Monthly Archives: April 2012

“When you give love, you get love back….”

Here I sit on an early Sunday morning… I have just said goodbye to Mateo (Matt) who was by our side, serving for the last 4 months.  Somehow, hugging him goodbye made leaving here more real for me.  I have been dreading leaving but somehow I am coming to terms with it.  These past few days have helped.

Several times over the past few days I have found myself sitting somewhere with friends… receiving… People say, “It is better to give than to receive”.  And that is a true statement.  One I have really learned over the past months.  We have given… we have given of our money, of our time, of our blood, of our sweat, of our lives, of our hearts.  We have given gifts, hope, life, love and so much more.  But, when you give a strange thing happens… You receive.   And what you receive is precious and unexplainable.  You get filled up so to speak.  When you pour out, you must fill up and that is what has happened to us these past days…

On Friday we visited Ileana, Hector and their family.  When we arrived they sat us immediately in their outdoor courtyard.  Their son Samuel (16) appeared with a guitar and as a family they began to sing… songs of love, songs of friendship, songs of God.  It was their gift to us…. it was so beautiful.  There is no shame here in not being able to sing well or anything.  You just put your heart into it and let go.  As I sat listening, I thought of what it would take for my own family to do the same?  Could you just break out a guitar and sing for people as a parting gift to them?  The answer for our family is, no, we would buy them something.  Some random trinket…. something that will be long forgotten after time…. This is so much more… something never to be forgotten and is etched in my heart forever.

Last night was our ‘not goodbye’ party with the Hermana’s at the hospital.  We arrived a bit early so Hermana Mercedes quickly ushered us into the dining room where we were not allowed to move so we didn’t spoil the surprises they had for us.  When it was time we were ushered into the formal classroom that had been transformed into a “Grand Fiesta” (Big Party) room complete with a homemade Canadian Flag poster on the wall attached to a homemade Guatemalan Flag poster in a sign of true solidarity!  How wonderful!

The night began, we were all asked to stand, they all put their hands over their hearts and began with a heartfelt Guatemalan Nation Anthem.  It is a long one… but it brought tears to my eyes to hear it and watch them sing it with such heart and pride for their country.  The night progressed with a beautiful hand made booklet of songs and prayers that we could follow along in for the evening.  What a great keepsake!  Groups of Hermana’s and Novitiates came out in turn singing different songs, doing traditional Guatemalan dances etc.   So much fun.  Then dinner arrived, PIZZA!   This is a huge deal here.  No one orders food in the hospital.  NO ONE.  There is not money for that…. but this was a very special occasion and was treated as such.  There were even 2 large Chocolate cakes from Florencia bakery in Jalapa over an hour away.  Hermana Mercedes remembered us mention that it was Zack’s favourite cake.  How special.  During dinner some disappeared to get ready for the Grand Sopresa (big surprise).  As we sat and waited we were all curious as to what was in store.

When they came out, they were dressed in these beautiful handmade, traditional white skirts and blouses.  They explained that they made them in secret with the sewing machine that my in-laws, Leny & Bill had bought for them.  They went on to explain that every time we walked in they had to hide them so the surprise wouldn’t be ruined… and that was a difficult task because we are always freely coming and going there.  How difficult that must have been!  But oh so worth it… they were so stunning!!!

We were asked to stand and it began.  Their hands went over their hearts in a show of respect and out of their mouths came…. “O Canada, our home and native land…..”….  Immediately tears came to my eyes.  I need to explain here…. english is hard.  Learning english is so incredibly difficult.  I have been teaching english sporatically to these ladies for months and quite honestly they have learned very little.  (A side note here, I have enrolled with Zack in a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate course and we will be offering classes full time next year here due to the huge demand.  So many have asked so we will do).   Anyway, as I was saying, pronounciation of english is so difficult.  As I stood there, crying and trying to sing our anthem along with them, all I could think of was how long it must have taken these ladies, with their crazy busy schedules to learn our song…. By the end, most of them were standing with tears rolling down their faces…. but they had been faithful and completed the whole song.  And it was time for them to move… they had their long skirts clutched to the side, folded across the front and with the last note of our anthem they dropped their hands, letting their skirts fall…. and there it was…. spelled out in huge letters across the front of them…. one simple word with a Canadian flag (homemade) in the middle…. “Gracias”  (Thank you).   That finished me and the tears flowed freely now.  For them too.  Hermana Mercedes began to speak…. they had all been narrating the evening with talk of our family (and Mateo)… and how we are an example to them etc etc.  Hermana didn’t get far before the tears stopped her.  Mostly all she got out was basically, “Thank you to your family, for your example… for your love… and to the people of Canada who bring love and hope… without you we could do nothing for the children…. “

