by Gail Selfridge

This story began in July of 2007. I returned to Leader Dogs for the Blind, a school in Rochester, Mich., which trains guide dogs to assist blind people with their navigation and mobility. I am totally blind and have been using guide dogs for 40 years. I would receive my sixth guide dog. She was a yellow Labrador retriever named Alisse. I met her puppy raiser, Eydie Yemmans. We kept in contact. She told me she was going to lead a team for Habitat for Humanity to build a house for people of low income in Mexico. She said she wanted to take a couple of blind people along to show that blind people could do the work as well as anyone else. She asked if I would be interested, and after quite a bit of discussion I said I would. I donít have a lot of money, but I needed to raise a rather substantial amount for the expenses of the project. I wasnít sure I could do that, but Eydie kept encouraging me, so I went to my churchís congregation, and they got together most of the money I needed. I raised a bit more by selling cleaning cloths, and contributed a bit myself and all the money was raised.

On Oct. 25, 2008, Alisse and I flew to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to join the team. The building site was in Guayabitos, Nayarit. Itís about an hourís drive north of Puerto Vallarta. There were eight of us; one other member, George Wertzel, was also blind. This is the first time that totally blind people have worked on a Habitat for Humanity team in such a project. George is a carpenter and he has done detailed work such as making beautiful furniture, but he said laying blocks was not something he would put at the top of his skills. He did a good job with that. I learned how to do it, too. I sifted sand, loaded rocks into buckets, and handed blocks to the guys who were laying them.

Alisse adapted to the Mexican environment beautifully. She helped to guide me around Puerto Vallarta when we were seeing the sights, and she stayed in a crate while I worked on the project. It was very hot and humid, but I learned that if I drank at least one bottle of water, sometimes more, every hour, I could keep on working.

It was exhilarating how the Mexican people who were helping with the project made sure I could get around and helped find things for me to do. They never acted like I couldnít do what needed to be done, and they werenít afraid to steer me in the right direction. I know some Spanish and that helped when they had any questions about how Iíd do something.

We did what was expected of us and George and I proved that blind people can work very competently on a Habitat for Humanity project as long as people accept us and use their hands and ours to show us what needs to be done. People are so used to doing things with visual clues that they donít realize we can do the same things using other senses. This experience has shown me once again that I can do the things I want as long as I can find people who will cooperate with me and as long as a positive attitude is kept by all.

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