In the Community

Service Trip Returns Dividends

Assistant risk control manager Brandon Joy, left, tours one of Mexico City’s slums with other Transformación Urbana volunteers. They are standing in front of a red truck”

Assistant risk control manager Brandon Joy, left, tours one of Mexico City’s slums with other Transformación Urbana volunteers.

A mission trip last October brought Flatiron Construction’s assistant risk control manager Brandon Joy face-to-face with the realities of poverty and life in one of the world’s largest urban slums.

Brandon’s church in Colorado organized a group of five volunteers—three of them engineers—who traveled to Mexico City to reinforce a retaining wall at a retreat center owned by the charitable organization Transformación Urbana Internacional. Transformación Urbana uses community outreach and organizing to combat injustice, poverty and spiritual emptiness in the slums of Mexico City. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme estimates that more than a billion people live in urban slums worldwide, and that number is expected to double by the year 2030.

During his trip, Brandon got to experience Mexico City’s “informal settlements.”

“Mexico City is the nicest city I’ve ever been to, but as you leave the downtown area, you go from a super nice city to urban slums immediately,” said Brandon. “The streets are mostly unpaved, the cinder block houses are surrounded by high concrete walls and many of the roofs are made out of corrugated cardboard.”

Transformación Urbana purchased a house outside the city to provide a safe, quiet space for spiritual and community leaders to gather.

“The slums are a very condensed, stressful environment,” Brandon said. “The retreat center is a place where pastors and other representatives can get away from everything, learn about leadership and make plans for improving their communities.”

The retreat center is located on an elevated lot, supported by a poorly built, 10-foot-tall rock and mortar retaining wall. Brandon’s team was tasked with strengthening the wall to keep it from tipping over and taking the retreat center along with it. The volunteers used a hammer drill to make holes in the 18-inch-thick wall and installed pieces of rebar attached to threads with a plate on the end through the holes. They then drove the rebar through the soil into the lot to create the tiebacks. After that, they dug to the end of the tiebacks and attached some additional rebar that would eventually be part of a concrete anchor. After the team left, a separate mission team poured the concrete to anchor the wall to the soil behind it.

Brandon said that the most rewarding part of his trip was witnessing the hope, thankfulness and perseverance that local residents showed in the face of such difficult conditions.

“When you step outside your comfort zone and spend your time and resources on behalf of others, you see that a little bit of courage goes a long way,” he said. “You see the joy that little things can bring to other people, and the experience returns back to you in a way that is so much greater than you could ever have imagined.”

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