Greetings from Sunny & Warm Guatemala. Happy New Year to each and every one of you! I sit here once again in a t-shirt and shorts (sorry to those in the North). The winds have finally arrived and the oppressive heat seems to have finally gone. It is my favourite time of year here. Warm, breezy days, cool, windy nights. You actually get to use one of the many blankets I have crocheted while watching tv. Its wonderful. New Years Eve here in “little Canada” is very quiet in comparison to the rest of this wild, party country. We sit and attempt to make it to midnight and then we hug, kiss, cheers and peer out over our balcony to watch the show that unfolds in the form of some of the most spectacular (and loud) fireworks. We are notoriously quiet here. Everyone knows ‘little Canada’. If you are visiting and stray out for a walk and get lost, a question to anyone where “Canada” is will be greeted with a smile and some directions (maybe even a guide escort) to our house. While everyone else was partying, we were sitting, playing board games and chatting about the past year… and our future.
The past year was a tough one for me. I am not going to lie about that. My blog has gone from being a personal journal of my thoughts, hopes and fears to being heavily edited. I have changed my style because I know others are reading. This seems foreign to me and I honestly did not enjoy writing it anymore. I didn’t like thinking I had to ‘censor myself’ so as not to offend or make anyone reading feel uncomfortable. To watch my word count because some say I am too long winded and write too much…. As you may have noticed, this resulted in me writing a heck of a lot less. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. In talking with my boys on New Years Eve I realized that I have been wrong. I should not feel the need to censor myself. It’s my blog and I want to write. I need to write. But I need to do it my way, including how long I want. So, my ‘resolution’ of sorts is to go back to writing. My way. If it makes a reader feel uncomfortable then so be it. I am uncomfortable almost every day of my life and I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing. I think its through those moments we learn and grow as human beings.
So… I am back…. And I’m going to take a bit of time to tell you about my year. One of the best, but most difficult. Please be advised that after telling you of the good, I am going to cover some of the bad… if you want to stop reading I will understand…..
First, the good…..
We had the privilege of meeting and making some amazing new friends this past year. God brings people into our lives it seems when we most need them. We are thankful… always…..
We also had the privilege of building 2 new schools this year… One in “our” village of El Salitrillo and one in the lower village of Moran. El Salitrillo school is grades 1-6 and is such a huge blessing upon all. The school in Moran is a pre-school and will be opening in just a few short weeks!!! Exciting for us and a HUGE blessing for the people, especially the children. Guatemala has cut funding for most pre-schools and we are doing a study that plans to follow these kids through to grade 6. We hope to have solid data that can prove to the government here that pre-school (our kindergarten) is necessary and helps children prep for later school life. The alternative here is to have these little ones work… and so often the families get used to them working so much so that they don’t end up putting them in school at all. Potential doctors etc. never have a shot…. Elias is one such child. He is 14 now and is absolutely hands down one of the most brilliant kids I have ever met…. But his family needed him to work so he has never attended school. I swear this boy might have the key to something huge locked inside his head on that lonely mountain….. makes me sad.
Our Community Empowerment Program thrived in 2015. So many families received education, nutritious plants and seeds, solar lights and water filtration systems. We are seeing the benefits of this every day…. The people are healthier and that is what we came here for! Many of the people in our Community Empowerment also received Solar Powered Audio Bibles thanks to Galcom. We look forward to their return this year to hand out more. The people here consider these audio Bibles to be one of their most prized possessions and now, every time we go to a village we are greeted with people walking around listening to them. Its such an amazing thing to have helped not only the people’s physical state but their Spiritual as well.
Dental Clinics thanks to Dr Laszlo and his team…. What more can I say…. Years of hard work has truly made a difference…. STIMMA the medical team…. I can’t say anything more about that either. All this hard work in both medical and dental have truly saved lives. Priceless…..
Various individuals and teams like Ridley College have also helped us make huge strides in 2015. Individuals and teams working selflessly to help us reach our goals… and more importantly help the people have hope.
Our “School of Hope” began in 2015 and has now become a huge focus of our mission. A school for special needs kids…. But also, a centre for people to come who have need… whatever that need is…. There will be an office there… with a middle aged housewife sitting in it (me)…. And from there my family and the people that believe in us and what we do, will try to help them. It’s a dream come true for us…. And we truly believe this place will help change lives for the better.
If I have neglected to mention something or someone I am sorry. It is not my intention to leave anyone or anything out. I want to say that without each and every one of you we could not do one thing…. We love you and we are thankful for you… So many good things have come this year, they are just too numerous to mention each and every one….
Through all of this joy…. And so much more than I could ever write about…. There has been pain. Pain enough for me to literally want to throw in the towel.
A very young girl… and one I am very close to in one of our villages was raped. As I drove up the mountain in the night with a friend from the medical field and my husband, I was shaking so hard I could barely function. Geoff waited outside as myself and my female friend went into the home to chat with the girl… things I never thought I would have to ask anyone, ever, swirled through my head. As my dear young one threw herself into my arms and sobbed uncontrollably I could actually feel my heart not only break, but shatter almost completely. She is so young… so small… so fragile….. Her father had told Zack about the rape earlier that day, and asked him to tell me…. Zack talked with the dad…. Making sure that he was not going to kill the man that raped his little daughter…. Retribution is common here since there is no formal law help. The dad admitted he and his brothers had discussed killing the man but decided that God wouldn’t want that…. The man who raped this poor girl has no idea how close he came to death…. I thank my son for taking the time to talk to his friend and make sure that no more pain would come of this horrific event.
Apparently it had happened a week before and this young, tiny girl had already tried to commit suicide. So the father who was trying his best to keep this secret had turned to me for help with her. I decided to go up the mountain that very night with my female medical friend to examine her and see what we could do to help her mental state.
I remember travelling up the mountain praying… praying for the right words to come… praying for strength to help this poor little girl…. When I was young I went through something very similar to her and it was from that experience I was able to draw strength and try to help her feel not so alone. The culture here is very specific on this…. She is damaged now… she feels it deep into her bones and knows that if this ever came to light she would have trouble ever getting a husband. So sad…. There is no help… there is no calling the police… there is no therapy for her to help her…. There was only me. A white woman from a foreign country dragging along a virtual stranger to examine her and try to console her….. I knew this poor girl was so fragile and if I screwed this up she could once again try to take her own life and I would never forgive myself….. No pressure…..