Crazy night… all we really said in response was thank you.  Even Geoff couldn’t get too in depth before his voice cracked.  I managed through tears to say that they are our family, and we will always be beside them…. doing everything we can to help them…. and that we love them… and that the people of Canada will never abandon them…. we will see to it.  We are family… all of us… always….

After it was time to lighten the mood again…. so they all did a beautiful dance and song just for me in honour of El Dia de la Madre (mothers day) that we will not be here for.  Some of the novitiates call me “Mother Rita” so it was fitting.  Yup, you guessed it, I cried again hahaha.  During this they brought out an extra dress… for me and I was outfitted then pulled up on the floor to sing and dance with them.  Definitely out of my comfort zone but I let go and had the time of my life.  After a few wardrobe malfunctions where my skirt fell to the floor, lots of mis-steps in the dance, lots of singing and laughter, it was over.  We left and they followed us to the gate as usual…. Screaming and waving our entire walk home from afar.  If you have been here, you have experienced that goodbye and it is so fun and full of joy and laughter.

It is so much better to give than to receive, but in giving you receive…. My dear friend Linda wrote on one of my pictures on facebook, “When you give love, you get love back”.  So true.  And I have gotten the best gift here… love…. There are many people here that I love and that love me and my family… and will forever…. I know they will pray for us… and love us all, no matter how far apart in the world we are…. that my friends is the best gift I could ever receive… they bring ME hope… and I know in my heart that our family will never stop trying to bring them hope… and help.   So be prepared…. the Doppenberg’s are coming back to Canada… all filled up… and ready to fight for what we believe in…. Dios Quiere (God Willing) …..  Are you ready?


The Hermana's singing a song about friendship

The Novitiates dressed as children, singing a beautiful song about reaching out to the poor children that have no voice

Intermission... PIZZA!!!

A heartfelt "Thank you" from the Hermana's to the Canadians

Me and my precious ladies... I love you all....

My family....

A heartfelt "Thank you" to all who help support this ministry through prayer, donations & love... "Gracias" from all of us!


Yesterday was a tough one.  We booked our flights home.  We have been here for just over 4 months now…. The day we leave will mark 5 months exactly that we have been in this amazing country of Guatemala.  Every single one of us sat in a state of mini-depression as we watched me press that little button on the computer screen that says “Book Now”.   After all was said and done, the 5 of us sat in complete silence with glazed eyes.  It’s real now.  It’s over…..

When we told the Hermana’s at the hospital they all refused to listen.  “May does not exist in our world” they all laughed.  No May.  May is “malo” (bad).  They don’t want us to leave any more than we want to.  It’s actually devastating to all of us.  As we tell our new friends here, they all just shake their heads in sadness.  I feel their pain.  It is truly bittersweet.  We miss our friends and family back home, but we will miss our friends and family here too.  It’s certainly tough living in 2 very distinctly different worlds.  Somehow I thought it would be easier…

We have accomplished so much this year with the help of so many people…. We have hosted 51 people here. Incredible!  When I think back it’s hard for me to even remember what we did and who was here.  It all seems so distant….  But I have to say Thank you…. “Primero Dios” … God first.  I have to thank God… for putting this on our hearts and then making it possible… His way.  His way was was so much better than ours.  He “had our back’s” so to speak.  You know that old saying: “if He brings you to it, He will pull you through it”… that was so true in every aspect of our journey here in Guatemala.  Without Him, I think this would have been a bit of a disaster haha.  We have been along for the ride, watching our Ministry change so drastically.  What we thought we would be doing was not what we did.  It has evolved…. We laugh all the time at the sense of humour God has.  Geoff does not do well with crowds & I do not do well with little children.  Here we are in a ministry full of people and children.  We have watched our Ministry evolve into primarily medical.  As I said before, it’s great to build homes, but what good is it to have a home if there are no healthy people to live in it?  But I digress…. Also I have to say, Thank you so much to:

