Monthly Archives: January 2012
Not to sound like a broken record….. life here is tough…. but…. it never fails to bring me more moments of joy in mere weeks than I have experienced in my entire life. Today was so incredible I just have to write….
Today began, like any other day with basic home chores in the morning and then we were off to the hospital after lunch. Geoff’s mom, Leny was giving another day of crochet and knitting lessons to the Hermana’s. His dad Bill was busy tending to their new garden. Justin was hanging drywall in the new pantry. Matt went up the mountain to work the afternoon and relieve Zack who had been working all morning with Senor Chico on Marquito’s families new home. That left Geoff, myself, Zack and Dave to tackle what was for me, the worst job yet. It was time to paint the inside of the new cistern tank that is underground. I do not know if you have ever seen a cistern but it is basically a bomb shelter underground with a man sized hole at the top and about 5 ft tall. I am claustrophobic so it was not one of my top 10 favorite things to be doing. It was very necessary to get this completed because the hospital does not have water every day. In Guatemala, especially in the dry season the water supply is on a rotation. Some people only get water every 8 days! Just imagine that! Water is a precious commodity here.
We had hoped to take 5 min shifts one at a time inside the bunker because the paint to seal the concrete is highly toxic. We all paused to mourn for a few moments that our masks from last year are safely tucked away in my closet in Beamsville….
As it turned out we were only able to stay inside the sistern for under 15-20 seconds each. Yes it was that bad. Eyes burned instantly and if you dared to take a breath….well lets just say it was horrific. It took myself, Geoff, Zack and Dave by surprise how incredibly difficult this task was. I understand all the warnings from people that someone had to stay up top and watch that the person inside didn’t pass out or they would die in minutes. Scary….
When we were about 3/4 of the way through painting we heard one of the Hermana’s yell…. When Luke and Gabe turned to look they yelled that the ambulance had arrived…… We all jumped up and ran…..
There are times when I feel like we are ‘spinning our wheels‘ here in Guatemala. We celebrate victories… we mourn losses… we teach, we learn, we triumph, we fail, but through it all we hope and we love. I realized that I have been deeply afraid…. After wanting to help a boy who touched me, Estuardo who I met 2 years ago and finding out upon returning to Guatemala last year that he had died (previous blogs). A big part of me had lost hope…. Today was the fruition of the hard work, perseverance, hope and love of a young girl back home… Rachel… and after waiting and praying for 1 entire year it came. And it came with more hope and joy than I can even explain. Inside that ambulance was more joy & hope than I have ever known. Marquito. Precious little Marquito.
The first of many surgeries are done and he was returning to the hospital. One look at his precious face had every single one of us in tears. I cried like a baby seeing the miracle that perseverance, hope and love can bring. He looks amazing. The first surgery was to fix the outside of severe cleft palate. Inside there is still a hole but these things take time and must be done in stages. But his outward appearance … unreal. I cannot explain…. just look at the pictures… see what I see… and understand…. and please, remember Marquito… remember his story…. and always, always have hope…..
This Wednesday we will have been here in El Progreso, Guatemala for 7 weeks. Hard to believe its been that long… and yet at times it feels like I have always been here. Funny how things that at the beginning are so foreign to you, become the new normal. Washing dishes with paste… filling a resevoir with water for the days when you have no water out of the tap…. having no hot water & learning to shower in cold…. sleeping in a kitchen with no privacy whatsoever…. driving in the chaos that at first made my heart almost stop…. roadblocks of livestock on the highways…. construction tie ups that last 30+ minutes at a time…. etc etc… the list is long. I’m learning so much here. Patience is a big one. Everything here takes a long time. Guatemalan’s are famous for “10 minutes” which in our terms means an hour or more. I am also learning humility. My way is not always the best way. There are other ways of doing things… better ways in some cases. Learning to un-Canadianize myself is a tough one…. slowing down… enjoying the little things… stopping to smell those proverbial roses…. very foreign concept in Canada, even if we think it’s not… trust me, it is! I find myself not just learning from the Guatemalans though… I am learning from the visitors we have coming and going here. I find it fascinating how each individual that comes here has a certain gift. Everyone brings something so different to the table. Honestly it is so refreshing to see things differently… through the eyes of the diverse fellow humans we have had here. As hard as it is to live in community at times, I have truly learned that I was made for this!
My blog has had a lot of my personal thought thus far. Let me fill you in on some details on what is going on here: We had 4 students here from Canada…. Rachel, Jazmin, Juan David (JD) & Jessy. Oh the youthful exhuberance they brought with them. We worked hard and we played hard… and we miss them terribly even now, weeks after they have gone.
