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!
I had a much different blog planned for today… but sometimes life throws you something you just have to get out… So here is today. Maybe tomorrow will bring something different….
Many ask… “So what do Missionaries like your family actually do and how do you live?”. Fair, but loaded question. There are many misconceptions surrounding the lives and activities of missionaries. Especially ones like us. I posted a picture once on facebook and someone mentioned that it was gutsy of me to post a picture of my house since the photo had our tv in it. At first I thought the comment was strange. But after talking with Geoff we realized that we are a tad bit under scrutiny for what we have considering the connotation that comes along with the title “Missionary”. I can tell you we do not live in mud huts and ride donkeys. We live in a rental house just outside of the town we serve in… We have beds, toilets, showers and running water (now). Yes we have a tv… and we have xbox… and we have a ping pong table… and board games…. and a dvd player… and a stereo…. and many other such things. Our actual living conditions are not that much different than what we had in Canada. Albeit there are many subtle differences. I do not have a clothes dryer… nor an electric can opener… nor a dishwasher…. etc etc… Missing are many, but not all, of the conveniences of North American life. But most of those we actually do not miss. Many deep and meaningful conversations happen here over a sink full of dirty dishes… or hanging wet laundry… We work together and consider every moment, even those in work, as meaningful time spent together.
What do we do? Hmmm…. that is where things get tricky. I read a blog post once by a woman who calls herself “The Very Worst Missionary”. She wrote what I am sure rang true with many missionaries who read it. It said, and I am paraphrasing here…. We rely on donations. And people want results. And we get them… BUT…. some days are full of unclogging toilets … how do you “sell” unclogging toilets?
I know we all feel that sometimes. Like every day there should be something huge to report… some miracle… some HUGE event. Unfortunately we learned quickly that many, if not most days are just that…. unclogging toilets. Ok, maybe not actually unclogging toilets (although that does happen quite a bit around here and at the Hospital), but doing menial everyday tasks. We are not tallying ‘lives saved’ or ‘people converted’. These numbers so many covet simply do not exist. We do our thing, the thing that God sent us here to do. Yes there are projects… and these projects sometimes take a frustratingly long time. Delays are common here… Siesta happens every day from 12-2pm and nothing happens during that time! We do visa runs (some unsuccessful)… city runs for supplies… airport runs to get volunteers…. visiting sick…. interviews of families, children and villagers. Sometimes things are quite tedious and boring. Standing in line upon line to do a task as simple as banking or some other small task. Sitting for hours doing reporting paperwork…. etc etc… Sometimes what we do simply consists of listening to someone, or holding them when they cry.
Today we visited the Hospital. All but 5 of the Hermanas are away visiting their families for 1 week. We wanted to check in and see how things were. The door that is normally open was locked tight because the young Hermanas left behind to watch over the children are alone and a bit nervous. We knocked and were greeted by a miracle. Concepcion is a young girl who was at the hospital studying to possibly join the community of nuns last year. She got ‘cold feet’ so to speak and left to return to her family. We missed her terribly, especially me. She is such a bright and happy young girl and always greeted me with such a huge smile and an even bigger hug. This year when we arrived I was very sad she was not there. So, imagine my surprise and delight today when she opened the door!!!! She gave me my hug and quickly left to the kitchen and began cleaning. Something was missing in her today. All of us felt it but being a mom, I knew instinctively there was something much more going on with this quiet, and completely abnormal behaviour. We kept calling her in to sit and talk but she kept on working quietly.
