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Building a miracle: Bishop’s School club ramps up work to provide houses and computers in Tijuana

Build a Miracle raises money to build houses for impoverished people in Tijuana.
(Courtesy of Grace Dabir)

The Build a Miracle Club at La Jolla’s Bishop’s School has had quite a year. It built three houses in Tijuana and raised $6,000 to donate computers to a community center there.

But it’s not finished. The club — an offshoot of the multinational Build a Miracle organization, based in San Diego — is working right up to the end of the school year, having spent the weekend of May 7 onsite for one of three visits required to build a fourth house.

“The main goal of the club is to raise money for impoverished people in Tijuana and build houses for them, but also raise awareness about the bubble we live in in La Jolla,” said this year’s president, sophomore Leia Ryan.

The club’s public relations coordinator, sophomore Grace Dabir, said the community center associated with Build a Miracle “provides classes and a safe place to study, a computer lab, dance classes and food for children after school. They have programs for the families that go there. They have the Dads Club, in which the fathers learn carpentry and other life skills to help make the community richer.”

Leia Ryan and Grace Dabir of the Build a Miracle Club at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla
Sophomores Leia Ryan (left) and Grace Dabir are the president and public relations coordinator, respectively, of the Build a Miracle Club at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Since 1999, BAM — which was formally established as a nonprofit in 2001 — has built 430 houses and its educational services have yielded 18 college graduates, according to its website, buildamiracle.net.

It costs, at most, around $16,000 to build and furnish a three-bedroom house. Students raise the funds with in-person events, a GoFundMe account and outreach to parents in the community.

Over the Labor Day weekend, some tennis-playing La Jollans served up charitable acts in Mexico through the Build A Miracle program.

“We had a home-goods drive to provide furnishings,” Leia said. “We would normally have to fundraise for those furnishings … but people were so generous, we were able to fill an entire house without buying anything but a curtain rod.”

Usually the club builds one house per year, but this year it was able to build more.

“At the end of last year, we ... raised enough for a house then. And this year a donor agreed to match the donations we raised. So we raised enough for a second house, and the matching funds provided for a third house,” Leia said.

“It’s so wonderful to see in the families’ eyes the impact this is having for the community.”

— Grace Dabir

Once the club raises enough to complete a house, it starts the process to build it. It takes three visits to complete a house. The first is to lay the foundation, the second is to install insulation and drywall, and the third is to furnish and paint.

“We just completed our third house ... in April, and we started our fourth house” after further fundraising, Grace said.

Families who already had a house built for them through BAM often help the club members with the construction process. In return for receiving a home, all families are asked to perform 500 hours of community service and have their children enrolled in school, according to BAM.

“When we go back and work on a new house, we see the people we built the last house for, and it’s amazing how fast their lives improve,” Leia said. “You really feel the community.”

Leia and Grace said the experience has been rewarding and humbling.

Family members cry as they receive their newly built home.
(Courtesy of Grace Dabir)

Leia said it’s also been eye-opening to see the disparity between her community and the poverty about 30 miles away.

“We have these million-dollar homes and a beautiful school,” she said. “The houses there are built from recycled goods; they are not safe or sanitary, they don’t protect people from the elements.”

Bishop’s, however, “is very service-oriented,” and the school community is always willing to step in to help, Grace said.

Natasha Mar is looking to be a model representative of the spirit of Thailand.

“We get to say, as a school community, [that] we build houses and provide computers to these kids that are really talented and smart but don’t have the resources to build up that talent,” Grace said. “The experience fills my heart. It’s so wonderful to see in the families’ eyes the impact this is having for the community. The whole experience just teaches you to be super grateful and puts what we have in La Jolla in perspective. We are so lucky to have what we have. It’s very humbling.” ◆