." While this was going on, windows and a door was installed. The group installing the door had trouble at first because the opening was cut too small. But after fixing the problem, the door was mounted easily. After completing the frame for the roof and mounting the door and windows, the group decided to lay down the roof panels and roofing paper on the last day.

As planned, on April 10, the roof panels were nailed down followed by the roofing paper. To keep the roofing paper from moving while it was being nailed down, a few members of the roofing group used tar guns to create a layer of roofing cement to use as an adhesive. After nailing on the roof, two people volunteered to put a blob of roofing cement on each and every nail.

After completing construction of the house, the ladies added curtains to the windows. Then, everyone gathered together to pass the keys to the family. The group, despite having tired, aching muscles, and sore eyes from lack of sleep, were excited to finally see the fruits of their labor.

By volunteering to help build a house in Tijuana, Mexico, our group experienced not only the conditions in which people of countries such as Mexico live, but also the effort required to improve their state of affairs. By building a house for a less fortunate family, we learned that we should be content with what we currently have and try and give our time and money for betterment of those that are not as privileged.

Student volunteers were: Numair Ali, Aydin Bicakci, Iliana Bicakci, Doreen Chang, Lucas Chang, Shareen Chang, Bryant Chin, Sharon Chin, Alice Chu, Catherine Chu, Katie Jiang, Sweta Putreddi, Vinay Putreddi, Alice Zhao, Brian Zhao, and Chesea Zhao.

The experience of building a house in less than three days gave us a sense of accomplishment. We appreciate the guidance of Alex Maxim, Executive Director of DOXA and feel that we have made a positive impact on our world.

Vinay Putreddi is a freshman at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont.

To view a six minute video of the April trip, visit:

Mexico Home Building Informational sessions for Summer 2012 will be held Saturday, May 5: 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 6: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Olive Children Foundation, 43531, Mission Blvd, Fremont (Near Subway/Starbucks). Any questions -,

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