Finally after a lot more pressing she came in the room, sat on the edge of my chair and quietly began to speak. I can barely type this story without crying…. paraphrasing again but mostly in her words:
“I left here because I just wasn’t sure. I needed time to pray and see if this life and this community was where I was supposed to be. I prayed every day for this community of Hermanas, for the children recovering here, for your family and for the people that together you serve. God showed me that this was not “A” community… this is “MY” community and so I told my family I wanted to return. I said goodbye to my family and 2 days ago my mom took me to the bus to take me from my home to come back here. (Note: Concepcion lives many hours from here in the remote highlands of Coban). A very short time after I got on the bus it was stopped by a pickup truck. The 2 men in the truck immediately shot and killed the drivers helper then they boarded the bus and killed the driver. We all sat in shock as they assaulted people and robbed everyone including me. Then they left. We were stranded and afraid. A pickup truck took me and some others to the Capital City. I was dropped there alone and scared and I tried to get a bus to El Progreso. There were none. A pickup truck taxi stopped and offered me a ride as far as Barbarena so I could get a bus there. Once we got there, the buses had all left and it was late and dark. The taxi man said: “Well I can leave you here to die or you can pay me 500 Quetzals and I will take you to El Progreso to the Hospital.” I called my father with the little money I had left on the phone he gave me. He cried and was afraid but he was so far away he could not help me. (((( I must interject here: NOW… just imagine yourself… a 15year old girl….just having seen 2 people murdered right before your eyes…. assaulted, robbed afraid and alone…. OR, imagine being the parent of this young girl…. 10+ hours away completely helpless to aid your young daughter…. )))) I had no choice and I was so afraid. So I agreed to let the taxi man take me. I had tucked away 350 Quetzals in personal places so the robbers from the bus did not get that. I did not have 500. But I was afraid. I prayed the whole way that I would arrive safe. We arrived here just after 10:30pm last night and thanks be to God the Hermana’s let me in and paid the angry man the other 150 that I did not have. By the grace of God, I am safe… I am home. “
Having finished her story… tears began to run down her face. I stood up and held her. She immediately held me tight and began sobbing in my arms. All the fear and sadness came out in those minutes that I held and soothed her. I cried with her and told her I loved her. Everyone in the room was silent as her and I shared a moment together. After a few minutes we broke and she began to giggle at things Zack and Hermana Viviana were talking about, trying to lighten the mood and cheer her up. Within a half hour, my Concepcion was back. The sparkle back in her eye… she had fully returned to HER community…. to US. I am thankful that I pressed her to open up… I am thankful that I could be her mom, even if for a few moments when she needed one desperately.
So there you have it. This is what we do. We are here… doing whatever presents itself in front of us. Whatever God wants of us. Sometimes we work on large projects… Sometimes we simply hold those that hurt… Sometimes we simply get busy unclogging toilets…. ….. Sometimes we are simply living… simply waiting… simply being here… simply being …
Wow… it has been a very long time since I have written an update blog. Might want to grab a coffee… as you know this is my time to be long winded and this one might just end up being long hahaha… if you have been here before you know they ALL end up long… if you are new here… settle in!
Time seems to move so differently here. We tend to lose track of days and dates like never before. The new reality has us plotting dates and remembering by the arrival and departure of volunteers and the things we do. It is busy here… but without the hustle and bustle of the North American clock and calendar. Now that we live here full time, we have to move slowly. The constraints of money and also the need for us to live as a normal family… with down time so we don’t burn out moving at our normal pace of ‘only 6 months here, gotta move, FAST!!!’ Things are so very different now. Ask anyone in my family what day it is and you will get the same clouded look back at you… the answer will be the same… “so and so left on Sunday… 2 days later we did a medical clinic up in Salitrillo so that must have been Tuesday…. the next day we built a structure, so that must have been Wednesday…. we also installed some smokeless stoves and planted chaya, that was 2 days ago so today must be Monday?” etc etc. This is how time moves here… So, my humblest apologies for not updating sooner!
I think we have finally adjusted here. And by “we” I mean “me”. Everyone settled in quickly except for me. I had my share of struggles as I pointed out in my last blog. Well, I continued to struggle at times. Make no mistake, its not that I don’t want to be here or that I regret my decision in any way. I was simply adjusting. Its been a roller coaster of emotions here over the past few months. If you have been here before you know that we do Highs and Lows at dinner. This is a time for everyone here to express the good and bad about their day etc. We find ourselves these past months with many extreme HIGHS and many extreme LOWS.
We had, and continue to have, long term guests. Melissa… we loved having her again and look forward to having her bless our family and the people here once again someday. She was here just over a month… too short but we are thankful she was here!!! She is missed…. very much! Rachel VG… she has been here for almost 3 months. What a joy she has been. Her joy is infectious. She is always smiling and sees the world in a way that is so refreshing. She fits into our family alarmingly well. She works hard and contributes so much to our life here. I never had s daughter but I now feel that I do in a way. Im so blessed that her family allowed us the privilege to borrow her for a while. I pray she will bless our family again someday! Family came… Geoff’s sister Judy and our nephew Peter. What a joy to share with family and spend time with those we love and miss so much. We toured villages in need of schools and hope to someday build to help those communities that have need. Others were here as well… Jon came from Nicaragua and Fernando, a dear friend from Beamsville. Awesome men who came and helped… and played games and taught us how to cook pizza properly. Sometimes people simply come to check things out… help where they can… and spend time with us. We need that so much! Very big High!!!