Matt (with us through thick and thin for 4 months… as much a part of our family as a volunteer… we love you Mateo!), Dave, Justin, Tim, Rachel, JD, Jazmin, Jesse, Vanessa, Laszlo, Sophia, Katharine, Rita, Debbie, Ursula, Bill & Leny, Natalee, Mike & Jess, Andrew, Sophia, Alana, Chanel, Madison, Jon, Kyle, Jared, Trish, Aileen, Gerry, Ang, Jessica, Rachel, Natasha, Kate, Erwin, Linda & Rachel (Rachel’s 2nd visit), Jaclyn, Lindy, Sandra, Justin, Kathy, Jazmin (Jaz’s 2nd visit), Kayden, Kenzie, Frank, Lori,  Ben & of course Stephen & Tammie from CTEN.   We love you all and thank you so much for all you did and continue to do.

A huge thank you to the Hermana’s & Noviciates of the Obras Sociales Padre Pedro.  You women are an inspiration.  You gave up everything to serve with everything.  We love you all so very much. Thank you to our family & friends here… we love each and every one of you.  I have to also say thank you to everyone who donated.  Without you and the people who came, none of what we did would have been possible.  Absolutely nothing.  Our family is not rich in the North American sense of the word.  We were able to pay only for our personal expenses to come here.  We could not afford to pay for what was done.  And so much was done this year.  Much more than I had ever imagined….

  • A new classroom
  • A new computer for the student Noviciates
  • A new kitchen at the hospital, including new appliances
  • A new bathroom area with 4 showers (previously all the Hermana’s shared one bathroom & one shower)
  • 2 new food pantries
  • 2 refurbished food and misc. storage rooms
  • a refurbished kitchen for the Hospitalito
  • A new dorm area for the Noviciates, featuring 12 new bedrooms
  • New internet availability
  • New crops were planted for food in several new gardens
  • A new sewing machine, material & supplies for knitting & Crocheting
  • New wiring throughout the entire hospital to replace the old and dangerous fire hazard wiring
  • A Hermana earned her Nursing degree
  • Several other Hermana’s are studying for various things such as Phd’s & Nursing degrees.  All others are able to now attend school.
  • The children in the hospital received lab tests, food, vitamins, toys, and love from Canadian supporters.
  • A few of the children now have monthly sponsors ready to help support them throughout their lives (there are still many without monthly sponsors so please consider this)
  • 186 people both from the mountains & hospital received dental care through the kindness of our dental team led by Dr. Laszlo Szoke from Hamilton.
  • Marquito received the first of several major surgeries to fix his severe cleft palate.
  • More children were able to be taken in by the hospital for much needed care.  (there is still room for dozens more, but more money is still needed)
  • A new chicken coop was built at the hospital to provide meat
  • A new Hen house was built at the hospital to provide eggs daily
  • A new pig-pen was built and pigs were bought to provide meat.
  • Marco & Doris received a new home.  Built by our teams to provide a safe and good environment for Marquito to return to when he is healthy.  Our teams also provided, water lines, a sink, beds, a corn grinder & a tortilla stone to help this family become self sufficient for Marquito’s return someday.
  • The Ruano family received a new home for them & their 10 children.  It replaced an existing home made of corn-stalk & garbage.  This new home gives them a safe & dry place, free of bugs to raise their lovely children
  • Dozens of people from the mountains were seen by Dr. Milton.  People who otherwise had no way to receive medical care.  Medications are continued to be paid for.  (more are needed so consider this as a way to help)
  • We paid for a funeral… for a young girl and her unborn baby that we were unable to help…. (this one hurt…. a lot)
  • Various families received water, food and provisions (clothing, blankets, tarps etc).  These are people that we simply don’t have the money to help right now.  This is with a promise that we will try our best to help them further in the coming years.
  • Hermana’s received lessons in English, Cooking, Nutrition, Sewing, Knitting & Crocheting to help them make their own things & not have to send them out to be made.
  • Visits to villages to assess children and their needs.  Several were taken immediately to the hospital for care.

