Author Archives: ritadoppenberg

Lonely….. but with a purpose!

Wow… 2 weeks today my family & I landed back in Canada.  Complete with warnings from so many people that our transition back into the Canadian culture would be difficult.  Well I have to tell you that difficult does not even come close to describing what me and my family have been going through these past weeks.  Incredibly, inconceivably brutal might be a tad bit closer to our reality right now.  Every single thing about Canada feels foreign… even our own home feels a bit unfamiliar.  It seems full of meaningless junk.  Stuff…. tons of stuff that does nothing but weigh me down like I have an anchor tied to my neck.  Stuff I have to clean and dust but serves no purpose.  All seems pointless….. As I sit and think about it…. nothing has changed here… its all still the same… its us who have undergone a total and complete transformation.

I have at times been completely surrounded by people these past weeks.  All with the best of intentions.  I love them dearly.  Make no mistake, I love my people here with all my heart.  And I have loved every minute seeing them and catching up.  But I find myself quiet now.. (and for those that know me, that is very unusual).  I sit and I listen… its like my brain is moving in slow motion and it takes me a while to truly focus.  Its only been 2 weeks and everyone says, don’t worry this will pass.  Its the foreign nature of my surroundings that has me … um… weird I guess description for lack of a better word.  Someone said to me, “perhaps its just too soon to be with people”.  I took that to heart and have tried basically becoming a hermit this past week.  Still feel the same.  I finally pegged it down.  I am lonely.

People in Canada are surrounded by people… they gather, they meet at Starbucks to talk, they communicate electronically through social media like Twitter and facebook, they text, they email etc etc…. but there is something missing.  Community.  True, REAL community.  THAT is what I am missing.  I can’t explain it unless you’ve lived it.  But its real… and no matter how much you think you have community here, you do not.  We segregate ourselves and our lives… We compartmentalize.  We live in our homes…. we might chat with our neighbours, we gather with our friends…. but we do not have community.  I miss community…. North America is a lonely place.  Its not just me…. Geoff feels it… my kids are a mess right now.  Surrounded by friends, school, family etc but they are so missing something that they cannot quite put into words.  They don’t have to… I get it… I know what it is… and we together as a family have found an answer…..

We don’t want it to pass, we don’t want it to go away.  We want it to thrive in us.  We don’t want to be lonely anymore.  Solution?  Simple!  We are going to follow where we feel we are being led.  It doesn’t get any simpler.  We have made a decision to turn our ministry into a full time, forever thing.  Not a year or 2…. nope.  We are going “ALL IN”.  Our house will be sold, our belongings sold…. we are going to keep only the real memorable things that we simply cannot do without.  Basically what can fit into a few meager boxes.  We don’t need any more than that…. we have each other and our community.  Good enough for me.  Our plan right now is to live in Guatemala for 10 months of the year and return here to Canada for the summers.  Simple as that!

Now, in order to go “ALL IN” we are going to need tons of help.  We are still hoping for now to cover all our living expenses ourselves.  I will be teaching english in Guatemala, that is already arranged.  My boys are already all set up to do homeschooling.  Geoff will be working on projects etc.  We will find our way.  Where we need you is where we always need…. financially.  Every few days I get emails from Hermana Veronica… more kids have arrived… more on the way…. the rains are full force… the hospital is filling…. there isn’t enough money to help them all… etc etc…  Oh how I wish I was there right now to help… I feel so utterly and completely helpless.  We simply do not have the means to help by ourselves…. helpless is not a good place to be…. so here I am, taking the reins and making things happen.  I cannot sit idly by anymore without asking people to make the tough choices… to commit.  Words are great and we love and appreciate all   the moral support, but we need so much more than that for the kids…..  We need people like you to search your hearts and your lives and see if there is anything more you can do to help them.

