Should I help? How? How much?

My husband Grant has written some great thoughts about how to help people when you live in a place that can overwhelm you with need – a place like Mexico, a place like our neighborhood.   I think he nailed it!  What do you think?

Sick of being asked for a handout every day? I wrestle constantly when I encounter people with needs looking for a handout—whether it is the guy with no legs on a hand peddle cart, or the woman with deformed legs being pushed in a wheel chair, or the woman and child begging on the bridge, or the guy yelling “hey mister how about today?” or “Can you loan me some money?” I constantly ask myself….”how much today? How much tomorrow? The change in my pocket?” “Do these people make more that the average person working at an average job in Mexico?”

Then there all the charities and the organizations—the ones for animals, for children, for seniors, for the handicapped, for orphans, for schools/kindergartens, for Christmas, for nature, for wildlife.….

And of course the special circumstances—”need money to go to my mother’s funeral, to have an operation, to buy a uniform for school, a dress for kindergarten graduation”, ……

When there are no social safety nets these questions will never go away. So I have narrowed it down to a few questions/thoughts for myself:

  • Will supporting this change a life profoundly? Or will the need always be there, never corrected? A medical operation that will allow someone to see, or to hear that now cannot—that is life changing. A surgery to rebuild the body so that it can work again is correcting a bad situation that will not repeat itself.
  • How responsible does this person need to be to correct this situation? Or are they a victim of things beyond their control? Giving to the wino or drug addict probably will assist them in not hitting bottom and being forced to change their life and get help. Giving to the orphanage that cares for abused and abandoned kids, who are in no way responsible for where they have found themselves may definitely help correct a bad situation. Giving to the kids forced by their parents to sell on the beach and streets so they do not have to work or because they want to buy alcohol – that is a mess—give the kids food and support an organization that gets kids off the street and into school.
  • If I help this person are they of a character to give back in the future to others or will what I give be wasted to no end, and will the need be perpetuated by lack of personal responsibility? Helping the mother that has repeatedly abandoned her kids leaving them hungry will not solve the problem. Reporting the problem to DIF (social services) may correct the problem. Supporting the relatives or organization that helps the kids also is very useful.
  • If I don’t give money, will this person find another way to meet the need? Don’t be the quick easy answer to someone else’s struggle. Maybe give them a small job so they don’t fall into begging…. or stealing….
  • Is there something here that will give me or others great personal satisfaction? Will seeing the child in the kindergarten dress (that looks like a wedding dress) give me happy memories and a feeling of satisfaction? Buy it. If not don’t.

So this is what I have decided:

  • Give the change in my pocket randomly to those who seem to be in a retracted long term need. ie. The guy with no legs, the crippled woman, etc.
  • Give what costs me little to the one that will probably squander it soon. ie. An old pair of beach shoes to the addict with no shoes. An old bed to the person who lost their’s from being kicked out of the last house for not paying rent…..
  • Save my larger amounts for those in legitimate emergencies or for those that will experience a profound life change. Profoundly changing a life gives me great satisfaction…that’s when its time to give.
  • Organizations that make profound change in the lives of those who do not deserve to be where they are get the long term support.

I would love to hear your thoughts as to how you deal with this yourself. Please comment and share….

Currently there is one life that I am working hard at helping change. He was born profoundly deaf to a young single mother and a system that has no means to help him. No fault of his own, and giving can make a profound difference. Without a cochlear implant this profoundly deaf child has no hope of a regular normal life. Put in an orphanage by his grandmother as he has become too hard to handle, and not even the resources to get to a school for the deaf. With an implant and a couple years of speech therapy this child becomes like any other with a hope for the future….and a much higher likelihood that he will then want to give back when he can. Please check his story—

Making some Deliveries

Besides the children at Manos de Amor, we made up some extra baskets for some other families who desperately need help.

First we delivered baskets to our family in Cardboardlandia  in San Vicente.   Three daughters – three babies.  Born to 13 and 14 year old moms.  I held and fed and hugged baby Alison.  She was happy – she laughed and smiled the entire time.  She has no idea what a difficult road is ahead for her.  Her mom loves her and dresses her up so she is cute – the same way my daughters did with their baby dolls or Barbies.  But Alison is a real baby, a little girl with many challenges ahead.