Whew!  While there is so much more that was done, little things…. this list above about covers the major stuff that was accomplished in 4 months.  Incredible.  I am humbled so much when I read that list…. Without God, none would have happened.  Without prayers none of this would have happened.  Without donors, none would have happened.  Without volunteers, none would have happened.   So many small pieces to a puzzle had to fit perfectly in order for this picture to be complete.  God is good.  So Good!

We are gearing up already for the next time.  While I do not know yet when that is.  There is talk among my family about returning in October or November.  Every one of us wants to come back… every one of us wants to come back soon.  Every one of us wants to come back for longer.  I am reminded of a blog I wrote a couple years back on here… A blog where I spoke about Guatemala leaving scars on your heart.  Beautiful scars that I cherish.  Now that I have lived here, really LIVED here I still agree with this statement.  But it is so much more than that for me now.  It has not only put scars on my heart…. it has enveloped my heart…. become a huge piece of it.  Every aspect of life here, from the friends, to the villagers, to the Hermana’s, to the kids in the Hospitalito. Every single thing.

I am not home yet and I already know the Canadian life will be foreign to me.  There won’t be cows to stop for on the highway… there won’t be chickens rambling around a restaurant I am eating in…. there won’t be Hermana’s to sing me random songs in the evening over coffee…. there won’t be the family talks every single evening around the table out back on our porch.  My family will scatter.  My boys will be off doing their own thing or consumed by tv which we haven’t seen in months.  I am scared to return to Canada… scared to lose what I have here.  I think that is what bothers me most about returning to Canada.  My family will lose the closeness that we have here.  We have been together, every waking moment for months…. with none of the distractions that North American life brings.  If I have learned one thing here it’s that the people here have it right.  They spend time together… all the time… and it’s resulted in a closeness that we don’t have in Canada.  Family is everything… not money.

However, money is necessary.  And here is where I send my plea.  Once again…. Rest assured that we are coming back here.  Rest assured that we will be doing more.  Rest assured that we will be coming at you hard and strong for money.  There is so much more to be done.  It doesn’t stop at kitchens & bathrooms.  Basically its a matter of saving lives.  I don’t want to have to pay for any more funerals.   We have had a taste of what we can all do together to help people and that has made us more resilient.  So if you haven’t already donated… or considered coming and seeing for yourself, now is the time.  Even if you have donated, I am asking that you consider giving more.  “Give until it hurts, then give some more”.   Great quote!  People here are hurting…. and for the cost of what we spend on cell phones or coffee each month you could help so many here.  So much has been done… yet so much left to do.

I take back what I said at the beginning of this post.  It is not over. It is just the beginning!  Children need sponsors…. What the hospital does is great, but what happens to the children when they return home?  Their families have not changed.  There is still no money to feed them.  So one of 2 things happen, the children either return to the hospital after a short time, once again malnourished, or they die.  Harsh but true.  Over and over again I have watched children come, be rehabilitated, and return in worse shape several months later… We need to help the families through money, jobs and education to provide the basic necessities for these precious children.  We need money to buy the available land for a farm.  This would provide jobs, food, and education opportunities for the people here.  The Hospital needs their budget to not only be covered but to be increased so more lives can be saved.  The Hermana’s need their schooling paid for so there can be more doctors & nurses available to help.  New malnutrition centers need to be opened across Central America so no more children will die needlessly.  The villages need clean water, food and shelter.  I just returned from yet another visit to the doctor with MRI results we had done earlier in the week in the Capital.  The diagnosis I saw a few minutes ago, with my own eyes.  The results glaring at me from a cold white backed screen holding the MRI pictures.  This precious 9 year old girl named Leydi  has parasites in her brain.  How does that happen?  From vegetables contaminated by the dirty water they use.  The dirty water they have no choice but to use.  Tragic… This should NOT happen!  The people need regular visits to the doctor, especially the children.  If we can head off things like parasites, juvenile diabetes, kidney problems etc early enough, then we won’t need to pay for funerals.   In Canada we enjoy the luxury of clean water & doctors at our disposal.  Here it is a thing only for the rich.  That is not right.  Every single person on this planet deserves the right to be healthy.  To have a chance.

