Monthly Archives: April 2014

Paying Attention & Paying it forward

We at the DIG have spent the past 5 years here in Guatemala doing lots of projects, building relationships, hosting teams etc. The thing we have done the most though, in truth, has been PAYING ATTENTION! Paying attention to the fact that we do not want to help people with hand outs but rather giving them a hand up. We have also been paying attention to you, our donors and volunteers who are looking for a way to help, to give, that is sustainable and truly helping! The only way to truly help people is to help them help themselves. It is through this philosophy and years of observation and Paying Attention that we have come up with a program that is working! Truly working!!!!  And now its time to present it to you!

THE SPONSORSHIP PROGRAM AND HOW IT WORKS

Offering child and family sponsorships is valuable, of that there is no doubt. But the execution of these sponsorships is not sustainable. Merely showing up at the door of one family with a food basket to help one child or one family in a sea of thousands is not a healthy way to help anyone. Our thoughts have been, What if, through a sponsorship program you could help a family buy nutritious food, education and medicine for themselves? And thus, through many painstaking hours and months, and years we have come up with a viable, sustainable solution that helps many and keeps on offering a hand up for years to come while also providing a family with the opportunity to help themselves.

We payed attention and asked the villagers what they think is the most draining financially on their meager resources….. There is no electricity up in the remote mountains and thus no lights. They rely on candles or kerosene lamps. These candles/kerosene must be purchased in the local town. Also, most families, through government programs of the past, have cell phones. These are needed for work and emergencies. It truly is their only lifeline to the outside world.   Cell phone plans work differently here and a few cents left on a phone will roll over forever and all incoming calls are free so these phones are no cost to them except, the charging to keep the battery powered. With no electricity phones must be charged at local tiendas (stores) for a fee. People in villages are currently spending 3 to 5 quetzales per day on candles and/or kerosene.  This is roughly 40 to 65 cents per day.  They are also paying an average of 4 quetzales each time they need to charge their cell phones in town, which is about 50 cents.  They charge their phones 4 to 10 times per month.  This means that families are spending a minimum of 100 quetzales per month, to as much as 175 quetzales per month!  That is 13 to 23 dollars per month, which is a LOT of money for these poor families that many months do not even earn that kind of money!

The SunKing Pro2 lamp and phone charger costs 550 quetzales, which is about 72 US dollars.  The battery lasts 5 years.  The light is WAY brighter than candles or kerosene.  The light is COMPLETELY safe, with obviously no open flame or toxic fumes.  The light is waterproof.  The light can charge TWO phone batteries and still give lighting as well, on one day’s charge.  The light is extremely durable.  The benefits go on and on.

 

The SunKing Pro 2 Lamp and charger system

The SunKing Pro 2 Lamp and charger system

 

We have now had our “trial lights” in homes for 3 months, and have seen the proven results.

Don Viviano and family enjoying their solar light!

Don Viviano and family enjoying their solar light!

But the largest benefit is the financial savings.  Divided into 5 years, the lamps will cost 9.17 quetzales per month.  This will put any where from 88 to 165 quetzales back into the hands of these poor families!!!  That is amazing, incredible actually!  This translates directly into better health and nutrition for all of them.  That money will buy them more food for their families.  For example, TWENTY POUNDS of beans costs 80 quetzales!   Now here is where we have encountered a difficulty for families.  They all see and understand the savings and benefits.  But they all simply do not have 550 quetzals sitting in their hands.  So, we have worked out, and implemented a payment plan for them, a micro-finance plan of sorts, wherein we purchase the lights up front, and they simply pay for them monthly, interest free.  We already have a few families on this program, and it is going very well.  We have decided to let them decide how much they will pay per month, with a minimum amount set at 25 quetzales.  This will allow them to reap the benefits of the lamps immediately, while also allowing them to have access to the savings immediately, and be able to have some extra money to buy food already in the first month!

 

Elias (age 13) buying a light to help his family!!!  He will work in the fields to pay for his light.  What an amazing heart and spirit this boy has!

Elias (age 13) buying a light to help his family!!! He will work in the fields to pay for his light. What an amazing heart and spirit this boy has!

We currently have 3 villages on the plan, with 45 lamps in one, 48 in another, and 60 in the other.  We bring all of the lamps to the village on the set date, and everyone signs up, gives their initial payment, and receives their lamp.  We then return to their village on that same date each month, and the president meets us with all of the monthly payments and names.  We have a page for each person in an inventory log, with record of payments in each family’s name.  Most of the lamps will be paid for in full in one – two years.

