Monthly Archives: March 2012


Wow… what a week we have had here…. sometimes things here are so amazing… and sometimes they are so difficult.    There are times when I have trouble here… but not with being here…. I have trouble thinking of my life back home.  My comfortable home… my car…. my closet full of clothes… my tap that dispenses hot or cold water on demand… my knick knacks strewn about…. my computers, my tv’s, my furniture… etc etc… the list goes on and on…. weeks like this sure make me reflect on my life and my needs….

Sandra & Lindy are working at the hospital.  Playing games with the kids…. teaching them songs… circle time…. etc etc.  The rest of us, (My family & Matt, Erwin, Linda & Rachel Fast, Jessica & Rachel VanGeest and their cousin Nataschia Buys, Jaclyn Duffy & Kate Cresswell-Turner.. yup it’s a full house) are all spending tons of time at the hospital as well.  It’s so important that people spend time with these precious little ones.  Culture here is different and kids are a commodity… they are rarely held or played with… sometimes they are hardly interacted with at all.  They crave the attention… and we lavish them with it as much as we can.  We can see major differences in the kids already.  Some that were shy and withdrawn run up to us now… some that were downright terrified of human contact actually not only let us hold them and feed them, but actually laugh and giggle with us.  So much joy to see them getting better and accepting the love that us strange white people have to offer them….

The Thielmann family arrived this past week and took over from us building the home for the Ruano family of 12 that they fundraised back home for.  Their daughter Jazmin was here with us in late Dec/early Jan and was touched.  She went home and talked with her family and together they made a decision to take on a project of their own.  How incredible!!  We along with our friends, Trish, Gerry, Aileen & Angie began buying and gathering the materials…. demolishing the old cornstalk home and digging the foundation until they arrived.  Once they got here they took over and in one week the progress on the house is amazing.   Senor Chico & Hector (they build Marquito’s parents home a few weeks ago) are building this home for us, with the Thielmann’s helping until they return to Canada and then we take over again…   The Ruano family is pitching in as well.   I have to interject here that this family is one of the sweetest I have met in Guatemala.  Mama & Papa are always there helping, smiling and encouraging… and the kids…. oh the kids… Pulling the truck up to the site is one of my favorite moments.  The kids all come running with beaming smiles on their faces and ready with huge, warm hugs.   What a total joy this family is!!!

We are working extra fast because it is so important to get these people into a warm, dry place and out of their temporary shelter before the rains arrive.  All of Guatemala is preparing right now for the rainy season.  Its a bustle of activity everywhere… highways are being reinforced for mudslides… ditches are being dug everywhere to divert the torrents of water….. retaining walls are being built…. its quite something to see.

One of the things that our March Break visitors have been treated to that others have not is the scurrying that goes along with the onset of the rains.   Just about every day that we have been working at the Ruano home someone comes… they come carrying a note that they wrote… or they simply come and ask…. either way it all says the same thing… “Can you help my family?”   If you have never experienced this… you cannot understand.  They look at us missionaries, “Senor Geoff & Senora Rita” & the family as though we are some foreign dignitaries.  They always wear their best… and they come prepared… and they come with stories.  How do you feel back home when someone comes up to you on the street and begs for money?  Do you give?  Do you walk away?  Do you feel anything?   I can tell you that here, its like nothing you’ve ever experienced.   They want you to come and look at their situation…they want you to sit and just listen to their story….  and if you feel that God is calling you to help then that’s great… but if not, that’s ok too…. just please pray for them.   It is so incredibly difficult to hear and see such extreme poverty… you just want to scream at how unfair it all is….

This week, we have toured several homes and one village.  What a tough thing it is…. to hear peoples literally gut wrenching stories of poverty, illness, death and yet they keep their faith in God… and they are convinced that God brought us to Guatemala as ‘angels’ to help the people here.   I will give you one example… in the village we met a woman… she is a missionary.  She is so poor that she may only eat one tortilla a day that she puts a drop or 2 of water on and then some salt for flavour.  That’s it.  Now this woman lives with her daughter…. her 1st son died at age 13 by drowning in the river…. her 2nd son died also by drowning… and then her eldest son died by a rock falling on him from the mountain above…. and then her husband died of a heart attack.  Her and her daughter were left alone… and now they are missionaries… visiting the sick and elderly in surrounding villages… offering hope and encouragment… praying with them… sharing what little they have with others.   This woman asked us for help.  And we had to look into her eyes and tell her that we will…. but we cannot right now, because we have to raise more money.  It is so hard to look into those big dark eyes full of hope and ask her to wait… a woman who has lost so much already… Geoff had to walk away for a moment to compose himself…. these are the moments that tear your heart out of your chest and shred it.