Dave and Justin arrived a short time after the above gang. The house became a bit more challenging to maneuver because it is fairly small. We managed and it was great. Dave is doing weekly videos and working hard here. Justin is a carpenter by trade and his skills are ones we simply cannot do without!
Fast forward a bit and Tim & Matt arrived. Matt is our Chef. Simply stated, he saved me. I can cook, but not very well for larger groups. He is feeding us way better than we deserve! He rocks! Tim, we barely knew before he arrived. What a guy, and we were very lucky to have him here. Love him to pieces with his friendly attitude and quick, sarcastic wit. He kept us all smiling even when we truly didn’t feel like it. He passed along some fantastic business advice for our fundraising efforts. Look out people… you don’t know what you are in for in the coming months!
As I am writing this, there is only my family, Matt, Dave and Justin here. It is quiet here now. Geoff’s parents arrive this afternoon. So looking forward to having them here and see first hand what we are doing here. Many more people will fill our house in the coming months… including a team of dentist’s that will be running free clinic’s up in the mountains. The house will be full, challenging and fantastic!!!
Work wise, we have many projects on the go. Exciting times filled with great things happening here like:
First and foremost… Marquito had his surgery 3 days ago!!!! After a year of waiting, hoping and praying, thanks to Rachel it is done! Marquito is recuperating nicely at a hospital in Antigua. Thank God for this little boy and all he has taught us, and continues to teach us.
Secondly, we have begun construction on Marquito’s family home he will share with his parents and 2 little, precious sisters. The current state of his family home was such that he could not return there even when he is better. They live in a one room mud brick home with no electricity and no water. Upon completion, the home will be 3 rooms, a fenced in play porch (Marquito is also blind) and running water & electricity. They will be able to care for Marquito and his sisters so much better and live as a normal, happy Guatemalan Mayan family.
Thirdly, the hospital renovations are still under way. The new bathrooms, showers, closet and dorm rooms for the novitiates are almost complete. The study/living room is also complete. We are in the process of finishing up minor renovations to the kitchen and a new pantry. The garden is dug…. the chicken coop is finished and Geoff’s dad will soon begin planting corn, beans and other vegetables for the hospital to grow to help them become even more self-sustainable. The construction of a new second kitchen will begin shortly.
Lastly, construction will hopefully begin on a new home for another family during March Break. Jazmin’s family is hoping to take on fundraising for this corn stalk home to be replaced. The family that lives there is so amazing… but so very poor. The condition of the existing home is deplorable and no one should ever have to live that way. If you are interested in donating to this home visit http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg
We have spent time doing other things here as well. Justin, Tim and Geoff spent time helping Fernando’s family build some closets and minor renovations to help the family prepare for the arrival of Fernando’s new wife Elisa after their wedding in Feb. This family has helped and continues to help us so much we were happy to be able to help them. We have had many trips to the Jalapa dump and meetings with the people there. We did find out that no one actually lives there in the shanties. They live off site and return there every day to work. In the big picture, I suppose that is good news… however after touring their homes we quickly saw that the situations were still desperate. We hope to work together and come up with a solid plan of helping these people become more stable and self-sustaining. We have helped and will continue to help Mynor, Vincenta, Claudia and the boys. We are in the process of finding him solid, sustainable work that can improve their standard of living. We have toured villages and continue to make notes and plans for next year or when more funds become available. We have met several times with Hermana Mercedes and hope to shortly begin planning the next Nutrition Hospital that will be in El Salvador… In our down time, we have enjoyed touring Esquipolas, Antigua, Ziplining and visiting villages to play with kids… (my idea of Disneyland.. so fun).