While holding her tiny sobbing body and trying my best to soothe her…. Something awful happened… I froze…. My medical friend was asking me questions to translate….. every bit of Spanish I had vanished. It was nerves but I couldn’t for the life of me put together a coherent sentence in Spanish. It was simply gone. My dear friend sat me down with the girl on my lap… and very calmly talked me down… encouraging me and looking straight into my eyes telling me I was “doing great”. I don’t know who my friend was there for more… me or this poor young girl. It helped and I was able to pull myself together and calm enough to ask the tough questions…. I will never forget that dark, late night up the mountain…. I will never forget my dear friend from Canada who was there for me and for the girl. You know who you are and I love you so much for how you got me and her through that awful night. The tiny wide eyes of the little girl still haunt me when I sleep.
I prayed all the way down the mountain that I had done some good…. That I had helped somewhat…. A mere hour of my life…. Forever changed me. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this”… “it hurts too much”…. “I cant really help”…. “I want to go home”…. In the space of an hour, my “home” went from being the newly adoptive Guatemala back to Canada. In my head I was already booking plane tickets……. But in the meantime I had work to do. We had a team and I had to get myself through it and then speak to Geoff about going ‘home’.
Fast forward 2 days….. the doorbell rang…. Geoff answered….. the young girl was in my garage with her mom. As soon as she saw me come down the stairs she ran and flung herself into my arms…. Her eyes filled with tears as she held me tight. She looked up at me and smiled the tiniest of smiles….. She was ok. Somehow, in my ridiculous attempt at talking with her that night, I had done some good. I was shocked. Floored actually….. I had some antibiotics I needed her to take and so I broke the hug and got them…. She took them without question…. (Im talking like 7 different pills here)…. Complete trust in me and no question about what or why she was taking all these different pills.
In that moment, she hugged me again and I realized something…. I am here for a reason…. And I, despite my inability to see my own talents, I am good at what I do. I always feel a bit inferior here… a bit lost. I watch Geoff and Zack thrive with the people and the construction and everything they touch…. I am watching Luke and Gabe grow and thrive also…. Learning from their father and older brother… prepping themselves to take over someday. They are male… they have a place…. They are loved and trusted and do amazingly well at whatever they tackle. I cannot lift heavy things… I am not good at construction…. I cannot really be a part of meetings between men because women here just aren’t respected in that way…. At times I feel lost and confused as to my place here. Relegated to not much more than a housewife again…. Don’t get me wrong, taking care of my family and being a Stay at home wife and mom has always been my career of choice and I love it…. But having worked my behind off going back to University to learn about Holistic Nutrition etc I always wondered what my place was. Sure I do education seminars and work with the women here teaching them about health and nutrition but that’s a few times a year. I guess I always wondered if there was ever going to be ‘more’ for me.
It was the plight of a little girl that now, every time I go up that mountain is one of the first out of her house and hugs me with such force it literally knocks the wind out of me, that taught me so much…. I am valued… I am needed…. I am good at what I do…. I AM making a difference. In my head I have gotten a refund for those plane tickets and it is so worth it…… I am in tears even as I write this and re-read it now….. But they are good tears… the kind that only come when you are remembering deep pain from a very different place… a good place….
(** update note: Geoff and Zack have worked with this family, finally convincing them to seek help from the police. The man who raped this young girl is being charged and will have to go to court and face his crime. The likelihood that he will spend time in jail is actually very good. Guatemala is not really changing in this regard but because of our presence here things like this for the Mayan people are beginning, slowly to be taken seriously. Thank God.)
Suffice it to say 2015 is gone…. It was a good year…. Filled with very high highs…. And desperately low lows…. But worth every minute. I look back upon 2015 with bright fresh eyes now…. I can see my value again…. I know why I am here and I know that despite my not being able to help at times, it is the times I CAN help that I need to focus on. I absolutely cannot wait to see what 2016 brings for me, my family, the people that visit and of course the people of my “HOME” …. Guatemala….
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Well hello there dear friend…. its been a while. Many have asked if a blog was coming soon. Apparently people enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Im sorry… its been busy and time has a funny way of getting away from me. When I finally fall into the couch at night, writing has been, quite frankly, the last thing I have wanted to do. Its not even that I have been tired. Tired is a perpetual state of the Doppenberg Family during our volunteer season… I am used to that. Its more that I have been avoiding writing. Writing is hard. Not going to lie. VERY, very hard. I sit and stare at the blank screen and wonder how I can put into words the things I feel and experience here. Those that follow this blog know that its more of a journal. My thoughts and feelings placed here so others can get a glimpse into how things are here… Its raw and ugly at times… and beautiful at other times….
Honestly, so much of the beauty has escaped me in the past while. You know how life goes through seasons? Things come in threes? etc etc. All the things we make up to let us know that there is an end in sight… light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Well, sometimes for us, things come in the 333’s. These are times its difficult to write. How am I supposed to be full of happy thoughts, hope etc in the times where I feel very lost and alone. Even my relationship with God has been a bit off. With so much in my head I feel empty when I hear words like “God’s plan” etc. Its ok though… I know my God understands and can handle my questions. He is bigger than all of it and I know He has my back so to speak even when I feel like screaming.
But, with all that being said.. here I am. I am writing again. Writing because I have a renewed sense of joy and hope. Its taken me a while to get here to be honest. The past weeks have been full of those “things come in 3’s moments”… Lots of losses…. children dying from the families lack of the money needed for simple cheap antibiotics. People knocking on our door to help them pay for funerals for children who died for similar reasons…. Taking blind children over and over to specialists to see if they can regain sight…. One is a young girl who had an infection… this infection could have been cured for $5.00 worth of medicine… they couldn’t afford it…. she is now blind for life. The other is Bryan…. Bryan came into our lives by accident. A tiny 3 year old boy born without eyes… his lids fused shut. Bryan is one of the happiest little guys we have ever met. Him and his mom stay at our home the nights before the many trips to the city to see the doctors. Doctors that gave us hope that he indeed did have eyes behind those fused lids… and that those eyes could be surgically worked on to give him sight…. Those same doctors last week became the ones to tell us they were wrong. Bryan did need surgery but it would only be a surgery to help him grow properly since the situation with his facial bones is not conducive to allowing proper growth. Bryan would never see. A devastating loss for us at a time in our work where we could have used a win.
We cried… all of us. Bryan blew us kisses and hugged us. Bryan didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Bryan was ok. It was us that were hurt beyond words. To have so much hope and then to be so brutally let down. I honestly felt like I was falling off a cliff with no one to catch me.