Her cousins – Lupita and Kevin  – were excited to see us.  Lupita ran to our car yelling “Abuelo, Abuelo” to Grant (Grandpa, Grandpa).  She is tiny – too thin I think – but happy.  Although she is 3, she never speaks but definitely knows how to laugh.

Kevin was also excited to see us, hugging us both tightly, his perpetually runny nose mingling with our hair as he grabbed tight.   We stayed for an hour or two – Alison’s mom told me she would like me to teach her English, so maybe she hopes for a better future.  As we got ready to leave, Kevin climbed in the back of my car and refused to get out.  Thinking we would bluff him into wanting out, we started to drive away and his young auntie and cousins yelled “Adios Kevin”.  He sat up with a big smile on his face, waved at his family and yelled “Adios” before settling back down in his seat.  He was truly hoping to leave with us – where did he think we would go? – and it was heartbreaking to have to wrestle him down while he was screaming to take him out of our car.  He was ready to leave with us, perhaps somehow aware of his unlikely future there in that desolate community made of cardboard boxes and pieces of tarps.

img_20161216_181434Next we drove to Valle de Banderas to deliver clothes, gifts and the food hamper to the family I told you about a few weeks ago – the two little girls who cannot stay at Manos de Amor because they don’t have their papers.  Since I wrote that post, their mom has decided she does not want the 2 older sisters living at Manos de Amor either, so all 4 girls are now living with grandma or mom.   As we drove up, the oldest daughter ran to our car and threw her arms around us.  She has always been closest to Grant and she held him for a long time.  We went in the house to give the gifts to Grandma and there were the 3 other girls.  A bit shy for the first few seconds but then the two littlest ones jumped into our arms.   I truly don’t think I have ever felt a hug as tight as the one I felt from the littlest daughter.  She held me for many, many minutes as tight as she could.  She simply wouldn’t let go.  Grant was experiencing the same thing with the second daughter.  They were desperately hungry for our love and we let them cling to us for many minutes.  No words. No questions or explanations.  Just hugs.


Eventually we left and again our ride home was quiet.  How do you process or understand or discuss what we see here?

In our home, as in yours, Christmas has always been a big deal.    Lots of gifts and stuffed stockings, fancy brunches and dinners, decorations inside and out.  Archie comics, Life Saver books,  Lip smackers.   Even the pets received gifts.  But now I see that for much of the world Christmas is not about getting more stuff.  It is a parade in the town square, a party at school, some fireworks in the street and  a LOT of music with family gathered close.   Today my daughter texted and said “Let’s keep it simple this year.  Let’s not get caught up in the commercialism”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Let’s keep it simple. Let’s hugs some kids, give some time, and spread some hope.  Let’s count our blessings and just love those around us.  Let’s worship the One we celebrate on this day by loving the least of these.img_20161216_163544

Learning to Share

Today we were invited to help Veronica and some of the Manos de Amor children with a task they do 3 times a week. We have told Veronica to assign us tasks that will make her life easier and this is one she has chosen for us. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday she takes a few children in the late afternoon and heads to Vallarta Adventures, a tour and excursion company that takes tourists out on crazy adventures. Every day, Vallarta Adventures piles people on boats or in open jeeps and take them snorkeling, sailing, whale watching, scuba diving, zip lining, touring tequila factories, hiking, horseback riding, and pretty much anything a tourist is willing to pay to experience. They are really a top-quality company – and today I found out they are also a generous company.

Most of the tours they offer provide lunch, which means lots of leftovers – and Manos de Amor is fortunate to be one of the beneficiaries of the excess food that returns to the Vallarta Adventures office in Nuevo Vallarta each afternoon.