The Hospitalito right now has well over 20 kids and more arriving weekly.  We need to cover the hospital budget.  They cannot function without money… they cannot serve…. they cannot save these kids if they don’t have the money to buy food.  We need people to commit.  To go “ALL IN” right along side us.  We need people to say, enough, I am totally going for it.  A monthly pledge can come right out of your bank account…. you won’t even notice.  But others will notice.  The precious kids will notice when more nutritious food shows up on their plates at meal times saving their lives.  Im not guilting here… nor over-stating.  I am merely stating the facts.  If the money does not come in the kids will not have a shot.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve paid for funerals…. Trust me when I tell you I do not want to ever have to pay for another one.

In the next month or so we hope to have a website up and running.  There will be options there too.  Sponsoring a child that is currently in the hospital.  Sponsoring a Hermana to get an education that can aid her to serve the poor better.  Nursing, teaching, agriculture etc.  Sponsoring a specific project that we can discuss and arrange, like for example an outdoor playground for the kids… etc.  You could be responsible for saving a child’s life in any of these 3 ways for less than the cost of what we spend on things like Starbucks in a month.  Doesn’t sound like too huge a sacrifice to me…..

In the mean time, if you want to get started right now… that is totally what we are looking for.  The form to fill out can be found here…. click on it, … print it out….  fill it out… put “The Doppenberg’s in Guatemala” at the bottom & mail it to CTENC at the address on the form,  and just sit back and enjoy the pictures and updates we will send you regularly so you know exactly where your money is going.  You will totally be a part of something that is beautiful beyond your imagination.  Coming to Guatemala in person is something we always encourage so you can see and experience for yourself.  Talk to someone who has come… we hosted 51 amazing people this year and every single one of them has been touched by the experience in some way.  Consider coming down and seeing for yourself!  The time is now!

There are so many plans in the works… a farm to provide fresh food and jobs… a new Hospitalito in El Salvador…. so many new and exciting things….  But we cannot move forward yet.  We cannot until we have the existing hospital covered.  Renovations are mostly complete on the building.  It is up to snuff so to speak.  This year was about getting it in better working order so that they could function better and save money.  The time has come to get their financial situation in order.  The monthly hospital budget is under $5000.00 for operating costs…. Imagine running a hospital in North America for that much?   We need this budget covered by the people of Canada together with the people of Guatemala so that burden can be lifted from all of us and free us up to proceed forward on the path to El Salvador.  Malnutrition knows no borders and El Salvador is not immune to this epidemic.

The average cost (without meds or medical tests etc) of having a child in the Hospitalito for one month is 1000 quetzals, which is $135.00.  That is nothing!  What would that number be in North America.. I shudder to think?  I am not asking for anyone to pledge that amount of money, although it is totally do-able for most, we do understand that it may seem like a hefty number for one person… What I am asking is that you cover, monthly, a portion of that.  We need to go to Guatemala and know that the Hospitalito is covered monthly.  They have costs like lights, power, food, water, etc just like the rest of us.  What they do not have is payroll.  The Hermana’s and us are doing what we do because, in the words of Hermana Mercedes, “Some people were just born to serve the poor”.  We will do without a paycheck… We will do without the luxuries.  We will do without the commercial Christmas… we will do without whatever it takes to help.  We are willing to do without stability in our lives in order to follow the path that we feel God has put us on.  But we cannot do this alone.  I have said it so many times before, “Will you help us, help them?”.  Many people read this blog… many people watched the weekly videos we posted…. this stuff is not for entertainment.  We do this so you can understand from afar exactly what we are all about.  What it is that we do.  We want to make it personal.  This is NOT our families thing.  This belongs to everyone who wants to be a part of it.  Together we can walk, hand in hand, with God in the lead and make a difference.  It is a choice… and the time has come to choose.  We have now stood up and declared that we feel its not right to have these kids dying of starvation while our fridges and cupboards are full.  There IS enough to go around.  I am asking you now to stand with us and say, NO MORE!


“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


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…..