Things kept up this way for a bit. So many things have happened these past weeks. Much too numerous to mention here. Problems upon problems upon problems. Seems this is the season we are to have right now. Its gotten so bad that I have been afraid to open either my email or my front door. I just don’t know who’s going to be writing or knocking with more bad news.
I have to admit I’ve been a baby. A suck. The very thing I teach my children to not be. I gave a dear friend some joking advice the other day… She is going through things that make mine look like a trip to Disney. She spoke about whether the glass was half full or half empty…. I told her to smash the stupid glass and dance on the shards while screaming. It made her laugh. Heck it made me laugh…. What it also did was tell me to suck it up and get over myself. This is not about me. It never was. How on earth can I be so down and so defeated when I see so much around me that is good.
A 15 yr old boy is building a school here bringing the village of El Salitrillo so much hope and joy. This school will be the first generation of children from this village that can read and write. Let me make this clear… this boy is 15! He raised the money for this school. This illiterate village will become literate bringing with it the opportunity for so much in the future. Absolutely incredible.
Bryan doesn’t care if he can see or not. He has no idea what he lost, because he never had it. He touched lives… our lives and the lives of those that met him…. Who knows why… who cares… We will take what we have been given and work with Bryan to be all that he can be, blind or not. Absolutely incredible.
Our Community Empowerment program is changing lives. Less kids in the Malnutrition Hospital… better health… access to healthy food… access to light which is helping everyone but especially kids because they can do homework, get better grades and secure a better future. Absolutely incredible.
We have begun construction on the DIG school #3. A preschool for JK and SK. This has always been a dream of ours since hearing Guatemala has done away with preschool in some regions because they see it as unnecessary. We have always wanted to build one and do a study to prove that education at a young age is so very important. This is happening thanks to like minded donors. These children WILL receive education at an early age and this will help them to build a better future. Absolutely incredible.
Our incredibly talented Dave Tebbutt has completed a documentary that features our family. It is his hope to show people how precious time is and how much joy can be found in service to others. That we all have a responsibility to help those in need and “perhaps it is us who need to change”. We are hoping that this movie gains a wide audience and can help people to see that we need to change the world together… and united in this common goal, we all can! Absolutely incredible.
Last week, we opened our door to the surprise of the week, month, year, decade…. Friends, Elaine and Libro were set to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary…. They were at our door to surprise us…. in their words… “we looked at doing an all-inclusive but felt that there was no where else we wanted to be than with you guys”. I don’t think anyone can truly understand what that meant to us… in a time we were at a very deep low and had our ‘bucket’ completely full of holes. I tried to explain this once to friends… Imagine being away… not being able to share joys and sorrows in person with people… always relegated to a blurry screen over skype. Our friends ‘surprise’ was a blessing to us that I can never begin to put into words….. Absolutely incredible.
We got word yesterday that someone very special to us is doing something HUGE. A bucket list type of thing… and planning on using that to help us. While its still in planning stages and a large secret I cannot elaborate… All I can say is summer 2016, God Willing, is going to see something that makes me so proud to call her my family. You know who you are… and you are…. Absolutely incredible.
The past months have seen health problems and tragedy within our family and friends across Canada and the USA. It is so difficult as I said above to witness these things from afar and feel powerless to help. BUT…. we have seen incredible miracles and watched as people from all over the world have stood united in prayer for those that suffer. To us this is simply, absolutely incredible.
Our volunteer season has come to an end…. this season we saw family, friends, strangers, young, old, etc etc come through the doors of our new home. We saw our son get married and gain a wife and a step-son. WE gained a daughter, sister, grandson, and nephew. I’ve watched my other 2 sons grow and thrive… finding their own way here and be such a great example of love toward others. I’ve had my marriage grow and thrive here in ways I could have never imagined. All because my husband and I are ‘on the same page’ and together united in our common goals. He and I are better than we have ever been before and I am so in love with him… and so very thankful for him. Absolutely incredible.
We had the privilege of spending tons of time in Salitrillo with the building of the school there. Last week, Good Friday, we headed there with visiting family to work. It ended up that the people there wanted us to spend time with them, in prayer, in community, in fellowship and in friendship. We scrapped our work plans and spent the day just ‘being’ with them. Normally so wrapped up in helping people we forget to take our own advice and spend time in relationship with them. It was a perfect day filled with joy and laughter and quiet reflection. This single day taught our family so very much. Its not always about the money, the funding, the projects… its about the people. They need us… and we need them. A lesson learned and one we will not forget. Absolutely incredible.
Our family made some decisions this past week. Decisions that have already impacted us for the better…. decisions that we needed to make a long time ago but avoided because we were focused on the wrong things. This isn’t about us…. even in our troubles and sorrows we find learning… learning about our work here… learning about ourselves… Learning from others… the joys in the little… Who cares if the glass is half empty or half full… I think its like our proverbial bucket I speak about all the time. The bucket is ours to fill or empty. When holes get poked in that bucket its up to us to figure out how to plug them and keep filling it, one drop at a time.
Well…. what can I say… 2014 has come and gone. What a year it was! The Doppenbergs have been living in Guatemala full time for 16 months. I have to admit that if anyone told me 6 years ago while I was nestled safely and quite comfortably in my home in little, rural Beamsville, Ontario, that I would be living some 6000 miles away I would have laughed near to death. And yet, here I am… safely nestled in our new rental home in the hustle and bustle of Centro (Centre) of El Progreso.
2014 has been quite the year for both our family AND for our work here. A couple years ago I wondered to myself why our eldest son Zack felt such a strong pull to live here in Guatemala…. and how the heck he managed to learn Spanish so darn fast. Well, I got my answer in 2014. The answer came in 2 parts… Amelia and Lisandro. Zack met Amelia last year at our dental clinic (she is a dental assistant and volunteered with our local dentist Dr. Jose Juan who assists our own Dr Laszlo from Canada in running a free dental clinic for the villagers here who cannot afford it), and after a whirlwind dating experience, married Amelia on Dec 6, 2014. Sweet and beautiful Amelia who, as we were to learn, had all but given up looking for love. In Guatemala a woman who has a child out of wedlock is shunned as ‘damaged goods’. This is where 2 cultures combined…. It made no difference to our son if Amelia had 1 or 7 kids. He fell in love with them both. And she with him…. And voila…. Zack is now a husband and a father…. Luke and Gabe have a sister and are uncles…. and Geoff and I gained a beautiful daughter and are now grandparents! We couldn’t be happier. We have encountered some opposition to Zacks decision to marry at what is by Canadian standards, a young age. Zack is young, yes… but he is by no means immature. He knows what he wants… he grew up differently than most. He grew up here. He is more Guatemalan than Canadian. He is a man. Plain and simple. And one, Geoff and I are so very proud of. I know now that God called Zack here… the same way He called us… for reasons I now understand. It is indeed a beautiful thing.
