Meet Taylor Kavanaugh
May 5, 2009
Most people would think being a fulltime student-athlete on the Oregon State football team would take up more than enough time in an athlete’s life, but Taylor Kavanaugh doesn’t just give all his energy and effort to the football team and to his academics he also gives everything he’s got into helping others. During spring break, Kavanaugh took his free week and traveled to Guatemala to help build a house for a family in need.
Talk about your trip to Guatemala…
I took one of my engineering finals early, I didn’t do as well on it as I wanted to but it was worth it because I was on the plane the next day and heading down to Guatemala City. We spent two days south of there in Antigua, which is a little tourist city. We got the feel for what Guatemala was while we waited for the rest of our group to get down there and for the official program to start. On that Sunday we met up with Encontour, which is a mediator between schools around the country and the non-profit group down in Guatemala that builds houses. We met up with them and got a feel for what we were going to build, which was a house for a family, and how we were going to build it. On Monday we got up at 7 a.m. and started working on the house. We worked all the way through Friday afternoon. We built a house for a family by hand with no power tools. To make a long story short, we helped out a family down there and hopefully made an impact on their lives because their house went from sticks to a legitimate cinderblock concrete house. After that we were able to interact with people in the town and see some sites also.
How did you get involved with that program?
I was sitting in class one day and checking my email at the start of class. Being in the engineer program, they put together a weekly newsletter with current events. I just read about the program; I contacted the person, got a little information and went to the meeting. I was on the fence about whether I wanted to do it because it was kind of a risk going down there and exerting myself so much before Spring Ball started, but seeing some pictures about what we would be doing for the people down there, I just jumped on it. I had to scramble to get my passport and my ticket on time, but it ended up barely working out and I found myself on the plane just doing it. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a phenomenal experience. I want to do more traveling in the future.
That’s not the typical college spring break experience…
I think it’s the way I was brought up, to take the path less traveled, and I found that sometimes that is the highest quality experience. That is what I did and I think that’s the reason why I did it. I was kind of drawn to it. Maybe it was my calling to go down there and not know anyone in the group and have to establish those relationships by branching out among the Oregon State campus. I knew I was going to bring back a different outlook to Corvallis and I definitely think it was for the better. We were one of 30 about schools that went down during spring break.
Is their construction unique compared to our construction?
When you take all of these technical classes in engineering and study things like moment ratio on cranes, you have an expectation of what construction looks like. I had an expectation and then I went down to Guatemala and the first thing they tell us is we are going to be mixing concrete in the dirt, which is something I never even comprehended before. We cut metal by hand and we built this whole thing with no power tools. It was extremely different. We teamed up with two contractors who showed us what to do and pushed us along. The biggest difference was how they do things and the tools they work with. The second thing was the language barrier between us and the contractors. Some of us spoke Spanish and I used my sophomore year of high school Spanish to speak a little. It makes me understand how important communication is with simple things like building a house. It makes me want to learn a language.
Would you go back?
Yes for sure. There are a lot of people in this world who need help more than a lot of us understand, so I would go back to any place just to help out.
What was the most interesting thing you saw or learned down there?
By far the thing that stands out to me the most were the kids down there. We got to interact with the kids we were building the house for. We were really lucky. The family was around the whole time helping us build the house. These kids are unbelievable. They are living in close to nothing and they have close to nothing, but they are so happy and they have so much fun. They rely on each other for their fun. It was really encouraging and inspirational to see these kids helping us carry concrete up this 60 yard path to help build their house. Luckily I was able to get some pictures of them. All of the people down in Guatemala have an outlook on life that is a lot different and I really learned from that.
Did you do any sightseeing?
We were sightseeing every moment we were there and taking stuff in. We got to go to Tocal, which is in Northern Guatemala, and it’s one of the ancient Mayan ruin sites. We got to see that, which was really cool being able to see 3,000 year old temples. We also got to see Antigua, which is a tourist town with cobblestone roads and we did some sightseeing there too. The whole time I was taking stuff in. It was fun.
How was the food?
My dad, before I left, was so worried that I was going to lose weight and be 150 pounds coming back to Spring Ball, but when we got down there the food was great. You just have to be careful about what you eat because down there, there is a big problem with sanitary water. The big problem is when the fruits and vegetables are washed with the water and then fed to the people. If your stomach isn’t used to it like how a lot of Americans aren’t used to the bacteria that is in the water, than you will get sick instantly. I didn’t get sick and I enjoyed the food very much so, but one guy on our trip got sick and that put him out for a day and a half. I was lucky and I was careful about what I ate. One thing they eat is tortillas with every meal. They have these little corn tortillas that are about the size of a sand dollar and you will have them with spaghetti and you will have them with eggs. They have beans with every meal too. The home-stay mom we stayed with, because we stayed with families, they cooked us breakfast every day. She made us scrambled eggs and beans every day for breakfast. I loved it. It was so good. Beans and tortillas are the staple down there.