Home is where the heart is…

Whew…. what a few weeks.  I guess you can tell by the extreme lack of blogs that I have been swamped.  Crazy times… but great times.  Its been 10 weeks and we are still going strong.  There are times of happiness,  times of extreme exhaustion… times of tension…. times of irritation… times of frustration….  but even through it all our spirits remain very high here at “Club Doppenberg” as Tim so affectionately called it.  Sure we all get on each others nerves especially when fatigue is running high but overall its great times… communal living is like that.  I am so behind on blogging that I am trying to figure out a place to begin… there is so much to tell…. I know today I could definitely write a huge blog… maybe I will…. so um, settle in haha.

When I last left you Marquito had just arrived home.  What a whirlwind couple of weeks its been since.  So much has happened… especially in the lives of Marquito and his parents Marco & Doris and their 2 young daughters.  Marquito has pretty much completely recovered from the surgery.  We visit him and the other kids at the ‘hospitalito’ (little hospital as it is know in El Progreso) every day and we like to think that based on the reception we get, the kids look forward to our visits.  It has become clear that Marquito has a very special love for Geoff.  It is quite beautiful to see.  No matter who is holding or playing with him, at the mere mention of the name “Geoff” or the sound of his voice, Marquito stops whatever he is doing and just listens intensely.  Within seconds he begins smiling and bouncing… he knows what is to come.   A while ago, all Geoff could do was hold him and give him rides, but now that the surgery is completed on the exterior of his cleft palate, the world has opened up so much more for him.   He is finally, at the age of 3, (almost 4…he will be 4 on April 8th) he is allowed to learn to walk.  Up until now, he was never allowed because he is also blind and if he had fallen and damaged that tiny bit of nasal bone he had left, the surgeons would not have been able to work the miracle surgery they did.  So walking, or anything that could put him and that nasal bone in jeopardy was strictly off limits.   One of Geoff’s favorite things to do now is to walk the hospital with Marquito… over and over again.  He never seems to ever get tired, Marquito that is… he is like the energizer bunny… he goes and goes.  Geoff is worn out long before Marquito ever wants to stop….  What an amazing young boy… and he captures the hearts of anyone who comes here and meets him.  All the other kids there are so precious too… We were joined last week by little precious Lade (prounounced Lady)… she is a year and a half old and is the size of a preemie… so malnourished she needs the constant use of a light to provide heat because her tiny body cannot regulate temperature…  so sad and yet so hopeful because if little Lade was not in the hospitalito with these amazing Hermana’s she would most certainly be dead.  And that is no understatement.  At least with them, she has love and a fighting chance at life.

This past week we were joined by a dentist from Hamilton, Dr Laszlo Szoke and his team.   Rita a dental hygienist, Debbie, Dr Laszlo’s assistant and Ursula an administrator from St Peters in Hamilton that served as another assistant.   They were joined a couple days after arrival by the Doctor’s wife Sophia and her friend Katherine.  Together they put together a dental team of epic proportions.  Just for clarity though, I want you to imagine a single dentist…. just one…. with a single hygienist… just one… working their way through 186 patients, 170 cleanings, 343 extractions and 295 fillings  in 5 days…. Perhaps that looks a bit more do-able written down than it is do-able in real life, especially if you are not a dentist…. trust me when I say, God was with them… because without God giving them the strength and fortitude to carry on I think they would have dropped on the floor from sheer exhaustion…. But I digress….

