Rebecca, Age 12, Atwater, CA

This last Easter vacation, I went with a group of 31 people from our church to Mexico to build a house for a family. The house was for a family of five that lived in an 8 x 10 shack. We were going to build them a 22 x 24-house. We left the day after Easter, and came back Friday afternoon. Changed. For some people it may not have been as life changing, but for me, it changed the way I looked at things. On our first work day, we drove to the work site to find the place covered in trash. The home was made of plywood, and it smelled. In the house there was one king size bed, five people lived there. The spot were we were going to work was on a flat section, but it dropped off about 3 feet to some rockier dirt. Next door lived two little girls who were cousins; their families lived together in a slightly bigger house. The other neighbors were a mom, and her four-year-old son Francisco.

As we started working on making the cement, all of the neighborhood children gathered around and watched us as we sang goofy three-year-old songs. I couldnít help but notice that one little boy, Francisco and Scott, kept watching us, especially Scott and myself. As we were working he kept watching me. When we had a break, I walked over to Francisco and he tugged on my hair, said something in Spanish. Then he gave me a quick hug, and half-whispered ďAmigosĒ. After that, Francisco could have been found with either Scott or me. I couldnít speak Spanish, and he couldnít speak English, but that soon proved to be no barrier.

On the second day when we arrived, Francisco leaped into my arms as soon as a got out of the car, with a wide smile on his face. Amigo was my name, and only Francisco could call me that, otherwise he would yell at them, until they walked away. After that, he was there every morning waiting for us to get there. Some of my other team members called him my shadow, because he followed me everywhere. One of the things that amazed me the most was that Francisco didnít know what a piggyback ride was. With hand gestures, I managed to get him on to my back, and to jump around making him bounce and squeal with laughter.

During one of my breaks, Francisco grabbed my hand and led me to his house, it was smaller than 8 by10 and very dirty, but I could see that his mother did whatever she could to keep it nice. He disappeared behind the piece of cloth used as a door, and emerged with a kitten in his hand, petting it very softly. Then he set the kitten down, jumped on my back, and grinning waved to his mom. When I turned to look at his mom, I saw that she was smiling with a surprised and pleased look on her face.

One of the things Francisco was very fascinated about was my hair. He had never seen any one with my color hair, so he was frequently reaching up to touch my hair to make sure that it was real.

Some time later when I was working, I saw Francisco and some of the other neighborhood children playing in some of the grass growing behind the houses. I turned back to my work, and soon heard squeals of laughter and excitement. When I turned around, I saw Francisco holding a toy from McDonalds and grinning as if he won the lottery. When he saw me looking at him he waved the toy at me, and then ran to his house to show his mom. On the last day when the house was finished, when we were about to leave, he didnít seem to understand that this time I was leaving and wasnít coming back. It was so sad that I didnít want to leave.

From little Francisco I have learned to be grateful for everything I have, from the clothes I wear to making sure that everything I do in my life counts. Francisco rejoiced over everything, whether it was a new toy, of an interesting looking rock. He had next to nothing, and he was still one of the most thankful people I have ever met. Francisco didnít even seem to notice that they were poor, and that they had nothing. He was thankful for what he had; and he didnít moan and groan about what he didnít have. Thatís what we should do.

This changed my life because I realized how many things we have, and how many of them we take for granted. We take so many things for granted, that they soon become a need, not a want. Like new clothes. You arenít going to die if you donít get that shirt. In Mexico, some people are lucky if they have even one shirt. We take for granted how nice our country is, for one thing. The U.S. is very beautiful country with lots of plants growing, with nice neighborhoods, and paved streets. These are things that we have and take for granted without knowing. In Mexico, I didnít see one green thing for the whole time we were there. Up until this day, I havenít stopped thinking how nice green plants are.

I know that Francisco wonít always remember me, but even so, I will always remember him, his cheerfulness, his ever-present smile, and his love for blonde hair. Everyone liked Francisco, and everyone will miss him, but not as much as I will.

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