Our umbrella organization Commission to Every Nation made their yearly visit. Our pastor couple, Stephen and Tammie blessed us so much. As did Trevor and Jana the Canadian Directors of CTEN Canada who joined them. To have them here to simply spend time with us and bless us… make sure we are ok mentally, physically and spiritually. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible this organization is for missional families like us. There are no words… Suffice it to say, for our entire family…. Very big HIGH!!!
Hope Lives Apparel was here. Armed with medical supplies for our hospital and money for food for those living in extreme poverty. We did food drops in the villages of El Rosario and El Salitrillo. These drops included some much needed aid for these extremely poor people but also something different this time. Sustainable plants like Chaya and fruit bearing trees!!! These plants will continue to provide much needed nutrients long after Hope Lives visit is a distant memory. Awesome!!!!
Combine this with the visit of a Rotary club from Florida who installed 20 life saving smokeless stoves for families in the villages. Just today in the local paper was an article about the dangers of the cooking methods here. Startling statistics for Guatemala include: 2.1 million homes use firewood in their home as their principal source of energy (cooking and heating)… 60% of homes that cook using firewood have no chimney… 20% of families living in extreme poverty cook where they sleep and continue to burn wood for heat… 57% of the firewood used is contaminated with dangerous substances like the residue of agricultural chemicals. Women and children are exposed to harmful, choking smoke by cooking, on average for 4 hours every day. The results are major health problems involving cancer, pulmonary problems, chronic eye, ear, nose and throat infections etc etc. The above issue of not having proper smokeless stoves causes the death of an estimated 5,000 people every year… mainly women and children. I have spent much time in such homes…. and I know firsthand how this smoke chokes and burns your eyes, lungs, nose etc. It is horrible. These stoves literally save lives and we are already seeing and hearing about the benefits of the stoves that were installed only a short time ago. The people are already healthier and using 85% LESS firewood and thus also helping save the dwindling forests here. Climate change is affecting the South too… it is colder here in the mountains… so much colder than normal. Families need heat… these stoves provide long lasting safe heat. So Awesome!
Having other organizations here and getting to meet and serve alongside others with such big hearts, and accomplishing so much…. Very big HIGH!!!
A tiny baby arrived at our the Hospital Infantil… Precious little Jose was loved, fed, held and every effort was made to save this tiny boy. It simply was too late and Jose died…. Very big LOW!!! But for 19 other precious little ones who did not arrive too late, the hospital is doing great things and helping their tiny bodies recuperate and become strong, healthy and vibrant! Very big HIGH!!!
Lorraine and Reinaldo from Vineland visited. They came armed with plenty of clothing, blankets and goodies for the people and money they had worked hard to raise back in Canada. They provided 3 roof structures in El Salitrillo. 2 for families in desperate need and one for a school room for children ages 4-6. We are working on getting a teacher for these children for a Jan 17th start. They are also providing a bridge to get across a gully created by running water down the steep slope. This is very dangerous for the little ones during rainy season as one mis-step could be disastrous. Through their efforts there is also a little boy here who will be having surgery in January to fix a chronic problem with his ears that has him in pain almost every day for the past few years! Lorraine and Reinaldo also provided something you cannot buy with money. Something our family needed very much… friendship. Something clicked between us and they instantly became part of our family. We laughed until we cried and had so many great chats. We did not expect this and it was such an amazing blessing to all of us. Very big HIGH!!!
During one of our visits to El Salitrillo (the site of our Village Empowerment Program) for a meeting we met a woman and her little 3 year old daughter. They had walked almost 4 hours from the Village of Chequa to see us. Her daughter was ill and she heard we could possibly help. We took her and her daughter to the Hospital Infantil and she was told that without her daughter being admitted immediately she would die from malnutrition, Anemia and a myriad of other ailments all stemming from malnutrition. To make a long story short she stayed one night and the mom and daughter snuck away in the middle of the night because the woman’s husband refused to let his wife and daughter stay there and demanded they return home immediately. As I discussed in my last blog, the civil war here did some major damage to the Mayan people. The memories of this are still fresh and some of the more remote Mayan people still do not trust outsiders, even Guatemalan nuns who are doctors! For the next week, we tried everything to get this father to reconsider. To no avail. Knowing this little girl will most likely die without treatment… and being powerless to stop this needless death… VERY BIG LOW!!!