Just a few moments later,  we met the lady next door… who’s 28yr old daughter was in the hospital with some unknown illness.  Since they had no money for extensive medical care she was sent to the ‘public’ hospital…. the free one…. the one with the lousy medical care.  She asked for help…. we had to say the same… “we will see what we can do”.   It hurts so much to have to make people wait… the situation is dire now… its quite honestly the hardest part of being here…. The heavy labour at times is nothing compared to looking someone in the eye who is in desperate need and telling them to wait….  The village visit was long and so many asked…. we became overwhelmed at the sheer poverty & need we saw.  All of the Canadians were eerily quiet as we toured home after home and heard story after story of things that I can quite frankly say would have broken my spirit.  We heard laughter and joy throughout the village though… they have hope.  It is truly quite incredible.   As we finally cut the tour off…. partly due to time and partly due to the fact that we honestly couldn’t take much more emotionally, we headed back to the truck to hand out some toys, clothes and water we had brought.   As we began to walk down the hill into the clearing toward the truck I looked back…. The sight was incredible… people… so many people…. coming out of the trees… coming over the hill… coming from all directions… hundreds… men, women, children, young, old, infants…. you name it.  It was like a scene from a movie.   When we got to the truck people lined up to receive whatever it was we were giving… when you are poor you don’t care what you get… anything is welcome.   Over an over we heard “Dios les bendiga”  (God Bless you)… it took time, a lot of time but once we were done everyone had received something, even if it was something as simple as a t-shirt or a bag of water.   I can honestly say it was one of our best, and yet most emotionally draining days here thus far.   We packed up…. received our gift from the village… a delicious bag of mango’s and left for the day.

The next morning Geoff, myself and the boys left for the city.  It was time to drop off & share a tearful goodbye to our friends, Trish, Aileen, Gerry & Angie at the airport.  Our trip was also to bring Jessica, Rachel and Nataschia to see Ray, Jessica’s son that is serving here with another organization.  He has been here for a few months like us and has a few more weeks to go.  As a mom it was my pleasure to take Jessica to see her son… how can you travel thousands of miles and not see him?   On the way to the airport, the phone rang.  It was Fernando.  He gently told Geoff he had some bad news…. the 28yr old girl that was in the hospital had died…. she left behind a husband and 2 babies… and a grieving mom, dad and 3 sisters…. Immediately my mind crashed on the fact that her mom asked us for help yesterday… and now we were too late… she couldn’t wait…. we had told her mom that we would see what we could do… and now we could do nothing.

But there was something we could do… as little as it was… it was all we were left with… everyone, including those that we were driving to the airport and the Thielmann’s pitched in and we paid for the funeral which was the following day.   In Guatemala, people are buried very quickly… bluntly put, there is no embalming and no refrigeration so……   We woke up early the next morning, loaded everyone into the truck and headed to the cemetery to make sure the crypt (a cement, above ground box) was built and ready. Then we visited Marquito’s home so Rachel & Jazmin could see it finished and the Fast family could deliver some gifts like a tortilla stone for Marco & Doris… We planned that visit for that time so we could strategically end up back on the main road at a certain spot at just the right time.   You see, in Guatemala the funeral procession leaves the church and goes to the cemetery, just like home… the only difference is they walk…. miles and miles…  and sometimes they carry the casket the entire way with 4 men… sometimes the casket rides in the back of a pickup…. either way, all the people walk.   Yesterday was sunny, dry and hot, just like pretty much every other day and walking here is tough.  So we made sure we were in the right place to catch the procession so we could hand out bags of water.   After everyone had water we joined the procession and went to the cemetery for the burial ceremony.   Everything was very similar to an internment in Canada with the exception of the fact that they mix cement & seal the crypt right there….. we quietly left knowing that we would see the family the next day… we wanted to pay our respects but be as non-intrusive as possible.