Geoff, myself, Zachary, Lucas & Gabriel have all worked very hard both in Canada and in Guatemala to see our vision come to life.  We have learned Spanish, given up our comforts of home and put in the blood, sweat and tears here in the thick of it all to be the hands and feet of Jesus on the ground in our broken world.  Visit our website at and click “one time gifts”, or better yet, click “Recurring gifts”, fill out the monthly form & mail it away.  Give yourself the gift of knowing that money will be deducted from your bank every month toward helping these wonderful Hermana’s, strong & powerful women, who gave up everything to serve God and the poor.  Give yourself the gift of knowing deep in your heart that you are helping fellow human beings live…. because everyone has the right to life…. Please, Help us… help them.  Now is the time….

That’s what friends are for….

The chaos has come to an end…. all of the Canadian volunteers have come and gone…. that part of our journey is done…. for this year.  I am both sad and elated at this fact.  While I miss the hustle, bustle and noise of a full house I am relieved that it is over in a way.  I feel that our hosting teams was successful.  I believe in my heart that everyone that came here had a good time and their hearts were touched by this place and its people.  I know that people at home write me now… saying things have changed for them just by being here.  It seems they have changed in the same way I was a few years back after I visited here for the first time.  God has touched them through what they saw and experienced here in Guatemala…. in a way that only seeing with your own eyes and touching with your own hands can.  Now I can sit here and breathe…. I have time now to see and feel again… in a way that is harder for me now.  It’s not that I am hardened to what I experience here…. but there is something that happens to you when you are responsible for dozens of people from home.  I became a leader…. and a strong one if I do say so myself.  I kept it together through the annoying…. through the hard…  through the happy…. through the sad….through the fantastic….through the miracles, and I did it for the sake of my friends from home.  I loved every single minute of it too!  Showing people that I care about something that I believe in so strongly truly was an amazing experience for me.  There is something to be said about friendship…

Frank & Lori visited us this past week…. and what a week it was!  It began on their first full day here, a Monday, when we went to dig a trench around a home in the village.  The family would have preferred a new home but unfortunately due to financial constraints all we could offer this family, whose home floods completely during the rainy season was a drainage pipe underground to help disperse the water.  The family was happy for this as it will help immensely with the torrent of water that comes down the mountain straight into their home.  They dug the trench themselves so all we had to do was put in the pipe and carry the gravel to the ditch for the base & then the covering.  It was hard work but with Frank & Lori’s help we were done in a morning.  During our break people came to us… they heard that we had been taking people to the doctor and they wanted help.  This happens all the time…. whenever we are working in a village, word spreads like wild fire and people begin arriving one after the other asking for help.  It’s so overwhelming at times to see this much need.

After digging the trench we were off to the Ruano home that the Thielmann’s built and just simply pulling up to the gate there we knew we were in for quite the afternoon…. Dozens of people were there waiting for us to see if they could see our doctor… all with a very specific need…. all worthy… all legitimate… all next to impossible for us with our limited financial resources…. This is the hardest part of this….  So we sat… we listened… we took notes… and it came down to the fact that we could only pick 5.  Five out of dozens… all with legitimate needs for the doctor…  I cried…. How do we choose?  I am not God.  I am not worthy to choose…  I looked at Lori and her eyes were as full of tears as mine.

The woman who had asked for help for her daughter .. and we ended up paying for a funeral instead was there.  She came right up to me… she told me that she just walked here to thank us… for the kindness we showed her family by helping with funeral costs.  She said she knew that she had said it before…. but she wanted us to know that the hospital did an autopsy on her daughter and found she was pregnant… and that we had 2 special angels looking down on us…. and that …. well that’s about all I heard to be honest.  I cried like a baby…. this woman wiped the tears from my face and held me tight… and assured me, with tears in her own eyes, that I have a friend here in Guatemala that will always love and pray for me.

