Last month, Morgan Cobb crossed the border.
On one side of the fence that separates Mexico and the U.S. were beautiful buildings, modern luxuries of civilization and signs of extravagance, she said.
On the other side, a slum in Juarez ruled by feared drug cartels.
The two cities were separated by 100 yards, but seemed worlds apart, said Cobb, a 26-year-old Craig native.
“From the house, we could see El Paso,” she said. “I couldn’t even imagine living in Juarez and every day seeing that — coming into your house that doesn’t even have a door, and your house is built out of wood pallets and plywood and your fence is made out of mattress springs.”
Cobb wasn’t there to participate in the luxuries of El Paso. Rather, she marched into Juarez for the first time on a mission — help build a new house for a family that has waited for one for three years.
She hoped to make better the lives on the other side of the fence and to provide a needed improvement for a family who “literally had the worst life” Cobb had seen.
From March 18 through 28, Cobb joined 21 other volunteers with Casas por Cristo to build from scratch a home for Victor and Lourdes Caldez. Victor, an out-of-work mechanic, provides for his family on $10 per week, Cobb said.
“But, it was amazing to see,” Cobb said. “They had their entire family, which is like 16-plus people, living on a piece of land that is not even as big as a normal lawn plot, here. I mean I have seen yards bigger.”
During the next three days, Cobb helped raise the 13-by-30-foot house and also underwent a personal journey, of sorts.
“My whole perspective on what I have in life has changed and the things that I want to do are changed,” she said.
Cobb’s brother, Tony, had wanted her to get involved with Casas por Cristo for some time, but the timing never quite worked out, she said.
However, this year Cobb made it a priority to volunteer her time to the organization.
She was one of 45 workers split into two groups that built two homes in Juarez that week.
The organization accepts applications from families in need of a home. The wait time for a home, if approved, used to be six months. Now, it’s up to three years, she said.
“With everything that has been going on down there with all the drug wars and everything like that, groups have been really scared to go,” she said. “They don’t want to go across the border, and Juarez really is the heart of drug cartel problems.”
The houses are built in three days — foundation and framing going up on the first day, walls, windows and the roof the second, and Stucco, dry wall and the finishing touches the third day.
The build is capped by a dedication ceremony, Cobb said, when the receiving family is given the keys to the house and gets to nail a plaque in its wood.
“So essentially, they get to put the last nail in the house,” she said.
During the fast-paced, and often bruising three days, Cobb said she was able to learn a great deal about everyday life in the violence-ridden Juarez. Particularly, she took an interest in the family whose house she was building.
She said she was amazed by how far Lourdes could stretch a dollar.
“You sit there and you kind of go, ‘I’m complaining about having $10 left?’ when they’re talking about how they need $10, and it is completely life changing for me,” she said.
The divide between children of the two countries is even greater, Cobb said.
“A lot of kids here will complain because they don’t have a new toy,” she said. “And the kids there, they find a stick and they would do so many things to the sticks. We had little girls that would take the little scrap pieces of wood that we would cut off the end of our two-by-fours … they took them and they built themselves a doll house.”
Amid the activity of the drug cartels, Cobb said her group did not feel much tension. But, they did see its affects on the Juarez community.
“There is a business down the street that we get burritos from … and he closes every day at four now because every night he would get robbed or they would come in and say, ‘We want a piece of your business,’” she said.
Arriving back in Craig days later was “almost a surreal feeling,” she said.
“It’s a freedom thing, really,” Cobb said. “When you are in Juarez, our church was gated, everything’s gated. You come in and as soon as the sun goes down, everything locks up, no one leaves.”
Such observations led her to a simple yet powerful observation, she said.
“I really have found that I have it pretty good in my life,” Cobb said.
It has also led her to consider pursuing an internship with Casas por Cristo.
“I am one of those people who is not necessarily shy, but I am just very timid,” she said. “So, for me to be the kind of person to walk up to somebody and be like, ‘Do you know God loves you?’ is not me. And for some people, that’s their thing.
“We want them to know that we are here because of God and what God has done for us.
“I just think going down there and being able to change a whole family’s life with a house — something that we would almost consider a shed — is amazing.”
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