This wedding indeed blessed us too in that many made the trip from Canada and the USA to share the day with us. Zack, in a moment of vulnerability before the wedding took time to thank everyone and admit that he was afraid that we would be alone for this event…. He, and all of us were so thankful to all that came and to those that expressed the desire to come but couldn’t and sent video messages or other greetings. One never knows how far away you actually feel from those you love until an event like this comes about. In this beautiful day, we were allowed the privilege to share it with some of those we love from afar, those we love here in our town…. and those from the village of Salitrillo who have become like family to us. It truly was an incredible experience to have 3 different cultures in one space…. North American, Guatemalan and Mayan.
We are now in a new rental home as well. Our old home was plagued with Dengue type mosquitos… had new (and highly dangerous) high tension power lines to run the Canadian mine installed 10 feet from our door…. and we were quickly outgrowing it. We are now a family of 7 since Guatemalan tradition says the man and his wife move in with the husbands parents. Thus we moved to a very large new home in the centre of town. It is a 3 level home and is much better suited to the needs of our family…. and to hosting teams. In short, it is home. We are very thankful to Don Rene for the opportunity to rent this beautiful home at such a great price as he wanted to help our mission. For me I am especially grateful to him for this home as I had Dengue fever this year and if I were to get it again it would be very dangerous the second time. As a family, we have our own ‘space’ where we can go to be a family…. And a huge communal area where we can spend some time with volunteers and just ‘hang out’. Volunteers have their own space too (and many more bathrooms, with roofs on them … (those of you that have been to our old home will understand why that is a big deal haha))
Reading all this above, it seems like this year was mainly concerned with our family growing and getting settled into our first full year here. But, our mission saw many things happen too. We saw our goals, and ways of doing things shift greatly. We have learned much during the past 5+ years here… Things like, what to do, and what NOT to do. If you come here now to volunteer… it looks VERY different. There is a lot more ‘observation’ and a lot less hands on. We have learned to let the people do for themselves instead of having the volunteers do for them. This plays into our hand up, not hand out mentality. If you come to volunteer you may find yourself with a lot more down time than was seen in the past. This is not to say you will be bored… but you will possibly find yourself a lot less exhausted than you would have been on previous trips. This does not by any means mean we are doing less… it just means we have learned to do things a little different.
We are in the process of developing a ‘manifesto’ of sorts. Basically a do’s and don’ts list. We do not EVER hand out clothing or other things. We try to be less invasive as we were. We found ourselves creating North American type problems in remote villages where this never existed before. This was NOT good and it was completely our fault. These hand outs help no one. They do way more harm than good. The people here want to do things for themselves but are crippled by poverty and lack of options. What we offer is options. This means great things for the people here and we have seen first hand in Salitrillo and other villages enrolled in our Village Empowerment Plan that this method works. Suicides are down as the men feel hope and empowered to help their families without resorting to accepting someone else scraps. Health and wellness is on the rise as people can afford to buy more food, and most importantly more nutritious food. Malnourishment in the areas we work is becoming a thing of the past. The program is working. We are still learning as we always will be… but some things are changing for the better and we are so blessed to be a small part of it.
2014 was a huge year for us….. We managed to do many awesome things thanks to all you who partnered with us:
– We have distributed over FIVE HUNDRED solar lights to many different communities, and the program is going awesome.
– We have started a tree and plant nursery, wherein we are seeding nutritious plants and trees. We have a deep water well there, so plenty of water. The land and the water is all thanks to our great mayor, who has provided the land and the access to the water completely FREE OF CHARGE! So we only have to pay for all other parts of the nursery, i.e. soil bags, soil, seeds, etc…
– We have also initiated our “Community Empowerment Program”, with 90 families already having received their solar lights and water filters! This translates into 440 people having access to light, phone charging, and clean water!!! As well, they will be receiving their moringa trees, neem trees, chaya, chia seeds, and amaranth seeds at the start of the next rainy season, which will all come from our nursery!
– The malnutrition centre is doing great, all of the women are doing well, and we are seeing less children being admitted all the time.
– We also, in the past year, built our very first school, in conjunction with “Miracles in Action”! This school was built in a VERY remote village, and took a LOT of walking and hard work to complete.
– We completed 2 water projects in 2 different villages, providing clean potable water to over 50 families!
– We have begun an “aquaponics” project in Salitrillo. While there are many bugs to be worked out in this project we are off to a running start!
– We have begun adult seminars in nutrition and health to various villages as well we have begun a math and english program in the village of Salitrillo for grades 1-6.
– We have also started a small “restaurant”, in which the boys and us sell “American hamburgers, chicken burgers, and hot dogs”, to supplement our rent on our new home. We are all having a TON of fun with this, as it also allows us the opportunity to meet all of the people from town and surrounding cities whom we have not met yet, as well as we get to practice our Spanish!
So there you have it…. a proper update from all of us Doppenbergs in Guatemala… All 7 of us… no longer 5. We feel so incredibly blessed to be here and to have the opportunity to enjoy a life here in this country of such incredible beauty… and with some of the kindest and most genuine people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Please consider continuing to partner with us. There is so much work yet to be done and we are excited to be on the ground working to end malnourishment in this forgotten region where larger organizations no longer work because it is so ‘far gone’.
And so…. from our family, Geoff, Rita, Luke, Gabe, Zack, Amelia and Lisandro we wish you Health, Prosperity, Hope and Peace in 2015. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of you who believe in us and in what we do. God Bless You all. We love you!
A blog post was sent to me by my Pastor in reply to something I said to him…. this blog struck me and I wanted to share….. Below are excerpts from “David Lose” ( fyi: the full blog can be found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1599) It is beautifully written by David to fellow pastors but I think and STRONGLY believe it applies to all of us…..
“What if I were to tell you…
…that what you do this week could change the world?
Would you believe me? Imagine it so? Smile politely but secretly scoff?
Let’s broaden the question. What if we were to tell people this Sunday — from the pulpit — that what they do this week will change the world? Would they believe us or doubt? Stand taller with hope or soon think of something else? We’ll never know, of course, unless we try.
Our actions are inter-connected, creating an unforeseen butterfly effect that can ripple across time and space to affect the lives of millions.