We truly feel we have accomplished so much already…. we try to not get ourselves down that there is still so much left to do. People here are incredible. JD learned something when he was here…. how incredibly difficult it is to walk away with your head held low saying, “I’m sorry, there just isn’t enough money for us to help you this year”. Its a tough, tough thing to do. One of the hardest things you will ever do in your life. Imagine looking into someones eyes… eyes filled with hope and desperation…. eyes filled with thirst and hunger and saying… “I can’t help you yet”. It’s funny that the lesson lies in their response…. It’s always the same…. “Thank you, I will pray for you”…. Wow…. that hurts… hurts deep within… I cannot help you and still you pray for me….? …. and yet I am understanding more and more. And let me tell you, It changes you… those simple words… changes occur very deep within yourself in a place I would call your soul…. it changes you so much for the better… I know each and every person who visits here, including myself will go home a much better person than the one who arrived. And for that I want to say to each and every Guatemalan that we have met, helped or said no to… “Thank you, I will pray for you… ”
Firstly I would like to introduce our brand new YouTube Channel! Thanks to Dave Tebbutt! Dave arrived 2 weeks ago and is documenting our experiences for us so that you can see in short 5 minute video’s what’s going on here with us! Please check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/doppenbergrita
Secondly, I have to say, thanks for all the words of encouragement these past 7 weeks. It has been rough at times but overall life here is amazing. I love the place… the people… the work we are doing…. I love it all. Sure it’s tough to be surrounded by so much poverty… but it is also so uplifting to be surrounded by so much joy.
When I get down its mostly because of frustration. There is so much to do here and we are held back by the constraints of money. We are at the mercy of the donations of others…. and that is a very difficult place for us to be. Many people have never been here… and they have not seen what we are surrounded by every day and thus they do not fully understand. People who are so full of a joy that we hardly know in Canada and yet living a life so full of hardship we can barely comprehend.
I see people every single day that look 50+ when they are 30 due to hardship… I see people every day who work hard for next to no money…. I see people every day that want to work and can find no work and therefore cannot support their families…. I see people every day that are hungry and have no means to eat…. I see people every day that are tired… hungry… thirsty…. …… What I do NOT see every day is people who are sad…. They are happy… they are full of joy… they are full of hope….
What I want is to not only give them hope… I want so desperately to give them a future… I listen to Hermana Mercedes and her dreams… dreams of a future for the poor. Dreams of hope and equality for all…. I share that dream. I want to put a call to action out there to anyone reading this…. Will you consider sharing that dream with us and becoming a part of bringing hope for the future to those that need it…. ?
Sometimes everything here gets to me. I find it so hard at times just to keep it together. A very good friend said a few weeks ago that he wanted to know the hardships… basically the bad stuff… to feel a part of the “real” – ness of this whole thing. A way for him to follow the story of life here and see how the conflict within us gets resolved etc. I find that hard to do for many reasons but the most important reason is that its way too ‘real’ here at times. So much of the time I feel so raw that I fear if I wrote about it I would never stop writing. But the bottom line is that for every 10 things that are hard, or go wrong here there is 1 amazing experience that completely makes you forget the bad stuff and feel totally rejuvenated and sure that its all worth it.
At times…. It’s hard to be a ‘gringo’… it’s hard to live with people… it’s hard to sleep on cots in a kitchen and have zero privacy…. it’s hard to sacrifice money and comforts…. it’s hard to be exhausted almost all the time…. it’s hard to eat things you don’t like…. it’s hard to handle the stomach issues that go with the territory here…. it’s hard to be itchy 99% of the time from the bugs….it’s hard to be patient…. it’s hard to miss friends and family and be away from home… etc etc etc… the list is long …. trust me.
It’s also hard to watch people suffer… to see need but have to say “no, we are so sorry but we cannot help you this year because we simply don’t have the money and there is someone else with just a bit more need than you that we have to help instead so we will try for hopefully next year…”…. This is the most trying part of doing what we are doing. This trumps all the inconveniences of living here. Being the one in charge here is something neither Geoff or I was prepared for in a way. The feeling of wanting to help everyone but being totally helpless in certain situations due to financial constraints is one of the worst feelings I have ever had to deal with. Having to look at people and say no… then hope and pray that the money comes in next year… and that they are still alive to receive that help is the reality of what we face every day…. a reality that I dislike very much…. but it is a reality none the less. It is so easy to feel hopeless at times and a quiet, near depression kicks in… having others around to share the burden is such a blessing. A sincere hug from someone who completely understands you at that exact moment is priceless….
We are 12 here at “Club Doppenberg” as Tim (one of our guests) affectionately calls our little home… it is tight at times… and just right at others. None the less we have done a lot of stuff in the past weeks since my last blog. To catch you up on some of what’s going on here…. Dave and Justin arrived and we are so happy to have them here for a few months…. We visited Mynor, Vincenta, Claudia, Minito, Moso, Losevin, and Jose David last week and took them for Jose’s last doctor visit to see if he needed any more treatments. When they walked out of the clinic we were all in shock to see his arm almost completely healed!! It looks like there won’t even be a scar! What an celebration that was! Later we took the gang Zip lining in Matequesquintlas (say that 5 times fast)…. a perfect relax day. Afterward we picked up Mynor’s family for a weekend away. After a good but crowded nights sleep at our home in El Progreso we were off with all 16 of us to visit Esquipulas. We toured the Basilica of the Black Christ and then an orphanage. Mynor and the family had never really had a weekend away/mini vacation and it was so much fun to be able to share it with them.