One of my jobs this week was to assist the dental team along with Matt and Zack.  So I looked in mouths trying to do a bit of makeshift triage…. I learned dental tools and did my best to muddle through getting what the doctor needed when he needed it (yay CH… haha).  Mostly though I did what comes naturally to me… what God built me to do… I “mothered”… Patients this week ranged from 3- 77 years old…  I held scared children… I held hundreds of hands….  I held wet cloths on the warm foreheads of the elderly… I fed applesauce to those that came in hungry and felt ill after dental work.  I learned a great deal about myself this week…. I learned that if I had it to do over I would become a nurse of sorts.  I never thought I had it in me…. but God used this dental team to not only help the poor Mayans… but to teach me something about me.  I was tired…. bone weary fatigued…. but the entire experience was something I would do over again in a heartbeat.  I have to say….  We became a family with those wonderful people who gave of their time, their money and their energy to come here and serve alongside us… and I will be forever grateful to Laszlo, Sophia, Rita, Debbie, Ursula and Katharine…. You all are in our hearts and in our prayers… and we will see you when we get back to Canada and look forward to lifelong friendships!   And I would like this opportunity to give you all the award for “the best suitcase packing I have ever seen”  Way to Go!! haha.. In all seriousness…. Te Quiero Mucho a Todos!!….  I have to also say on behalf of all of us serving here… thank you very much to Kindness in Action for the loan of the dental equipment for the week… and to Dr Luis…aka Dr Taz…. thank you… you gave of your time to help the Canadian’s when you could.. you did a good thing for your people here.  God bless you all.

During the chaos that was the dental clinic, I got a gift from my husband… a priceless gift… one that I will never forget… one that I will be hard pressed to repay.   I was helping an elderly patient off the dental chair and into a makeshift lawn chair recovery corner we had when Geoff came in and called me outside.   There, waiting for me, was Marco & Doris and their 2 young daughters…. Geoff went up the mountain, got them and brought them down so they could see their son Marquito for the first time since the surgery….  Tears filled my eyes as soon as I saw them.   I could never imagine not being able to see my children whenever I want…. especially if they were in the hospital.  But that is the sad reality here…. if your child is in the hospital you will be lucky to ever see them.  Simply put, they do not have the money to get to them.  Sparing the few quetzals for bus fare is not an option…. the money simply isn’t there.   Having the opportunity to get a ride down the mountain and a 30 min drive further was a huge blessing to them… and to me… because after more than a year I had the privilege of witnessing this reunion.   They were tentative at first…. almost seemed afraid to go in.  They have had 3 years to mourn their son…. they never believed their prayers would be answered….. they had only known to fear the worst….

Marco was first to his son… who stood in the crib jumping up and down waiting to be picked up when he heard his father’s voice.  He pulled his boy out of his crib and placed his arms around his neck…. Doris was next…. I have a very short video clip of this moment…. but I shut my camera off and left the room…. Even through my tears I could see that this family deserved private time.   I wept in Geoff’s arms for quite some time.  Tears of pure joy… tears that were a long time in coming…. stored up for this day…. and what a day.    After a bit I calmed down… I took a photo of the family together.  Geoff and I then went to a small photo shop in town and got it blown up and framed as a gift for them.   We drove them home after a few hours (and some dental work on Marco while he was there) and presented the gift in the truck.  Doris held the photo the entire way…. they all stared at it… over and over… they couldn’t stop looking at their family….  together for the first time in over a year….

On the way home we had one more surprise for them.  Before we even began construction on their new home we arranged for a water line to be run to the property.  So they now have running water… but no sink.  We overheard Marco telling Doris several times that someday he was going to get her a sink… it was her dream to have one.  So, this day, on the way home we stopped at a small sink maker and let them pick out a sink.  Doris & Marco were both so incredibly happy…. walking around picking out the sink of their choice…. but as Doris was walking around looking, she stopped and ran back to the truck.  Neither Geoff nor I knew what she was doing…. she had gone back to get her family photo… she carried it around, clutched to her chest as she made the decision on what sink she wanted.  Such a cute and priceless moment.