The things we do this week — our actions, decisions, choices — will, in fact, ripple out with consequences foreseen and unforeseen, for good or for ill, for the health or damage of the world. That question isn’t whether, but what…what will we do this week to make a difference in the world. Some of these actions may be big, bold, and courageous. Others may be small, hardly noticeable. And yet they all have the potential to ripple out, affecting countless lives. Who knows whom it will be today, this week, this year. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, says that we all are members of the body of Christ, each with different gifts, yet all one in faith and with the same potential for God to use us to change the world.
My hope, Working Preacher, is that you will preach a sermon telling your people the same, and that because of that small and valiant gesture the world will change for the better.
Yours in Christ,
Now that is some pretty solid stuff. Not just for Pastors but for all. Have you ever thought of it? Something large or small you do or say and how it ‘ripples’ outward to change the lives of people for the good or ill….. I see this each and every day in what we do here in Guatemala. A kind word, bringing some hope, planting some seeds….. all these things ripple outward for the good of the people as a whole and I like to believe these small actions will continue to ripple for generations to come!
We have a plan in place… The Community Empowerment Program and it has not only the potential but the ability to ripple outward to effect countless lives here for the better. This program involves facets of government here, the people themselves being accountable and sustainable, and YOU. Basically it is in essence a sponsorship program that, for around the cost of 1 coffee a day in North America, can change lives for generations. One coffee a day…. thats all it takes to change lives…. imagine the possibilities.
There is a major drought here right now…. every week we get word of someone who has given up hope and taken their own life due to the fact that they were overcome by the hopelessness of a lost crop. The Government has declared a state of emergency here. Sadly every organization we have contacted for help in this country has refused stating, “We know that Jutiapa is one of the hardest hit but Im sorry we don’t work there”…. Our region is not trendy. Our work is down and dirty… It can be quite boring at times… tedious planting, digging, meetings…. etc etc… . The civil war taught the Mayans to hide in our region…. thus they do not dress in the traditional garb that tourists love so much… there is no tourism… there is no ‘draw’ for mission teams to visit here unless they want to simply work and do very little ‘tourism’. Its a sad reality in the mission world that most teams want to go where they can see some nice things and some tourism type stuff. We don’t have that…. So we remain the forgotten land of the starving. One of the poorest areas in all of Guatemala. No wildlife to observe, they have eaten it all…. no pretty colourful dresses on the ladies. Just poverty…. just the ability to flutter your butterfly wings and silently affect lives for the better without all the bells and whistles…..
So, please search your heart…. realize that YOU and your actions have the ability to change lives…. give up one coffee a day and sponsor a family. A new family each and every month! Give the gift of life and a future to those that have none….
Below is a one page brief summary of the Community Empowerment Program… if you want the full document we have that available as well and I can send it to you if you email me at email@example.com. Suffice it to say that in the USA a monthly gift of $67.00, in Canada $80.00 is all it takes to change lives… Please consider a monthly sponsorship to “adopt” one different family each and every month OR a one time gift to ‘adopt’ one family. Whatever you can afford…. it all helps so much! It all ripples and changes lives….
Countless lives…. for generations to come. Breathing hope and life into the lives of those who have nothing simply by the flutter of your beautiful wings….. Isn’t that worth giving up a coffee a day? BE THE CHANGE, flutter your wings and begin your butterfly effect here: http://thedoppenbergs.com/?page_id=2173
COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM SUMMARY
After seeing so many successes in our Village Empowerment Program test village of Salitrillo we feel its time to move forward. We have initiated a program, in conjunction with local municipalities, the Department of Education, local villages and their leaders, NGO’s, and ourselves to empower other villages to dig themselves out of poverty, malnutrition, and health issues. This is a multi-‐faceted program which provides people with immediate economic recovery, clean bacteria free water, better health and nutrition, and sustainability through education and economics.
This program will provide, to families, all of the following:
-‐ Solar lights/phone chargers ; battery lasts 5 years
-‐ Sawyer water filtration systems ; life span of filter is 10 years
-‐ Nutritious plants and trees ; life time of nutrition and economic recovery
-‐ Education seminars ; ongoing for many years
The total cost for this program is $160 USD per family . The municipalities have agreed to cover $53 US. The people, themselves, will be paying $40 US keeping them accountable and providing a hand up NOT a hand out. This leaves $67 US, which is where people and organizations such as you come in! For less than people currently pay for only 2 months of sponsoring individual children, you have the AMAZING opportunity of sponsoring an ENTIRE family, but not just for the 2 months, rather their ENTIRE life, and the children after their parents!!
Well, well… its been a while hasn’t it. I have to say, its really REALLY good to be back. For those of you that don’t know, I was pretty ill for a while. Seems I had some issues. I got hit with a bladder infection, a throat infection and Dengue Fever all at the same time. Any one of those alone would make you sick… all 3 at the same time made me, for the first time in my life, actually afraid I might die. Dengue Fever is a virus that comes from the bite of an infected mosquito. High fever, severe headache and fatigue, rash, dangerously low white blood cells and platelets, internal bleeding, and too many other symptoms to list. Let me just say it has a nickname, “breakbone fever” and WOW does it ever live up to that. It actually feels like every single one of the bodies 206 bones is broken. It can be fatal… and believe me, feeling how I felt, I am certain it can be. Fluid fills your body in places that shouldn’t have fluid, like lungs and make you feel like you are drowning. I was afraid, my family was afraid, my doctor was afraid…. there is no cure… no medicine… just hydration, meds to manage symptoms, and lots of prayer was my protocol. I have to be very careful now. There are 4 strains of the disease. I had one and am now immune but only to that strain… if I contract any of the other 3 my chances of survival go down. Thats a bit daunting to me…. and I am trying my best to be careful now…. I have become a bit of a mosquito maniac to be honest. I sit in 95+ degree weather in pants and socks… and Im beginning to be a bit concerned about my over use of deet containing repellent but Im sure the paranoia will pass.
All of this has made me very introspective of things… Not in a cliche ‘near death’ way… but just some thoughts I had in my long hours of recovery…I had many hours of resting to just think. It has firmed up my resolve to carry on our work here. Many people who survive dengue are told by doctors back home in North America to not travel again to dengue prone areas. Well, thats not an option. Im not going anywhere. It IS actually rare so don’t cancel your flights just yet… I just got ‘lucky’… And it is mainly present during rainy season. If anything, it has helped me see more purpose in what we do here and truly helped me get out of my whining thoughts of what I am missing back in North America.