The next morning (today) we all got up at 5:30am…. and we were off to visit the family so we could bring a meal, some corn, some water and make arrangements to give them the only help we can now…. money to pay for the funeral.  As soon as we got there, only Geoff and I went in with Senor Chico at first.  We didn’t want to overwhelm the grieving family with 20 random Canadians.  As soon as the mama saw me she gave me a hug…. she clung to me and wept… a hug that only 2 moms can share…. one that needs no words…. just pure grief and pure love….  It was then that I finally cried… with her.   Once we were calm and had made arrangements with the family and explained how sorry we were that we were too late to help the way we wanted, we invited the rest of the Canada group in to pay their respects.   One by one we all shared hugs… and encouragement…  then the mom spoke…  she said that she understands why … and that she knows we were too late to help her daughter but that she knows that God sent angels… angels to help others live… and she would always pray for us to continue… and that seeing all of us and the work we do, makes her know that Jesus is alive and living through all of us.  I could not translate what she was saying until later because the tears were flowing for me yet again.   It was a truly hard but touching few days….

I just returned from paying the funeral home a few minutes ago… Geoff & I drove to Asuncion Mita to do this wretched task… Once it was done and we were on the way home we made a pit stop at the tienda (store)  to buy some supplies for the house… a friend here Ileana owns it, and when she saw me, she ran into the back and got something… she brought it out to me… it was a small, carved wooden cross on a string. The cross had an inscription of her brother “Fray Madeo”… Brother Matthew… He was a priest and a missionary here in Guatemala.   He died 1 year ago and she wanted me to have one of the crosses as a remembrance of him and of her.   Here the dead are remembered, respected and honoured.  It is an honour for me to wear this carved cross bearing his name… It was a symbol of respect and friendship between me & Ileana…. Perfect timing for me…. The timing actually brought tears to my eyes.  It made me more aware than ever that we are indeed building relationships and a life here.  The death of the young lady from the village bothered me, not only because it seemed like a waste of a young life,  and that we were too late to help, but it also bothered me because I am becoming protective of my “family” & friends here…. and I grieve with them… and I celebrate with them… and I love them…..


Just imagine…..

I guess I should begin with an apology …. as usual.  I always feel so bad when I don’t make the time to update everyone.  It’s an integral part of my job here but sometimes its just so difficult.  Some of you have been here… so some of you know how it goes.  Either we are working so hard from light until dark that I just don’t have time… or in the case of these past 2 weeks we are setting up the next round of projects, have some down time and simply don’t get to it because relaxation is so much needed.  I left off quite a few weeks ago… and so much has happened… but it’s always that way here.  Many people have come and gone.  Time is different here and as I sit here writing and think back… wow… lots of people have come and gone through our humble door here in Guate.   Dave and Justin left after just under 2 months…. Mike and Jess have been and gone…. Vanessa, John, Kyle & Jared too….  Dave was doing our weekly update videos and Mike was kind enough to train Zack on how to edit so they will thankfully continue.  Jess cut all the nuns and novitiates hair and did the hair and makeup for Fernando & Elisa’s Church wedding.  Vanessa painted signs and murals… The Attema family was here and it was such blessing to have them here to share in this journey with us!   We got to share in something special with them too…. a visit with their Compassion Sponsor Child, Santos.  Words cannot describe how absolutely awesome that was!

Fernando & Elisa’s Church wedding has come and gone.  What a fantastic time that was.  Guatemalan’s sure know how to celebrate!!!  John & Kyle joined us for 10 days.  Great guys who worked hard and had tons of fun with us here.  Jared came on the best week yet… our relax week!  We did manage to get a few days of work in and then it was time to head to the beach for some much needed R & R.   We slept, read, played, ate and merely existed for 3 glorious days.  One of the best moments was having the sheer pleasure of releasing some baby sea turtles back into the Pacific Ocean.  There is a Sea Turtle Sanctuary in Monterico and we had a blast letting the tiny babies go home into the sea.