Being included in the villages & communities day to day life… things like birthday parties and weddings and births of babies etc etc etc… Becoming part of the community…. To have Don Mario & Maga show up randomly at our door with their wives and food to teach me how to make some delicious Guatemalan food then To have Don Maga and his family & friends randomly show up again at our door another day with food, speakers and a chef etc to create a grand afternoon lunch party in our courtyard complete with karaoke… All just to say welcome here and we love you! Being able to be with friends and celebrate their weddings… their birthdays etc. Being able to be there for our friends/family here. Like Sr Chico, Sra Vilma, Fernando, Elisa and grandma who lost a dear member of their family…. as well as our friends Hector and Ileana who recently lost her father… Being invited into the family to sit vigil and hold them as they mourn…. to be accepted and loved and be able to love them back. Very big HIGH
Medical Clinics in the mountains. Having the privilege of running these clinics and allowing people without access to medical care the opportunity to be healthy… Very big HIGH. Learning at these clinics that one of the worst health problems besides the smoke from the indoor cooking is bacterial and parasitic infections from dirty river water they have no choice but to gather and use to cook and drink. Very big LOW. Having the opportunity to work with Miracles in Action to provide portable water filtration systems to clean this water and make it safe to drink…. Very big HIGH
Water… Being without water for a total of 13 days on 2 separate occasions… no showers, no laundry, no toilet flushing unless you walk to the river to fetch a bucket… while the river still has some water in it… etc etc… Oh and chiggers or some such bug… little microscopic things that feed on you. Totally harmless but they get in the waistbands of clothing and bother you after you have been here for a few months. Wow, do they itch!!! Best way to get rid of them… wash everything in HOT water. My washing machine has a setting for hot… my kitchen sink has a tap for hot… oh wait, there is no such thing as hot water in our home… or most homes here. And so we adapt. Very big LOW but hey, at least we have water… clean water…. sometimes. Very big HIGH
Getting the Village Empowerment program started and already beginning to see changes in the lives of the people in Salitrillo… Health improvements, mood improvements…. We are seeing frequent wide smiles where before they were scarce. They have renewed hope. Very big HIGH
Dealing with the shipping of our goods from Canada. Mostly donations meant for the people here… stuck in Customs here racking up a bill… a $50.00 USD per day bill… Very big LOW. But despite the wait and the money, we have things coming… things that can help the people here and hopefully make a difference in their lives… Very big HIGH
Selling our home in Canada!!! Fast closing and overall pretty painless sale. A huge burden off our shoulders… but bittersweet due to the knowledge that our life in Canada is different now… only visiting…. A high and a low… but overall a big HIGH because we are secure in the decision that we are meant to be here in Guatemala!
So as you can see… life here is and has been a roller coaster. Every day we deal with life and death issues for other human beings that inhabit this same big blue ball floating through space as we do. My biggest worry is no longer what to make for dinner that everyone likes… my biggest worry is that something we do or do not do can be a life or death decision for someone. That knowledge takes adjustment… some getting used to. Its like our lives, our family, grew to include hundreds of people. People who matter just as much as we do. And we want to make smart decisions… decisions that help not hurt anyone. Just like anyone we want whats best for our ‘family’. We could let this break us. If we were to look at the failures and the losses only. If we did not have an internal way of looking at things differently. Never before in my life have I needed to learn a more, “the glass is half full” attitude. It is so important for us to look at the accomplishments, learn from the failures and know that we are mere humans doing what we feel called to do and doing it as best we can. Sure we make mistakes… but we are learning, growing, adapting… The glass IS half full. Our proverbial bucket IS filling one drop at a time. Sometimes we have leaks… but we seal them the best we can.
We cannot do this alone… we need God and we have Him. With Him all things are possible. We also need YOU. People like you to help… to help by supporting our mission… to help by providing prayer, friendship and encouragement…. by listening to our ups and downs with compassion and understanding…. by sharing in our joys and sorrows. In 3 countries we have an amazing set of friends… of family… amazing Churches… an amazing life. And we are going to live it as we were meant to. Here, in Guatemala as a united family.
Thus life, love, loss and hope is the order of business today. All is good and we are doing what we can where we are…. trying to involve others to help… living our lives and loving every minute. Celebrating the highs and accepting the lows… adapting. Knowing that together we can and will make a difference one drop at a time in that bucket I talk so much about!