So, why are we doing this in this way?  As with everything we are doing here, we are constantly trying our best to “give a hand up, not a hand out”.  If we continually give, nothing will ever change, as people will always wait for the next “hand out”.  That is it, simply.

How YOU can help?

So this is where you come in….. If you want to “sponsor” a family…. buy them a light. Well, better yet, finance one for them! Your sponsorship lasts until the light is paid for and then it simply rolls into the purchase of another light for another family! Your sponsorship goes on and on. For a mere $75.00 you can provide light, and phone charging for a family freeing up their money spent on candles and charging to buy nutritious food for their families. They pay it back and then your $75.00 rolls back into the program to buy a light up front for another family. This frees up money for them to buy seeds to plant, food to eat etc. Win/Win!

Basically the program works like this: $25.00 per month sponsors 4 families lights per year…. $50.00 per month sponsors 8 families lights per year…. and so on. For the price of a dinner out once a month you have directly changed lives of 4 families in dire need here in Guatemala. There are other options available too…. package deals that include life saving smokeless stoves and water filtration systems. There are countless ways you can provide health and wellness to a family here in Guatemala where there are no social programs to help them. Want to write to your families? To keep in touch with them and get to know them? Want to visit them? We have all this available and you will know exactly who you are helping all the time. You will be able to see first hand the difference you are making!

Please contact us at info@thedoppenbergs.com if you are interested in participating in our micro-finance sponsorship program…. it truly is something that keeps on giving and providing a better future for the Mayan villages of Guatemala.

Thank you!

The DIG and the Mayan people of Guatemala!

In 3 months Don Viviano has been able to buy food and help send his daughter to school with what he has saved on candles and phone charging!

In 3 months Don Viviano has been able to buy food and help send his daughter to school with what he has saved on candles and phone charging!

 

 

 

Processing….

Well….. here we are. Easter Sunday. A very happy Easter to you all from the Doppenbergs. It is a day off here. Well actually it’s closer to a week off. Easter is a BIG deal here in Guatemala, as it should be. People get off work Wednesday at noon and do not go back until Tuesday. It is a time for family… for community to celebrate the gift of the Resurrection. So the Doppenbergs are pretty much forced to stop… to rest… to reflect, as we should at times.

I have done much reflection and processing this week. My friend Joanne blessed us with a visit and seeing that we ended up with so much time off this week due to Easter we sat and talked. ALOT. More than I have ever talked in my life to be honest. I realized that I needed this. I may not have known it at the time… but for the first time ever, I have been forced to process. Most times people leave here and I see their facebook status updates… their emails etc that speak on having to process their visit. What they saw, what they did, what they learned. I guess this is my turn.

For us, as far as visiting volunteers, it is pretty much finished for the season as we draw close to the coming rains. This by no means we are done work… but we are pretty well done hosting the majority of our people for this season. We have hosted well over 100 people (close to 140 people) since making our permanent move here this past October. We have not been alone as a family since one week of arrival October 7th. This week is our first full week alone just the 5 of us. It is day one and it feels a bit weird to be honest.

For those that are waiting for a highlight reel update of our work here. It is as follows:

Over 300 people in the villages of El Progreso/Jutiapa got dental care who could never afford it.

The Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro pediatric malnutrition rehab centre is running and functioning better than ever.

Clean life saving water was brought to the Villages of Salitrillo and El Terrero.

Children who have sponsors are home and doing well thanks to their sponsors.

More than 10 young people are attending college to further their education and secure a bright future as nurses, teachers and bilingual translators.

Our test plot of chia seed has been harvested and one little bag of seed produced almost 400 pounds of nutritious chia that will be distributed to villages for some to be planted and the rest to be eaten to provide healthy nutrition.

We have begun construction on our first school, thanks to our partner Miracles in Action, in the village of El Silencio.

Our feeding programs are doing well and providing food to families that find themselves in dire need at present.

Women and children have been taught to crochet to sell items to help earn income for themselves and their families.

There is more… but this is after all a highlight reel. The biggest highlight?

The Village Empowerment project in Salitrillo is still in full swing. This is our 5 year model village program that we will be monitoring and documenting data to be presented to other non-profits, governments, donors, foreign aid organizations etc to show how just a little goes a long way in helping people help themselves. We (and by WE I mean our family and all donors who through generous hearts help all of these things happen) have seen VAST measurable improvements in the health, nutrition and wellness of the village already. It has been one year since we first set foot in the village. Since our first medical clinic… We have clean, running water to the village….We have installed smokeless stoves in every home…. built some metal structures for those that needed a roof over their heads…. We have provided solar lights for every family that wanted one. Some of these were given as gifts to the village leaders but others were purchased on a micro finance program.