Today was our training day. Veronica showed us how to fill plastic tubs and plastic bags with chicken, rice, turkey, salad, vegetables, buns and soup. It looked delicious and I would be lying if I said we packed it away without sampling a bite or two. The children worked hard, filling bags and carrying empty trays to the kitchen. But what was most impressive to me was the final destination of all of this food. Much of it of course was for the children at Casa Hogar. Veronica packed up enough food for them for tomorrow’s meals. Then she packed up many more bags to give to the women who work at the home and to the many poor neighbors who live in the streets surrounding the orphanage. She encouraged me to fill two large bags to deliver to our family in San Vicente. In the midst of receiving a blessing, she became a blessing.

I love that instead of filling the freezer and hoarding supplies, Veronica is teaching the children to share what they have with others who need help. To share. I know that we are super fortunate to have social programs in Canada that seek to care for the marginalized in our country. And let’s face it, it makes me feel less responsible or compelled to help when I know our government will provide. But that’s pretty much a crappy attitude. What if we all just shared our excess with others? Sometimes I go to Safeway and buy 3 or 4 tubs of Peanut Butter or 72 rolls of paper towel or a case of soup because hey, look at all the Air Miles! And then I stock my pantry and it sits there until I spill enough stuff to need 72 rolls of paper towel or make enough toast to eat 8 litres of peanut butter. I don’t even really like soup.  What would happen in our world if we kept enough for tomorrow, or even for next week and gave the rest away? What if we were to share what we don’t need with those who don’t know how to face an empty tomorrow? Instead of implementing more government social programs to fight poverty, what if we, who have so darn much, just gave away our stuff?  What if finally just learned how to share? Another day of being humbled by Mexico and learning a new way to live.


Not Better….Just Different


Because we have not completely wrapped up the zillions of details of our move south, we are back in Canada for three weeks to finish taxes, finish construction, and finish packing.  There are a lot of ‘finishes’ before you can truly experience new beginnings.  Last year when I met with a Career Coach Warren, he told me my Kolbe Index indicated I love to brainstorm and start projects, but I get bored with the carry through.  I am strong in “Fast Start” and not so strong on “Follow Through”.  (Mind you he told me I should NEVER be an implementer, working with my hands and now I’ve laid tiles and sawed stuff with a power saw….).  The point is that I am pulling at the reins to get going, but I know that we need to finish well.  So we are back in the North doing Follow Through stuff that must be done.

It is impossible not to compare my two homes – and I don’t mean our physical houses (although there are some serious differences between my fancy new house with all the fancy new appliances and my simple Mexican home).  No, I am thinking about the differences between the world I have lived in for all of my life and this new place I am trying to be accepted in.  Maybe I am mostly thinking about the differences in me and in Grant and in the things that we now value.  Not better.  Just different.