How you can help? This Christmas and beyond (I say beyond because while this season is promoted as the season of ‘giving’ it is my belief that EVERY season is a season of giving) go to our official website: http://thedoppenbergs.com/?p=2203 and buy someone a stove, some plants, some fruit trees etc… give the gift of life… give the gift of hope. Help us DIG deep and fill that bucket!!
God Bless you all and a very Merry Christmas from THE Doppenbergs In Guatemala!
Greetings from beautiful sunny (and rainy) Guatemala! We are here, we are settled. Honestly I did not think everything was going to ever settle. The last weeks for us in Canada were beyond insane and we were looking forward to getting “home” to Guatemala. The goodbyes in Canada were brutal and our emotions were stretched to the limit. Once we arrived here both Geoff and I got quite ill. I think our bodies just were so overtired they literally shut down. It made the transition here quite a bit more difficult. Combine that with the fact that our home here had leaked and most things were covered in a nice layer of mold. Oh this whole rainy season thing is going to take some getting used to. Its hard to describe… most days its a mix of sun and cloud and then the rain arrives mid afternoon. Now, its not like North American typical rain… oh no… its instantly drenching downpours with epic thunder and lightening that last for hours upon hours. Everything floods, everything gets soaked and nothing ever dries due to the humidity. It can be quite miserable.
Often when it rains I feel myself becoming mildly depressed. For the first week here, I have to be honest, I did not think I was going to make it. Several times I was tempted to book flights back to Canada and forget this whole insane “move to Guatemala” thing ever existed. I shed many tears those first few days as I recovered from illness, acclimated to the altitude (which makes you very nauseous), cleaned mould from walls, laundered everything that got mouldy and cried even more when every time I put laundry out to dry it began to rain, and cried more than I ever thought I could mourning the loss of my easy life back in Canada. I was near hysterics if I thought too much of the family and friends I left behind. Seriously, looking back that first week I wonder how I ever snapped myself out of it.
In all honesty, what snapped me out of it was the thoughts and sights of why we are here… when it rained I thought of the people in the mountains who have no access to the medicine I easily picked up from the ‘farmacia’ to rid myself of my illness… when I was nauseous I thought of the people who climb up and down those steep mountains in the mud to fetch meager amounts of water…. when I cleaned mould I thought of those who have no walls to clean, no clothes to launder and simply no shelter from the wet and cold…. As I sat down to eat every meal I was overcome by the guilt of my “first world problems” … I had food, shelter, family… amazing friends all over the world who love and care for me… and enough money to book a plane ticket back to visit them when I am so inclined.
The biggest slap in the face for me came as I worked my way through 2 books about the history of Guatemala and the civil war that lasted for decades. The one not many North Americans know much about… ya, that one. We hear tales of genocide and such things from all over the world and yet this one … not much is ever spoken nor written about. It was important to me to read these books… to learn about the history of the country I now call home and the Mayan people I serve.
What I read was so incredibly shocking to me that I have had nightmares about it ever since. Nothing has ever affected me quite like this. Perhaps it is because I am here… living amongst the people that were so detrimentally effected. I look people in the eye, notice something inherently broken in them and wonder why. Now I know. Families ripped apart, torture of proportions that are on par with the Holocaust, food supplies that have taken generations to ensure high quality seeds, destroyed, women, children, men, families, babies all gone. More than 200,000 people just gone. Poof… just like that. Mostly over land. Powerful people wanted that land for the big fruit companies and the Mayans were simply in the way. Ok, so I am really oversimplifying things here, but suffice it to say, that there was no valid reasoning behind attempted massacre of an entire race of people. Other countries sanctioned the acts. Large powerful North American and European countries that had the power to help. We all stood by, watched and did nothing. Shame on us! So many things for us in North America happen in the abstract. We read something in the newspaper or see it on the news and barely feel anything. Sure we say, “Wow, thats terrible” and we turn the page or the channel and its back to life as usual. Things sometimes are just too far away to affect us. Its not our fault… we don’t know any better. We are bombarded by news and in most cases us, as individuals are powerless to stop it.