Our newest arrivals, Tim and Matt came the next day and we knew immediately that they were a great fit with our team! The past week has been so incredibly busy… We have begun construction of Marquito’s families home so that he can return there once the operations are done and he is healthy. Right now they live in 1 small room and have kitchen and no water. We are adding 2 rooms for them, a bedroom and a kitchen. We are also working with the village council to get water to the house. We visited my “Disneyland”, Yolanda’s village… a place where we 10 kids multiply into about 60 once the word gets out the ‘gringo’s have arrived. We played games and had a blast. We have also been touring homes this week with Hermana Mercedes…. she has made a ‘top 10’ list of the most in need families in the area that she knows…This is the tough part… we can only afford to build a few homes… not all 10. With the construction projects going on at the hospital there is only so much money to do other projects. Some of these decisions are no brainers… others are just so darn hard. We sit each night with our team… we talk and make decisions together… it helps, but it’s hard on all of us at times.
So many things I don’t understand… we toured a home today. A complete and utter disaster made of cornstalks, mud, and basically scraps. All I could think of is the 6 months of torrential rain Guatemala gets and how miserable it must be to live in this home that most certainly would leak and be cold… The reality is a family lives there… dad, mom and 10 kids…. It’s one of the most serious needs I have seen as far as ‘shelter’ goes. The strangest part, the mother asked if we wanted to tour the church next door… just a few steps away… she has the key so she can open it for people on Sundays. We entered this church… made of solid concrete… a building that would be warm and dry during the rains…. Many of us talked later about how messed up our world is when a family of 12 lives in horrific conditions while a church a few steps away sits empty 6 days a week…. reality is that sometimes our world makes no sense whatsoever….
I have struggled much with this kind of thing in the past weeks… I have had feelings and thoughts that are such a roller coaster of emotions. It would be very easy to become a ‘hard’ person. To become desensitized, unemotional and cold. I think it would be a comfortable, self-preservation mechanism. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let that happen. It’s so hard because there is so much need here and we can only help a few…. the desire to help everyone is so strong… but the reality is… we can only help one at a time…
Hermana Mercedes visited us unexpectedly this afternoon shortly after we dropped her off after our tour of the homes. She had “buenas noticias” (Good News) she couldn’t wait to share so she hurried over. Marquito’s surgery is booked! This Monday at 4am an ambulance will pick him up and he will be off to Antigua for surgery Tuesday morning! Hermana was so excited that she could share the news with us in person… especially since Rachel is leaving on Sunday. The hope is that both surgeries will be done, his family home will be finished and he will be recovered when Rachel returns in March. What incredible timing! Hermana shared with us one more thing just as she was leaving… She smiled and reminded us all that because we had perseverance, patience and faith, its is actually happening… one boy’s life will be changed!!! At the end of the day, I sat and thought about everything that has happened… not just over these past weeks… but over the past years here…. I thought a lot tonight about what Hermana said about patience, perseverance and faith… I looked around at the people here in this house that have such amazing hearts…. it was one of those moments where I was reminded again that the reality truly is, ‘help one at a time’…. and if that is they way it has to be, I am absolutely ok with that…..
I have sat staring at a blank screen for a while now… I am not sure what to write or where to begin. So much happens here in a short time… it is difficult to write about it all, never mind capture the feelings that go along with what we see and do here. I guess I will begin by telling you a story…..
A year ago, a young woman named Rachel was here with us… she met Marquito…. she felt a stirring in her heart for this severely disfigured & blind 2 year old boy…. Upon returning home Rachel began to feel more and more… she decided to do something…. she worked, she fundraised, she loved. She wanted this boy to have operations to fix him and give him a chance at a normal life… a life that we take for granted every single day. Several times over the past year, I did not have the heart to tell Rachel that Hermana Mercedes had written and Marquito was dying. I prayed… a lot. When I finally explained to Rachel how ill Marquito was, and that it looked like he might not live, never mind have operations, she simply began to work harder and pray harder to get more money to him so he could get better… Rachel showed a kind of strength and devotion to this boy that I find very rare… to her, he is a complete stranger… a boy who cannot even see her… but he is no different than any other boy and deserves a shot at life. It has been quite a beautiful thing to watch for the past year… And now finally, the day I had been waiting for had arrived… 1 year almost to the day since they first met, Rachel and all of us began the short walk to the Hospital. It was time to reunite this little blind, disfigured boy with the young woman that Hermana Mercedes calls “Marquito’s Protector”, or “Marquito’s Angel”.