Friend is defined by Oxford as: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection

A bond of mutual affection…. true, but a friend is so much more to me… a friend is a person who ‘gets you’ .. the real you… the good, the bad, the ugly…. and that is what I have had here…. That Monday was a day I could not have done without Lori… my friend… beside me… ‘getting me’.  Even though the day got so hard that at a point we simply could not look at one another without crying… that’s how much she ‘gets me’.   People ask me all the time, how I can deal with having a house full of people here constantly…. My answer is simply, I couldn’t do this without them.  I need to be surrounded by ‘friends’… people who get me… people who support me… people who know me and love me anyway…. Even people who aren’t here in body…. but send encouraging messages or comments through email, facebook or by phone.  Your messages surround me like a warm hug…. even when I can’t reply right away, I read every one… I read them over and over… when times get tough they bring me encouragement to carry on…. When things are fantastic they make me feel like I have people to celebrate with beside me, even when I am alone….

That Monday night with Frank & Lori was a quiet one.  Some of us broke down at the dinner table during high’s and low’s…. After,  I sat up on our roof with Zack.  He was pretty much destroyed by the day’s events.  There were a lot of “why’s” floating around in his head.  Gabe followed… as did Luke.  Geoff went for a walk to be alone with his thoughts and sort things out.  I sat on the roof with my boys for hours and talked… sorted… shared… they get me and I get them.  Things flew out of us in a torrent.  All we had held in for months came out… We got angry… we were sad…. we celebrated our victories and mourned our losses… When Geoff returned, we sat again and our family shared a moment that night that defined us as not only family… but friends….That is rare in many families…. I am so thankful for the privilege of being here… getting to do what I do… share it with my friends from home…. and my family.

After Frank & Lori left…. Ben arrived.  He is a young man who is living in Columbia right now teaching English… he is a friend from home.  He wanted to spend the Easter holiday with some friends from home… I get that… and we are loving having him.  He isn’t here to work… he is here as a friend to spend time together.  People need people… I get that….I am one of them!

As a treat we booked a bus this week…. and loaded the Hermana’s and our friends from here into it and went on a road trip to Esquipulas.  Esquipulas is home to the Black Christ… a statue from hundreds of years ago that is said to have healing powers.  Most of the people had never been to Esquipulas before… and those that had, like Hermana Mercedes hadn’t been in 30 years.  People come from all over the world to visit this sacred Basilica and yet those that live only hours from it simply cannot afford the money to go.  We did this as a thank you… a thank you to our friends here.  The Hermana’s & Novitiates for all they do, not only for the kids and the poor but for us… supporting, loving, helping… befriending….  Ileana, Hector and their family for opening their home and theirs hearts to us…. being our friends and loving us for who we are…. Sr Chico, Sr Vilma & Fernando for always being friends & family and helping us however we need… and loving us…  The support staff at the Hospital like David, Dominga & their family for always being there with a kind, knowing smile…. Hector & his family….Albero & his family…. Elias and his family…. Caesar and his family….  Mynor & his family… the list goes on and on.  So many people… so many friends… There was a part of me that upon coming here I wondered how I could ever stay for 5 months…. now I wonder how I am ever going to leave….

As I said, I could not do what I do here without my friends from home…. but I have learned something… I can not do what I do here without my friends from here either.  I have formed relationships here… priceless ones.  Other organizations distance themselves from the locals a bit.  I am not sure why… I simply know that we chose a different path… we chose to immerse ourselves completely in the culture… in the neighbourhoods… we jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best.  We chose to not insulate ourselves…. so we feel… and we feel so much that it leaves us raw and broken at times… but we never feel alone… and that is what is important.  We got the best… the best of both worlds… we have friends in Canada… we have friends in Guatemala… real friends… true friends…. friends that will be there for us through thick & thin…. I have to admit it feels good…. all warm & fuzzy to be very cliche.  I could do this no other way…. Thank you to my friends… far and near….  You give me strength… you give me hope… you give me encouragement… give me love…. and that’s what friends are for….

Me & Lori

The crowd waits to see who gets medical care today....

The woman on the left is the girl who died's mom.. my new friend

Listening to each person tell their story of why they need medical care....

The trip to Esquipulas with a busload of friends!

Ileana's family & mine together at Esquipulas Basilica

Me & Ileana & the ridiculous traditional Esquipulas hat she bought me as a souvenir

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