Being here and seeing the aftermath… The lack of food, the health issues, the psychological damage, the drinking, the hopelessness…. I get it. I want to speak to some who lived through it. There are no words. The wounds are still too fresh. The war ended in 1996. Not even 2 decades ago. Its still too soon. I don’t know if some will ever be really ready to talk. Those that spent 2 years hiding in the mountains with no food, no shelter and no idea where their families were, may never be ready. I don’t blame them. After reading what I read, my faith was renewed. My faith in the fact that my family is EXACTLY where we are supposed to be… my faith in the fact that I am EXACTLY where I need to be.
Our mission has begun. The mould is gone, the rains are still here. My mental state is back, refreshed and renewed. The Hospital Infantil is full to the capacity that our meager budget allows. 18 children are being rehabilitated there through love and solid nutrition. All but two of the familiar faces we left in May have returned home to their loving families. 16 new children are there… In total, 18 precious lives are being saved by those loving nuns there. Maybe someday, our work can help lessen the need for the Hospitalito (the little hospital is what it is affectionately called here by locals) altogether. Maybe someday, the many drops in our large bucket will eventually fill it to overflowing!
We have begun to work on our Village Empowerment project in the village of El Salitrillo. We will begin there by running water lines from the source so these people do not have to walk anymore for life giving water. We will be planting crops, bringing health care and working with the people to see what their skills are so they can help themselves. Everyone contributes and everyone brings something to the table! Reading about the war has put this so much more into perspective for me and helped me to understand how to work with the Mayan people. How years of being told they were sub-human has affected all the generations. God has brought us here to help us bring hope back to these lost communities. To tell them they are not worthless… that they all have gifts and talents from God and together we can help them rebuild so the future can be something to not be feared anymore.
We toured many villages this past week. We are working on partnering with Miracles in Action to build a school for a village in desperate need. We toured 5 villages… 5 of the worst in Jutiapa province. Again I was floored by the need all around me. It is so humbling for me to see how these people are forced to live and yet I whine and cry about missing my clothes dryer? Not anymore! While visiting one village in particular we were asked to help buy medicine for a woman who was very ill. We took the time to walk to her home and visit her. What greeted us was a woman on death’s door. In the final stages of kidney failure. A 63 year old, wife, mother and grandmother. We had to sit and talk with her husband and son and tell her that there was nothing that could be done for her. They had her at the hospital the day before but they sent her home. There was no more the medical professionals could do. I don’t discount their belief (nor mine) that miracles can happen, we told them that medically we could not help but nothing is impossible with God so we would continue to pray. Sometimes I get so frustrated at the fact that these things simply do not happen much in Canada… sure people die… but treatable conditions get treated early. The family through their grief and tears thanked us and told us they would pray for us, always. Oh, again humbled to my knees at the grace and beauty of these people.
No longer am I whining… I am solid in my belief that I am here, blessed to be together with my family, doing what God has put us on this path to do. The road ahead will not be easy…. It will be very difficult at times I am sure. But it will be oh so worth it. And I have so many blessings in my life… family, friends, Church, Pastors and of course God to help me through and that is the reality of it all.
(FYI: If you are so inclined, have a read of the books on the Guatemalan Civil War. “Buried Secrets – Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala” by Victoria Sanford and “Guatemala – Never Again” – The official report by The Archdiocese of Guatemala. Be warned these books are not for the faint of heart as they include brutal eyewitness testimonies from survivors)
Many people have used different words when talking about me and my family. The one that comes up most often is “crazy”. We have heard this word used in all manner of speaking about us, who we are and what we do…. Websters dictionary defines “crazy” in the terms below:
a : mad, insane
b : impractical, erratic
c : being out of the ordinary
d : distracted with desire or excitement
e : absurdly fond, infatuated
f : passionately preoccupied
Now call me “crazy” but I think that they are using the term referring mostly to definition a & b with maybe a slight touch of c,d, e and f.
I think its time for me to take you on a walk…. so take my hand and come with me… and see the things that I see through my eyes….. and things I feel through my personal thoughts….
When I walk out my front door every day I am bombarded by this incredible place called Guatemala…. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. It is warm but not humid and you can quite often feel a cool breeze blowing. In a short drive I will see cows blocking the road and I will have to wait… I will see a random man out with his goat for a morning walk…. I may have to stop for a funeral procession that is walking along the winding roads on their way to lay a loved one to rest. I will see children playing futbol (soccer) in the streets or climbing trees, or playing with whatever random rock or stick they find…. I will see dogs of every size and colour roaming the streets…. I will see a few cats running from those dogs. I will see men riding horses…. men tilling fields by hand… women sitting on street corners selling their wares. If I get caught by road construction I will wait… and I will wait for up to an hour. And funny enough I won’t mind… I will buy a bottle of cold water from one of the 50 people who will come to my car trying to sell me anything from cold drinks to fruit to meat like tongue to fresh peanuts to hammocks, to cd’s etc etc… and I will politely answer “No Gracias” (no thank you) to almost all of them… and I will sit and wait and enjoy the down time. I have learned to slow down….