It was a bit weird to relax… things here have been so go, go, go for the past 3 months…. So much has been accomplished like:


  • a new kitchen
  • renovations to the existing kitchen
  • an addition with 3 bathrooms, 3 showers and a laundry facility
  • a new dorm with bedrooms that can accommodate 1,2 3 or 4 Hermana’s
  • a new roof over the main building and repairs to other sections of damaged roof
  • 2 new pantry cupboards for food storage
  • 2 new gardens stocked with nutritious veggies
  • a chicken coop to raise chickens for meat
  • new signage and murals
  • a dental clinic that saw 186 patients and cleaned, filled or extracted hundreds of teeth
  • various shelving units, cupboards & furniture repairs
  • english & spanish classes
  • a new classroom and library for the pre-university novitiates
  • knitting, sewing and crochet classes, including a new sewing machine, and materials
  • a refurbished underground cistern so they can have fresh water when the municipality turns off the water every day from 6am to between 4-6pm
  • shoes, shoes and more shoes for the Hermana’s and the kids in the hospital
  • new wiring throughout the hospital to prevent fire and provide light where there was none.  This includes replacing roof panels with transparent panels to provide natural light & reduce the electric bill.
  • The graduation of 2 Novitiates from Nursing school!!  There are 2 more in University studying to be doctors and several others up and coming heading to nursing school!  Also funding Hermana Mercedes and Hermana Elba for PHd’s.


  • 2 homes built for families in need (1 is still in process of building)
  • repairs to existing homes
  • water delivery
  • clothing delivery
  • food delivery
  • hygienic product delivery such as toothpaste & toothbrushes (Thanks Dental Team from Canada!), soap, shampoo and feminine products.

Lots done… much yet to do!  But it has been a great beginning!

Now, I have something very important that I need to talk with you about…. we have realized that what we need to do here is so much more than just deliver hand outs.  We need to provide ways in which the Hospital and the community can become self sufficient.  There are many people here that need help and many different ways to help them.  One of the best ways we have seen here to help people is to provide them education and jobs.  We have spent a lot of time thinking and praying for answers… solutions…. ideas… anything….

Our prayers have been answered.  We met a man and his family within our first weeks here.  His name is Vidal and we are now good friends.  Vidal’s brother has land for sale.  Not just any land, but land in the lushest most fertile area of Guatemala.  Land that Delmonte, Tim Hortons and other companies own to grow their crops.  Vidal and his brother know Hermana Mercedes very well and they know of us and our mission.  They want to help so they have offered us some land to begin a farm at a very reduced price.  This is such a fantastic deal that we simply cannot pass up.  We would be able to build a permanent home base on the corner of this property and then farm the rest.  The home would house us, our volunteers & also have quarters for families visiting their children in the hospital to stay… a pseudo “Ronald McDonald House” of sorts.  The farm portion would provide jobs for Guatemalan’s…. provide food for the poor… food for the hospital… money for the hospital through the sale of the crops and this would allow the hospital to not only make the budget each month but to perhaps have extra money for them to run at full potential (right now they are operating at roughly 25% due to money constraints) so more kids can be helped!  What an incredible opportunity that has been put before us… but once again we are frustrated… frustrated by the constraints of money.  We simply cannot do this alone… we need help… and that is where you come in!!!  The best way that you can help is to partner with us in this.  We are offering you an opportunity to provide money, food, shelter and sustainability for the people of Guatemala for $1000.00.   For that amount you get your name (literally on a plaque) on a parcel of land that is 50ft x 50 ft.  Stay with me here… close your eyes and … just imagine….

Just imagine that while you sit in your comfortable home in Canada you are helping to provide a much needed job for someone…. just imagine they are tending to the land that has your name on it… planting, watering, weeding, and eventually harvesting food… just imagine that the food from the land will either be used to feed the Hermana’s and the malnourished kids at the Hospital and aid in their rehabilitation… or it will be used to feed a hungry family up in the mountains…. or it will be used by the Hermana’s to take to market and sell and the money used to run the hospital, buy medicines, lab tests, operations for the kids etc etc…. The possibilites are endless…. Just imagine….

I use the analogy of “just imagine” because that is the tag line of the lottery in Canada….  For us, and the people here who count on us Canadians (and that includes you) the offer of this land is like winning the lottery.  A lottery that literally has the potential to keep people alive…. and that to us is worth so much more than imagining driving a fancy car, buying a fancy house or other things like that.

If you are interested in helping in this way please visit our page at and click on the “Donate” button or send a cheque made out to “Commission to Every Nation Canada” and enclose a note saying for “The Doppenberg’s in Guatemala”.  Do not write this on the memo line… leave that blank and enclose a separate note.   Then drop me an email at and tell me that you sent the donation in for our “farm”.   Together we can help these people help themselves and build a bright future… Just imagine…..

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