Geoff called Dr. Milton’s personal cell phone several times with an emergency question and my amazing doctor stayed late or came in on the weekend a couple of times to provide meds or see me. One day in particular he met Geoff at his office to give him some medicine for my severe breathing difficulties. He knew we were scared… he knew we are foreign here… and he stepped up in amazing ways to help me and my family go through this as best we could at a huge inconvenience to himself. As I sat here with a breathing mask on my face, when Geoff returned with medicines for our nebulizer it struck me… How many people have access to a 24 hour doctor? How many people on this planet have a nebulizer… how many even know what the heck it is? (FYI- its a machine that uses liquid medicine for asthma and mists it into a breathing mask you wear on your face. Much better than an inhaler… much faster relief… If you go to the hospital for an asthma attack you will be attached to such a machine. We have one because when Zack was a small child, his asthma was so bad that we were in the ER regularly and we ended up qualifying for a nebulizer for our home.) Many times I had thought of donating that machine but for some reason I kept it all these years just in case… So glad I did.
I may live here but I still have the access to my North American lifestyle in ways I cannot fathom. I HAVE a nebulizer. It may have just saved my life… I don’t know. I have an amazing doctor with everything but an MRI at his office so any test to get an immediate diagnosis can be run (I didn’t even have that in Canada)…. It may have just saved my life… I don’t know. How many people that I serve here have those kinds of options? Um… none. Zero. They lie in bed (if they have a bed) and pray to get better. Now Im not discounting the power of prayer by any means…. but I hope you can see my point here. There is no money in their lives to buy food let alone doctor visits or medicines. I have options where others do not. Heck, I could have flown myself back to Canada if need be to get treatment… How lucky am I? VERY.
This experience like so many in my life has shown me so much. I think we all need to look at our lives at times and see just how darn lucky we actually are. We spend so much time focusing on what we DON’T have to take time to appreciate how truly lucky we are to have what we DO have. Even I, living immersed in a developing nation, surrounded by extreme poverty, need reminders once in a while… All around me I am watching people literally starve. The canicula (a natural phenomenon of 2 weeks of no rain) has lasted longer than 6 weeks… Crops everywhere here are failing… Men are committing suicide out of desperation and lack of hope. We are fast approaching a time where there is no food to harvest…. People are scared. I am scared… my family is scared…. But we press on and adapt to the time. Not much will ever change for me however because I HAVE. Simple as that. Two small words that mean so much…. I HAVE. No matter how much time I spend here I am still one of the people that simply HAVE. I am not sitting in a bus at a border, nor having to send my kids away and praying they have a shot at life…. I am not at risk of death due to my faith…. I am not starving to death nor watching my children starve through no fault of mine just simply due to where I was born on this planet…. I need to recognize that and count my blessings each and every single day. We all do. We also need to always remember AND help those that DON’T HAVE….
Just one more quick thing before I sign off, I want to take a moment here to tell you what an absolutely amazing family I have. I have never in my life seen them step up to take such good care of me. I have to tell you I was scared… I was an absolute bi*ch at times. I was depressed and down and miserable. They understood… they loved me anyway… Thank you so much Geoff, my rock. As cliche as that sounds its so true. I am truly blessed to have you and you always manage to pull me out of whatever mess I am wallowing in. You worked so hard and took on so much during the weeks I was sick… but not just then, you always go above and beyond for me and our boys. I love you and I thank God every day for you… Zack, Luke and Gabe…. I could not ask for better sons. Thank you for making me so proud every moment. You all stepped up in so many ways to help me… to cheer me up… to love me despite my mood swings, to do my work for me despite how tired you all were from having to do so much extra every day. You all also go so far above and beyond for me, for your dad, for each other and for others…. I love you 3 more than you can ever imagine and I am so VERY proud of each of you…
I also want to take a moment to thank you all. From here I had food deliveries and visits from many dear friends. Made me feel so special and loved despite being a ‘gringo’. I know I have ‘family’ here and that means more than you can ever know. I received many prayers, well wishes, messages etc from friends and family back home and across the USA during this time. It was such a huge thing for me. Being far away… in a foreign country… so very ill…. scared…. not really understanding what was happening to me much of the time… not really knowing what medicines I was given etc etc…. Having all of you reach out to me was more of a blessing than you can imagine. Thank you and I love you all….
WOW. Do I love to feel sorry for myself or what? I am a mess as usual. People always ask, “How are you? Really?” , “How are things going in Guatemala?” And then, “What can I do to help?”…. Well, be careful what you ask. Thats all I am going to say haha.
Let me begin by saying that our trip/furlough was a mess. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time and loved being ‘home’ but it was, in the words of our ever knowledgeable 19 year old son Zack, an epic sh*t show (sorry, no other way to describe it). It was VERY busy and honestly not much of the rest we had hoped for and so desperately needed. The biggest surprise however was the emotional impact. Before I even left, a dear friend told me to “Guard my heart”. I had no idea what she meant at the time. I had been ‘home’ before. I knew this time would be different due to the fact that Canada is no longer ‘home’. but I truly was clueless. We have no house, nor possessions there anymore… We call Guatemala HOME now. Well, let me tell you I learned in a heartbeat exactly what she meant and I was totally unprepared for my reactions.
We spent just over 3 weeks in Canada and the USA visiting friends & family. My heart broke so much I was beginning to be concerned that the damage was going to be beyond repair. We couldn’t see all the people we wanted to see…. those we did had too short visits. Suffice it to say, when we left on that Saturday morning I was still crying when we hit the border. I wore sunglasses into the duty free shop where we stopped to buy ‘dulces’ (maple sugar candy) for some friends here in Guate. By the time we hit the border I think the man at the booth thought perhaps I was being held against my will as the tears still flowed down my face in a steady stream as I answered his questions. All my boys, including Geoff were quiet and let me just cry as they knew I just needed it. Every time the tears would begin to stop, Geoff would touch me in the reassuring way he does and that would open the flood gates yet again. He quickly learned to stop being reassuring, to keep both hands on the wheel and just drive the car.
I read a short time before our trip, a blog by another missionary that talked about how some of the the ‘sacrifice’ of missionaries actually occurs on the side of those they leave behind. I saw and experienced that first hand this time. My life has a lot going on and so my mind races at times and I am kept too busy to really feel things. Those back ‘home’ have birthdays, babies, weddings, celebrations, illnesses and just normal times, but now they all occur without us to share them with. I know that sounds like we are full of ourselves but that is not the case. We realized that we are a big part of some lives and when we cannot be there to share the ups and downs in our little community, it hurts those we love and those that love us back. I never really had looked at it that way before. I was too caught up in my own ‘self pity’ to see things from their side. This time I saw it… and my heart broke again. To those I love back home… those I saw this trip and those I didn’t…. I love you…. I miss you…. I think of you every day…. and Im sorry I left you. But I am always with you, as cliche as that sounds, in spirit.