So here is a preliminary comparison

The Obvious Stuff

  1. It is cold in Canada! There is great irony in that fact that my Canadian friends are rejoicing that this has been a mild winter (usually warmer than -15) and my Mexican friends are lamenting that it has been a very cold winter (in the mid to low +20’s).  The human experience is just very tied to weather and no matter where you live, every conversation begins with a tiny bit of complaining about the weather.
  2. The food is unbelievable in Mexico! We often ask ourselves IMG_20151231_195141what food we miss from Canada, and the list is pretty small.  A Tim Horton’s coffee.    Houston Pizza (the really thick meaty kind).  Spring rolls from Viet Thai Restaurant.  My zoodles since I couldn’t pack the spiralizer last time.  A pumpkin pie.  That’s about it.  When we are in Saskatchewan we constantly whine about the lack of proper tacos – or any Mexican food – in Regina.  Taco Time doesn’t cut it after eating Chilaquilies at Ponchos or Mole Enchiladas at Taco Itzel.   We are slowly raising our picante level and are making our own Green Sauce now which makes everything delicious.  Still can’t stand cilantro however which eliminates me from every being a true Mexican foodie.
  3. The noise level is hilarious in Mexico. I have told many stories about the joyful celebrations in our neighborhood in Bucerias.  First Christmas, then New Years, then the Patron Saint Festival, then some teen girls Quince, then some random dude’s birthday, then the 9 hour Karaoke party, then……  You get the picture.  At the end of our 6-week relocation trip we were just beginning to ignore it all and sleep at night.  Then we got to our house in Lumsden – a new ICF home (Styrofoam and cement) – super insulated and unnaturally silent.  No traffic in the valley after 9.  No music in the streets.  Total silence.  And then we couldn’t sleep there.  We laid awake the first night home, unable to sleep because of the eerie quiet.  It was beautifully peaceful, with the moon sparkling on the house rooftops – the complete opposite of the loud joyfulness that surrounds our Mexican home.  Not better….. just different.
  4. $$$$$$$. Much of Mexico is poor.  I know that there are many poor people in Regina as well.  There is addiction, child abandonment, child prostitution, poverty, illness…. It’s in every city in every country.  But in Canada we have social networks of government that at least make an effort to close the gaps.  We have medical care and education for everyone who will show up.  There are welfare programs and food banks and intervention programs to try and save the children who are lost in family dysfunction.  In Mexico, the money that should flow to those who are struggling is blocked by crazy systems and non-existent programs.  Children are not mandated to go to school – and in fact there are crazy bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult or even impossible.  Children must show a birth certificate before they can register for school.  Only a mother can get this birth certificate.  Many did not get one at birth and now cannot afford the $200 it will cost.  Or children who have been abandoned by a mother have no way to get this piece of paper.  And so they cannot go to school.  Those who need it most cannot access education.  Wages are unbelievable low.  Minimum wage has just been raised to $73 pesos (that’s about $6), not for an hour but for A DAY!  $6 a day to raise a family.  How can a family or a community prosper in this environment?     It has been inspiring to watch both the Mexican community and the many Gringo associations step up to care for the people who have needs and I am super excited to be part of organizations such as La Fuente Riviera Church and Manos de Amor who care for the poor, and especially the children in Bucerias and many surrounding towns and villages.
August, 2015

August, 2015

The Not So Obvious Stuff

  1. We move a LOT slower in Mexico. Those of you who know Grant and I in Canada will not recognize us in Mexico.  We are slow …. Bordering on lazy. IMG_20160112_183407 I suspect this is somewhat temporary.  We arrived in Bucerias in mid-December really tired (especially house-builder guy Grant) and we have taken some time to rest and vacation.  We sit on our balcony or in our garden and read and play Candy Crush and talk and maybe even nap.  While I expect that to change, I am pretty committed to guarding our time here.  We are definitely planning to be involved in the orphanage and the church, but we are not going to organize every minute – we are going to leave time to just play with the children and to open our home for fun stuff with our new friends.  Grant is ready to start building our dream home and I am continuing to do my job from a distance so that will be enough structure for us.  The rest of the time will be for beach picnics and boogie boarding and watching hummingbirds in the garden.  I welcome you keeping my accountable for this plan!
  2. My heart is very soft. I am now a crybaby.  I cry at everything.  I cry because the hibiscus bloomed.  I cry because Lupita is too cute today.  I cry because every child should have their own dad, not just an old white guy from Canada who throws them around.  I cry because I knew I shouldn’t have tried the ‘mas picante’ sauce.  I cry at the airport and bus station because the kids are here.  I really cry at the airport and the bus station because the kids are leaving.  I think mainly I cry because I now have time to feel stuff instead of just rushing to do stuff.
  3. Home is wherever you are today. When I am in Mexico I refer to Lumsden as home, when I am in Lumsden I refer to Mexico as home.  Today, I am trying to embrace the snowy day, the beautiful new home I am in, the friends I have missed, the family I will soon spend time with and I will make sure I get a Tim Horton’s coffee and a springroll and some pumpkin pie. I will try to figure out how to import butter into Mexico.  In a couple of weeks, I will pack 6 more giant suitcases with the stuff I haven’t been able to buy in Mexico, like my zoodle spiralizer, and I will head to my new home.  I will try to embrace the crazy noise and the humid days and I will build a new life.   And I will be home.  Not better….. just different.

Our simple Mexican kitchen


Our fancy Canadian Kitchen









Our Mexican yard

Our Canadian yard

Our Canadian yard