The Solar Light Program… As mentioned above this program has evolved over the past year as we saw need arise. The dilemma: there is no electricity available in the high mountain villages so they purchase candles for 1.25 quetzals (approx. 18 cents USD per) and they burn between 3-4 per night. That may not seem like a high cost to each family but when your wage is approx. 25 quetzals (approx. $3.50 USD per) per day (when you can find work) that is a HUGE cost burden. They also travel down the mountain via a treacherous walk every few days to charge their cell phones (provided by the government years ago) that they need for medical emergencies and work calls). Local tiendas (stores) offer a phone charge for approx. 4 quetzals per charge (approx. 50 cents USD). The solar light costs approx. 550 quetzals ($70.00 USD) and not only provides light but charges their cell phones as well. In light of the hand up not hand out philosophy that we have adopted we have offered them the opportunity to buy these solar lights on a micro-finance program. They can pay 25 quetzals (or more if they wish) per month for the light/charger and be done with the payments in 1,2 or 3 years whichever they choose. The lights battery last 5+ years and this program saves them money. They make small payments and never have to buy candles or pay to charge their phones ever again. This frees them up to buy much needed nutritious food to feed their families. Win/WIN. This program is flourishing and word is out to other villages and people are coming from all over the mountains to sign up for this. They do not get a hand out but it is one of our BEST hand up’s.

Every facet of the lives in Salitrillo has been changed for the better through loving hearts of donors who believe in what we are doing. People are healthier… children are learning better…. water is better… nutrition is better… BUT, there is still so much more to be done. When we take people to the village now, people from Canada and the USA it is no longer a sad visit. It is a visit full of joy and hope. It is one village… our first one…. our test site. As I said, Still so much more to be done here and that is for the rainy season. The Agriculture program has begun. Fruit trees will be planted… more nutritious crops like Chia & Chaya will be planted… Reforestation trees will be planted…. etc etc. Our 5 year plan might just be done in 3 instead. It is going THAT well. Thanks be to God.

Its a funny catch 22 circle though… the more this village thrives the less poor they look. Visitors are not seeing the ‘tug at your heart’ moments anymore here. Thus donations go down. Funny how things work in that respect. Nothing I hate more than fundraising… and all it brings. One visitor asked once, “Where are the REALLY poor people?” A fair question… and one that stuck with me. Thus my need to process…..

How do we make people see what we (all of us together) are doing is making a real difference…. saving REAL lives? People who have almost no access to social programs because there aren’t any. This is just one village. There are literally thousands in our area. We are just one family…. just one small organization. Money constrains our efforts. This makes me sad.

With all the victories I have described above there are failures as well…. Our Chaya crop, much of it, failed…. Children continue to be malnourished… to die. Other villages beg us to help them as we are helping Salitrillo. They are willing to do the work…. but we have no more means to help them as we are limited financially.

People ask all the time… how do you do what you do? How do you process the enormity of it all. My answer… I don’t know. I came very close to burning out this season at times if I am honest and its only year one full time. That scares me. Out of sight, out of mind plays heavily on my mind and heart as we see the less time we spend in Canada and the USA touting our cause the less we hear and receive. How do we deal with that reality? I don’t have the answer and that is something I will be spending much more time processing.

All I know is that for our family, this is the life we have chosen. It is our passion and thus our calling so to speak. We hold it dear to our hearts and we will continue. We believe in what we do so much so that we will shout it from the rooftops to anyone who cares to listen. We are not finished here, I don’t believe we ever will be. I have hope in my heart that our model will work and people will continue to come on board for the wildest and most fulfilling ride of their lives.

So as we celebrate the gift of our Risen Saviour let me take a moment to also thank you…. all of you…. those that love us, believe in us, come be with us, put up with us, call us out on our stuff, work with us, pray for us, think about us, donate financially to us etc etc. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Without you nothing would be different. And so much is different. So many are here celebrating Easter with their families thanks to you and will continue to do so for many years. We are here because of you. Blessed to be able to follow our hearts and our beliefs. YOU all keep me going as much as the people here do. YOU all mean so much to me and my family. More than you will ever know or realize. So again thank you. We love you all. God Bless!