Coming home to Guatemala renewed my insane sense of self pity all over again. Three weeks with friends and family was amazing…. Three weeks with Geoff and my boys was beyond description. Our family had not been alone here in Guatemala since arrival last October, with the exception of 9 days. 9 DAYS as a family in 7 months is NOT enough. We know now we have to change the schedule of things here in order for our family to survive and we have made changes accordingly. We have learned lessons this year and will continue to learn and ‘tweak’ things according to our needs as well as the needs of others. But we will, in this instance, put our needs above those visiting. We need to be a family or all this simply falls apart. We have come too far to allow that to happen. Mama tiger will protect her family! Thus we have decided to host people 2 weeks out of every month. The other 2 will be spent working, prepping for new teams to arrive AND doing the family thing! YAY, we finally, after 5 years, get that part! Go Us! But I am getting off topic here…..
So what did we come back home to in Guate? Well, things here are status quo… we share some successes in our mission and some failures. The Hospital is doing great and admissions are a bit less than last year…. Salitrillo (our Village Empowerment Project) is thriving, Our chia plants and seeds are getting planted. Our chaya plants are not thriving at all and we need to figure this out, construction on our first school partnered with Miracles in Action continues on schedule, our donation numbers are way down, and its raining.. constantly. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate rain. Rain gives me the blues so to speak. I always have disliked the dreary weather and the depression that goes along with it. I know in my heart, rain brings life. Rain is necessary. Part of the reason malnutrition occurs in our region so rampantly is the lack of rain for 6 entire months. My brain KNOWS these things… but my heart hates the rain. And it rains…. oh my does it rain… relentless downpours that ground life here to a halt. Everything we own is damp…. cleaning the floors is an hourly procedure…. working in the fields, planting crops like chia make just walking a huge chore as the sticky mud cakes on your boots turning them into 20-30 pound weights, the house leaks as no house can put up with this much water…. drying clothing is impossible so laundry piles up into an unmanageable state…. the dogs refuse to do their thing in the rain so they soil the tile floor under our roof…. IT SUCKS and I am hosting my own personal pity party daily. I miss my easy life back in Canada at these times. But then I see the people I am here to serve. The mud huts collapsing under the rain… flood waters forcing them from their homes and ruining what little belongings they have…. mudslides claiming life after life…. And I am ashamed. Why do we, those born in the more affluent areas of the worlds, possess such a sense of entitlement? I don’t have the answer…. I just know that I am doing my best to change my attitude and suck it up so to speak. I am darn lucky to have what I have and to be where I am and to be surrounded by family that loves me. The end.
And so here I am again…. feeling better and lucky to be here. How am I really doing? I am good. Honestly. I have moments… I miss those I love…. I am learning lessons on dealing and making the most of what I have…. I am evolving so to speak. Growing up. And learning to ask for help and not feel ashamed….
When people now say the last part of the question I quoted in the beginning of this blog, “And what can I do to help? I am no longer afraid or too timid to answer. As I said above, we came home to some startling news that donation numbers are way down. So, How can you help? Donate. Plain and simple. I can deal with everything else but the lack of funds. Without funding we can do nothing and things are going so well and we are just beginning to see the fruits of our labours so to speak. Don’t play into the old “out of sight, out of mind” trap so many missionaries feel.
You see, when people first go onto the field to work, everyone is excited to send them… to pray for them… to write them for updates and to FUND them. But as time passes, things change. They are gone for long stretches and the connection people feel with them and to them lessens. Let me tell you, nothing changes on our end. We are STILL here… we STILL have needs…. we STILL have so many to help…. nothing stops for us. We need to live, to eat, to survive, to fund hospitals, to fund ministry, to fund projects. It never lessens. As a matter of fact, the longer we are here, things keep spinning and the need grows more every day. The sad truth is, the longer we are gone the donations go down steadily. The opposite should be true. The longer we are here, the more we do, the more need, with your help, we satisfy, the donations should be growing. Up and to the right is where we want to be just like in the corporate world.
One thing that was extremely difficult this visit back to what was once home was seeing the excess. Visiting Florida and other parts of the USA and Canada can be a difficult transition from one day sitting in a mud hut eating chicken soup with a family as a goodbye gift knowing full well they won’t eat chicken for a month now because they fed it to us, to visiting places where people throw out more food in one day than these people see in all month. Need looks very different and while we cannot compare the two because as I learned its like comparing apples to oranges which only share one common trait… they are both sort of round. The bottom line is we are all human beings and depending on where we were born is what dictates our ‘needs’. Its a tough pill to swallow when you are immersed in it though.
So help us…. take the burden of worry about finances off of our shoulders. Partner with us and help us help those who are in desperate need to simply live. We can work so much better… be so much more of a hand up to people who have nothing IF we do not have the burden of worry over finances hanging over us like a dark menacing cloud. We have enough of those dark clouds hovering this rainy season and beyond to worry about as it is.
So I have a challenge for you…. And I hope you will accept it….. Please, find it in your heart to redefine your “need” and do with one less thing each month… just one less thing of your choice and donate the amount monthly or one time to allow us to continue the privilege of serving people who have nothing. Visit www.thedoppenbergs.com and click on the “Donate Now” button. Choose either a one time donation or a monthly partnership… every little bit helps so help us bring hope to the hopeless and help those who have needs way beyond our own. BE THE CHANGE!
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.
We have now had our “trial lights” in homes for 3 months, and have seen the proven results.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The DIG and the Mayan people of Guatemala!
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!
Every single year we are here in Guatemala I come full of energy and the greatest of intentions. I plan and envision myself doing daily facebook status updates, weekly blogs, photo uploads, etc etc. Each and every year I fall behind and berate myself over and over. This year was no different. I came here fully engaged in the knowledge that this is my life now and that I will be doing all those daily and weekly things better than I did last year. And, low and behold…. here I am… hopelessly behind and feeling very ashamed of myself. I’ve decided to just take it as it comes and when I have time these things will get done. The pressure I put on myself is simply that…. pressure I put on myself. This is my life and my Mission. Sometimes the 2 need to separate and I need a little break. This, if you let it, will consume you. You could work 24/7 and never take nor make time for yourself and for family. And thus I am not going to apologize anymore for being late with an update blog… Im simply going to say. Here I am! I have finally found some time!
