by Dan O’Donnell
Thirty-four years ago I traveled as a volunteer with a small band of Passionists, including Fathers Sebastian McDonald, Arthur, Pat Brennan, and Joe Moons to Baja Mexico to help the people there build more stable homes. They were living in huts built from sticks and mud and we were helping them move up to single car garage size homes of cement block. It was a life-changing experience for this city boy who grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago in homes with yards to play, grow gardens and park your cars in. Yes, I had seen the Maryknoll magazine’s pictures of developing countries, but to experience this first hand brought home to me just how lucky I had been in terms of living conditions.
What impressed me most about that month long adventure in June of 1980 was the resourcefulness of the people I met there. I’ll never forget transporting these giant 12” x 12” wooden beams into the nearest town to get them sawn down to 2 x 4’s that would then be used to frame the roofs. We went to a junkyard where they had a saw attached to an old Chevrolet motor. They used that to cut the beams. The men in the junk yard had to make two passes through these beams salvaged from old buildings in San Diego torn down to make room for new construction. It was like sawing through cement. It must have been 100 degrees that June afternoon as I watched these men younger than I (I was 35 at the time) enthusiastically attack the job and more importantly complete it. I would never have dared attempt such a task. We returned to our higelo (small town) with the newly sawn lumber to eventually complete the new homes.
In this TED talk, architect Teddy Cruz suggests that the solutions needed today to address urbanization, especially the juxta position of million dollar mansions next to urban slums, will come not from the wealthy but from the urban slum dwellers who are forced to use their imaginations and resources at hand—the scrap from the more wealthy communities being rebuilt. Kind of reminds me of the anawim of the scriptures as well as the people I had the priviledge to work with that June in 1980, the principle being that God reveals himself through the poor and lowly.