While I drive I will yell “Oi” to many people. If I am walking I will smile and say “Buenos dias” (good day) to every person I see and they will give me a heartfelt reply. I will see such beauty all around me in the landscape. I will see dry desert like conditions with parched soils still producing trees and lush green plants. I will see mountains and volcanoes in every direction. I will see views that the word breathtaking does not begin to do justice. Beauty that mentally brings me to my knees every day in awe of our Creator. No matter where I walk there will be a tree bearing fruit that I can pick… oranges, papayas, limes and more mangoes than I could eat in a lifetime. This fruit has not been genetically modified… nor treated with pesticides…. The meat I buy might be tougher to chew than in other places but it is safe to eat. Hormone, chemical and antibiotic free meat… it doesn’t get more free range, organic than this.
A drive frequently brings you to an area where only a 4×4 can go…. roads that were never meant to be driven on… we call those “practically a highway” in the immortal words of Zack… My heart frequently pumps with a mix of fear and excitement as I look to my right down a cliff with no guardrails… On grades that human hands made roads where no roads were ever meant to be…. My fear and excitement quickly changes to awe, inspired by the spectacular views of mountains and volcanoes in the distance….
When I arrive at the hospital I will be greeted by the gentle smiles and hugs of the Hermanas (sisters) and tail wagging from the many dogs that protect them. The Hermanas always have fresh watermelon, Jugo de Jamaica (a delicious juice made with flower petals) or cookies and coffee, and I can hear joyful quiet singing coming from another part of the building as other Hermanas clean and prepare meals. This singing always fills me with a sense of peace… I will sit for an hour or more just laughing and talking with them… then I will wander over to the Hospital side where the children are. It does not matter if I am there every day or every 5 days….. when I walk in I am greeted by screams of excitement and children running to me and jumping in my arms with hugs and kisses. There is no feeling like the pure joy these ill children exude. And their joy to see me is genuine. They are so innocent… I cannot help but endure my eyes filling with tears every time I enter. Tears for the injustice that they are starving…. but joy that they are in a place that will recuperate them and love them over the year or more they are there….
As I continue to look around my surroundings in my town I see colours. Vibrant colours of homes, of peoples dress, of even cemetaries. Even in respect for their dead they paint the crypts bright, joyful colours…. Yes people here mourn, but they also rejoice because they know their Saviour.
I think about things I do…. how each and every day here is different. How I never know from one moment to the next what will happen… or what we will be doing. I think about how a few months ago I went to the Hospital to enjoy some worship time with the Hermanas and some of our volunteers and within 5 minutes of our arrival I was instead in a nearby home helping Hermana Mercedes dress and prepare the body of a dear friend of hers who had just passed away moments before. I think about how I sat with not Hermana Mercedes, but my friend Mercedes for hours that night as she gently cried… she mourned her friend and I hurt for her. I love all those ladies and I would do anything for them as my dear friends. I think about how we make plans for each day… and rarely do they work according to our plan… but they do indeed work out better. I think about the things I do day to day… the work we do…. tending a house, homeschooling, ministry work, work in the villages, work with the people, work with the hospital…. such a rewarding experience and I learn so much here every day. Life is never dull….
If I drive a couple of hours I will see the landscape change from dry to humid… The mountains will be left behind and it their place will be flat fertile lands… Lands that grow sugar cane… I will see the Pacific ocean in all its strength and fury. I will watch my children frolick (there is really no other word) in the waves. They will fall… they will get pounded, but over the sound of the crashing waves I will hear them laugh. As a matter of fact I hear them laugh a lot here…. Funny thing is, I laugh more here in 6 months than I probably have in 6 years…. Despite the poverty we see and deal with every day… despite the injustice we see that clouds our minds and fills our eyes with tears so very often… we still laugh. The people that make us the most sad… the ones who are incredibly poor are the ones that teach us. In every random village filled with the deepest poverty and injustice that the world has to offer we hear the sound of laughter. When the children of these villages hear our truck approaching, the children and their parents come running to greet us…. they want nothing… they simply want to welcome us and laugh with us. While sitting on the beach listening to the crashing waves that sound like thunder I will reflect…. I cherish these times of reflection… the times where I can just sit and think about things. Things like my life and where I have come in the past 5 years…. things like the families I meet and cannot help… I am humbled by the fact that even those I cannot help tell me they will pray for me and my family… and they mean it. I will think about my family and friends back in Canada who I miss terribly at times when I am here…. and how no matter how far away I am I love them…. and I hope they know that… but this is where I need to be right now.