It has been a whirlwind few weeks here with not much of an end in sight. Dental week… amazing. Dr Laszlo Szoke and his team (and his lovely wife Sophia and their 2 daughters) came and worked hard alongside us to make the 6 day dental clinic even more successful than the previous 2 years. We get better at this clinic every year and have found our ‘groove’ so to speak. The biggest miracle of the week that we have seen evolve over the past 3 years is not the patient count (although that is incredibly impressive : We saw 303 patients from the villages of San Juan, El Rosario, Tasheca, El Terrero, Salitrillo and El Progreso. We completed, 1182 fillings, 489 extractions and 1 root canal as well as full cleanings for each of the 303 patients.). The miracle is actually in the fact that so many Guatemalan dental health professionals are joining in on this week. Dr Jose Juan Ruano Ramos joined us last year, closing his practice for the week to help us. This year he did the same again but brought 3 colleagues along to help for different times during the days. We actually found ourselves with not enough chairs to keep up with the pace of the dentists work. Incredible problems to have!
This is what its about here in Guatemala, not just in dental week, but in every week. Guatemalans are getting involved. Working alongside us. Our Mayor, Marvin Enrique Zepeda has been incredible. He has been helping on projects that are not even in his jurisdiction. He walks alongside us now, helping wherever and however he is able. Every single person here from Canada pitching in to help. The dental week would NOT have been possible without Steeves Guild, a student and friend from Canada who has joined us here for 3 months to volunteer. He took a break from teaching English in the village and picked up the slack by helping clean, cook, and do whatever we needed him to do without complaint because we are all needed at the clinic assisting full time. Without my boys, Zack who acted as translator and driver during that week and Gabe who acted as amalgamator for the dental team, sitting patiently hour after hour waiting for a holler to mix a filling, Luke who helped Gabe and also sat patiently hour after hour and then assisted Steeves in cooking each and every meal, each and every day…. Geoff, who drove endless trips up and down the mountain at all hours of the day and night shuttling patients from far away… and of course without the Dental team from Hamilton. None of this would have been possible….. but…. whats incredible this year is we couldn’t have done any of what we did without the help of the Guatemalan dental teams too. EVERY SINGLE PERSON had their place and their tasks… and nothing was possible without them. This is true during our dental week, and beyond. No skill is too small… No task too insignificant.
Sometimes I find myself worrying. Are our volunteers bored? Are we doing enough? Showing them enough? Working enough? etc etc. Again I put that pressure on myself… I have learned something this past week. Something I have talked about before but realized this week that I don’t think I ever really understood it. There is no such thing as someone who does not bring SOMETHING to the table.
2 weeks ago we had Helena Nyland join us. I knew going into her trip that I had BIG plans for her to pick up where Geoffs mom left off in teaching the villagers of Salitrillo how to crochet. It may sound silly…. These people can barely feed themselves and yet we bring them yarn and hooks and get them crocheting. But this has evolved into so much more. Its becoming a way for this village to make money. Helena was instrumental in making this happen. She blessed them so much… and I know they blessed her as well. Small things, but important things. We have a family here… the Van Loenens. Berry, Leanne and their 2 children Noah and Abby. I think they came not knowing what to expect. Many do. Most people when told you are going to Guatemala to serve ask, “Are you a doctor, a nurse, a teacher etc”. There is some misconception that you have to be a very important professional to do such things. And while we need professionals like Dentists to accomplish things like the above dental clinic, we also need the normal everyday people who simply want to help in some small way.
Our friend and Pastor in Cincinnati, Pastor Zorn spoke in a sermon once, something profound that hit both me and Geoff. He said that very often when he tells people he is going to Guatemala he is asked: “What are you going to build?”. His answer is simple…. “RELATIONSHIPS.” We love this.
You know what the Van Loenens have been doing for most of their time here? Colouring with the kids in the village of Salitrillo. You know what has brought more smiles and joy to the kids in the village of Salitrillo than anything we could have given them or built them? The fact that the Van Loenens spend time colouring with them. TIME and RELATONSHIPS. I spent some time yesterday with 2 girls from Salitrillo. They are teenagers and there was some conflict. I sat with them for over an hour just talking to them and spending time trying to help them resolve what was tearing them apart. In the end, there was hugs all around and even a tear or 2. They were so happy that I took the time to help them resolve something that they couldn’t seem to do themselves. TIME and RELATIONSHIPS. In the past few weeks I have watched Steeves and Zack stand in front of the tiny, cramped, hot schoolroom and teach english to grades 1-6. I have watched the joy and love in the eyes of the kids as these 2 young men take time to spend with them, teaching but also having fun. There is a boy in Salitrillo whos father passed away… Zack sits with him often just talking. The boy told Zack yesterday that he has learned so much through him and Geoff and they are his role models… and he wishes Zack could be his dad. This reduced Zack near tears. One cannot put a value on time and relationships.
By having a village that we are working with…. trying to keep our “North American footprint” to a minimum, but working with them to help them have the basic necessities of life like, clean water, nutritious food and health care, we have built relationships. STRONG relationships. People here visit the village daily and do little things… things like teaching crochet…. things like colouring on the dirty floor of the church… things like sweating through a lesson on the alphabet and counting in English…. things like playing tag…. things like hugging a woman who is old and hurting…. little things….. But things that take time and build relationships. Our volunteers get to know these people. Unlike other times where we jumped from village to village trying to get the most done in the least time. We slow down now… focus on getting to know the people and their needs. Learning who they truly are and vice versa. Its not always huge construction tasks… heavy lifting…. medical clinics… etc. Sometimes we just go up to the village and play… or sit… or listen to people… or hold them when they cry… or share joy and laughter with them over silly things. Sometimes we just be with people. Be with them to let them know we love and care for them…. let them know they matter. Show them the love of God. It may not be for everyone. Some NEED to keep busy building and moving 24/7. But we have learned this is not the way to go about things… at least not for us and what we are trying to achieve here. The little things are so VERY important. Even the boring, mundane things mean something to someone. And no skill is too small… no talent gets wasted here. Helena’s son and daughter in law, Sean and Erin were here last week… Erin can skip… she brought the kids joy by skipping with them…. Sean whittled a piece of wood and made a makeshift yarn wrapper thingy out of a stick and a drill. Ok, its not all they did… but you can see my point here? Every single little thing is important and matters to someone.
In this life, in all we do, its all about the little things isn’t it? I guess I now understand ….. that, together it is through the little things that we can accomplish the BIG things!