Many other things are going on here…. Construction at the hospital continues… the addition is totally complete so the dorms, bathrooms and closets are finished…. a new kitchen is almost done… 2 new pantries are finished and waiting to be filled…. Vanessa has painted a beautiful new sign & mural on the hospital wall…. english class continues when time allows… Marco’s home will be complete today…. we are gearing up for the next projects….  life is busy…. but life is amazing.   One other thing I have to tell…. Yesenia.. she is a sweet Novitiate here… she calls me Mother Rita… I love her so much.  Some of the money we send here every month pays for education and Yesenia came to me a few weeks ago while I was painting a pantry and gave me a hug… she was wearing her new nurse hat and name badge… she graduated from nursing school that morning…. and she said a heartfelt ‘gracias’ and through the hug a heartfelt, ‘te quiero mucho madre Rita’  (I love you very much mother Rita)…. Oh the tears I shed here…. let me tell you….

The Hermana’s have become our family…. we spend so much time together now and all of it is filled with love… with laughter… with hope.   They have put on major ‘goodbye’ parties for both Geoff’s parents and the Dental team…. We are all now such a tight family unit that even the slight language barrier that was once a source of frustration is now a source of intense laughter.  God Bless Google Translate for those tough words haha….

Dr Laszlo said something during dinner here on his last night… that he ‘got’ way more than he ‘gave’…. such a true statement.   I am getting so much more than I am giving here.  People always say they don’t understand how I could ‘give up’ so much of my life.  I have to tell you…. I am giving up nothing.  I am only gaining.    I am afraid… terrified actually of my return home to Canada.  While I miss my family & friends ‘back home’…. I have built a ‘home’ filled with family and friends here.   I think my heart will be torn in 2 in May when the time comes to leave this home and go home.   Hermana Veronica sent me a beautiful email this morning, Valentines day.  Here it is the Day of Friendship.  I love these ladies with all of my heart and soul… and it will be very tough to leave them.  Add into that equation… Fernando and his family.  He got married this past weekend…. the first of 2 ceremonies.  In Guatemala only the civil wedding is legal… so they have 2.  One civil and one church.   Geoff and I were asked to be Padrino’s for them… which is basically Godparent’s…. best man/matron of honour etc.   It is one of the highest honours a Guatemalan can bestow upon someone to welcome them into a family.  We are family…. Fernando, his new wife Elisa, his mother Vilma and his father Chico… they are our family… and it will be so hard to leave them as well…..  Home is where the heart is…. I will literally have to split my heart in two in order to leave here….

But leave here I will…. because there is much that needs to be done in Canada for the 6 months I am there, especially in the fundraising department… we are finding that when we are down here the donations slow to a trickle….. this is where you come in….   Funds are running low… there is much yet to be done…. much yet to be paid for… mouths that need food and medicine…   So we need more help this year yet…. but if that is not possible I am going to let you know that we have already begun planning things for 2013 (remember, I work with Mayan’s everyday… they are alive and well… and they all want homes that will last 100+ years… so if they aren’t worried about their own prophesy of the end of the world in 2012, neither am I hahaha).   Some things to think about and prepare for next year… We need:

– Eyeglasses… we will be collecting old eyeglasses to distribute with the help of an optometrist (see below)… people here don’t have much access to eye glasses or eye exams.

  • An Optometrist to come on board, sort glasses and hopefully run an eye exam clinic here.
  • Pediatricians to run clinic’s up in the mountains
  • General Practitioners to run a clinic based out of the hospital
  • One time donations to help fund construction projects for next year… especially the construction of a second location of the hospital in Jalapa
  • Monthly partnerships so that the hospital’s monthly budget can be covered and the hospital can be used and run at full capacity… right now it is running at around 1/10th of what it can… the more money, the more kids, and the more lives that will be saved!
  • Volunteers… I encourage you to begin planning to come here, see for yourself and experience all it is that we are doing.  Its not too early to contact us about next year!

Think about the above… pray about it…. talk to your friends… talk to your co-workers…. talk to your companies…. talk to your churches…. talk to your doctors… together we can spread the word and make things happen.  Our job is to tell people…. its God’s job to touch hearts and spring people into action.