When we arrived Hermana Mercedes warmly greeted all of us and gave Rachel a big hug. Hermana Mercedes and Rachel had not really met face to face but know a lot about each other from communications over the past year. Its funny how sometimes you never even have to meet someone to ‘know’ them and love them. I noticed Rachel was already tearing up and we weren’t even inside yet. Hermana didn’t make her wait long and she began to lead the way. She gently touched Rachel’s back and gave her an encouraging smile. Make no mistake, this boy would simply most likely not be alive if it wasn’t for Rachel. I am not overstating here. Even Hermana Mercedes realizes this. The money Rachel has sent down monthly has saved his life. Because of her, Hermana Mercedes was able to get Marquito the medical attention he needed… attention that was way beyond what her humble hospital could provide. Medicines could be bought… necessary lab tests could be done…. Operations have been and will continue to be done. Marquito, God willing, now has a chance because of a young (15 years old at the time) girl who just said, “No, this is not acceptable, I need to do something!!”
The reunion was a tearful one…. Quite honestly one of the most touching moments of my life here. I only have a few pictures of the reunion because I wanted to enjoy every second of it without the distraction of a camera…. Once tears began to dry, everyone got involved and together we played with this precious boy. We brought him a huge soft stuffed animal. He loved it…. I wish every one of you could come and meet this precious 3 year old boy who to us is a miracle. He is alive…. people see him and feel shock…. some even disgust… he is hard to look at. But once you get over the initial shock you realize he is a little boy with feelings…. he can smile… he can love. God created him and he is beautiful!!! There is a pure joy inside him that I have not seen in any other child…. it is hard to explain… but it is beautiful….
We are doing many construction projects and renovations at the hospital. New bathrooms… new dorm rooms for the new novitiates (girls training to be nuns and studying medicine etc to help serve the poor), new ceilings in the hospital, a chicken coop so the Hermana’s can both eat and sell chicken for money and other necessary things as well. There is so much need surrounding the hospital building itself. And we are trying to fill that need so that children like Marquito can have a chance at life. If you are ever wondering what happens to the money we fundraise for…. please consider coming and seeing for yourself…. meeting the people and putting faces to the names… building relationships…. there truly is nothing like it.
On New Year’s Day, we sat and shared in the celebration here of 6 new Novitiates joining Hermana Mercedes Order of Nuns. We listened as they took their vows…. vowing to serve God and being the hands and feet of Jesus by giving up their secular lives to serve the poor for the rest of their lives. They will over the coming years, study to become doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions that can be useful in their mission. As I sat there and watched Hermana Mercedes present each one of the young girls with their first white veil, I was struck by the sheer magnitude of sacrifice these women make. They will never do most of the things every other girl does…. they will simply serve…. if there is no money for food… they will feed the children recovering there but they will not eat themselves… they will never date… they will never kiss a boy… they will never own a car… they will never do or have so many things…. but they will have so much more. I cannot explain the feeling of being here… The feeling of serving others… I try, but I fail. I cannot seem to convey what I want to say. I realize now its because its something you have to experience for yourself…. These nuns are hero’s. True inspiration… they inspire me every minute of every day to do more. 6 months a year here is not going to be enough. I will work full time and tirelessly when I am back in Canada…. tirelessly to raise more money… there is still so much to do…. and it is so incredibly important that it gets done. I will not give up. I have hope….
Hermana Mercedes shared a meal with us on New Years Eve…. she spoke once again to us about her dream of having many malnutrition hospitals and serving the poor in all the countries of Central America…. She said, “My hope is that, with God in front we can walk beside your family & the people of Canada across Central America to serve the poor”… I share that hope too…. what about you? Hope can become reality when people like Rachel step up, give and work hard…. There is still so much to do here and without people giving none of it can happen…. Personally I want to see all the forgotten Marquito’s of the world have the same opportunities that my sons and other children of the developed nations have…. I know that with God all things are possible. Let Him into your heart and together, with Him leading, we can walk side by side across Central America, bringing hope to the poor and making lives better…. Our New Year’s Resolution is to make this hope a reality…. Give, serve and sacrifice……You with us?