We just finished a lovely visit with our CTEN pastor couple Stephen and Tammie.  What an honour it was to have them stay with us and see our ministry first hand.  I have to take a moment to thank them and CTEN for all they do for us here on the field.  I cannot tell you what it means to have your love and support…. and even validation.  I know that  validation is not what Stephen and Tammie were here to do… but it is so amazing when people come and truly ‘get’ what we are doing here… why it has become our lives… why we will stop at nothing and fight for these people until our last dying breath….  And to you at home that send support, that comment, send emails, facebook messages etc of encouragement…. I cannot tell you how much it means for us to know that you are out there praying, thinking about and loving us from afar.

Much love to all of you & God Bless!

Dr Laszlo, Rita, Debbie, Ursula, Sophia (Katharine was ill that day) and Dr Luis who popped in to help when he could.

Madre Rita and Yesenia at the clinic

Nurse Yesenia

Me and one of my dearest friends... Hermana Veronica

The new sign for the hospitalito that Vanessa painted

Fernando & Elisa... Senora Vilma & Senor Chico.... Geoff & I

Precious little Lade..... A year and a half old and severely malnourished... safe and loved at the hospitalito

Marquito on his daily walk with Geoff

Marco & Doris reunited with their precious son Marquito

A cherished family photo... the first ever....

A Quick Note….

Greetings everyone.  I am a bit behind on everything… blogging…. emails… facebook…. Life sure is busy here in Guatemala.  So, I wanted to drop a quick note to say hello, things are great here,  just really busy.  I also wanted to say…. If you haven’t already,  please check out our youtube channel. 

Our good friend, Dave Tebbutt arrived here 4 weeks ago and has been documenting a video blog once a week so everyone can see who we are, what we are up to and where the money goes.   This past week (Week 4 for Dave, week 8 for us) was our best week so far so if you can only check out one video this week please make it Week 4.   Dave is an amazing videographer and he has done great work!!!   Thanks Dave!   Enjoy the videos everyone, and stay tuned because there are more weeks on the way.

Anyway…. I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everyone who has been reading my blog…. thanks for taking the time…. thanks for the kind words…  thanks for the encouragement….thanks for everything!   It truly means so much to me….

Dios les Bendiga…. (God bless you all)…    Rita, Geoff, Zack, Luke, Gabe and everyone here in Guatemala!


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…..

Marquito before his surgery....

Marquito home after his first surgery!!

After a 1 year wait... a near fatal illness... He is home, first surgery done & is doing fantastic!!

Why is everyone fussing over me & crying? hahahaha

How it must feel to eat semi-properly for the first time in your life....

Lessons learned…. so far….

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

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… ”

Me and Marquito a few days before his surgery

12500 mini bags of water we bought to hand out in the mountain villages

Matt handing out bags of water at the dump

Mynor & Vincenta's little boy Jose David & his healed arm!

Construction begins on Marcos's home (Marquito's dad)

Planning the second room addition for Marquito

Hermana Mercedes & Marquito's precious baby sisters

Tim handing out water at the dump

Me and Andrecito... one of our favourite kids at the dump

Jessy & Andrecito

This little one is now at an orphanage after her mom tried to sell her for under $30.00 US. Desperate people are forced to do desperate things....

Rachel getting mobbed handing out treats at the dump

Hanging out with the kids at Yolanda's village... my Disneyland!!!!

Its been so fun for our family to watch these kids grow up... especially Zack... they love him!

The Zip lining gang

Jazmin taking it all in

Our friend Ceasar had a special birthday quesedilla ready for Zack's birthday

The cornstalk home that we hope to build during March Break with Jazmin's family

The mom of 10 & owner of the cornstalk home... so amazingly loving .... pure joy despite having nothing....

JD explaining to the people that we simply don't have enough money to help them this year... toughest day yet....

Having to walk away from these kids... looking into their eyes is the hardest thing we have ever done. No one should ever have to do that....

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