Am I crazy? Yes…. I suppose I am… But I think I am crazy in the more latter definitions…. This place gets in your heart and makes you absurdly fond, infatuated… passionately preoccupied… not insane. This place and its people are “out of the ordinary”… The best part is, I get to be crazy and do this walk daily with my family beside me. A family I love more than they will ever understand…. with a husband who was made for me… and who I love more and more every day….. with 3 sons I could not love more nor be more proud of… Zachary, Lucas and Gabriel. If it makes me crazy to be walking alongside them in my life here then so be it. I love you all with every fibre of my being… I also get to do this having visitors… people who come down and have real ownership in what we do here… involved in decision making day to day…. People who are new and I get to experience things here through new eyes each and every time…. People who come as friends and sometimes strangers and always leave as family…
There is something Geoff always quotes to people who call us crazy or insane. A quote from a movie….. “What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to get lost; …. Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?”…..
To each his or her own. This is the life that I have chosen…. A path was laid out for me many years ago and I have finally chosen to follow it. And I could not be happier nor more at peace. I encourage you to come walk with us someday… in person… or to go wherever your path leads you…. to stop seeing the world through the eyes of others and begin to live for yourself…. you won’t regret it. Many may call you ‘crazy’… but trust me when I say then that crazy works and its so worth it.
Whew…. what a crazy ride this has been so far. There is so much to talk about its become very overwhelming to write. I hardly know where to begin….
I guess I will begin where all good tales begin…
Once upon a time…
There lived a man and a woman. They got married. They promised each other many things. One thing being that they would take care of each other and love each other. Another thing was that they would become rich and live the ‘good life’. The search for this good life became their dream. This man and woman had 3 boys. They all lived together as a close and loving family. This family had a normal, quiet life. One day everything changed. Their lives look nothing like they did before. They gave up their dream of the good life, and they mourned the loss a bit. A funny thing happened…. they realized that the good life they were seeking was something they already had. The good life has nothing to do with financial prosperity… it has everything to do with who you are, and who you surround yourself with. The “good life” we seek, surrounds each and every one of us through our family and our friends.
Did they live happily ever after? Well their story is still being written… but I can say that if this family stays on the path they are on, this story here on earth will end happily someday….. And they are a Christian family… and for us… it all ends happily ever after… forever…. so…. lets just say it anyway… and they all lived happily ever after…
Friends and family… precious commodities. Trust me on this because I know. Down here in Guatemala we spend a huge amount of time alone… but also a huge amount of time surrounded by people.
So much has happened… So many people… we have hosted families, groups, adults, youth, young adults… you name it, they have been here this year. So much has gotten accomplished here this year. We are so humbled by the hard work, generosity and love from everyone who came down and everyone who works hard back in Canada and the U.S. to make sure that the means to get things done are there.
So many people ask us, maybe we shouldn’t come down, maybe we should just send money. We always say no. Its not about the money. Sure money is important and without it, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do… but its about so much more. Its about relationships… between people. Relationships between those that come and our family… between those that come and other visitors that are here…. between those that come and those that live here, speak a different language, and are of a very different culture. Many nights at dinner, during our highs & lows we hear a lot of lows being the inability to speak the language and to communicate with kids and people here. However, communication takes on many different forms… and people manage. The mere act of being here communicates so much to those that live here hungry and in extreme poverty. I cannot encourage you enough to take a trip down here… become a part of something amazing. You will not believe how life changing the experience can be.
We hosted Dr Laszlo’s dental team that helped over 300 people…. Hope Lives Apparel that through the sales of t-shirts brought food to an entire village living in extreme poverty… Eden High School raised money and sent a team to install a brand new playground for the precious children who are recovering from malnutrition at the Hospital Infantil…. AND they also took part in a mobile medical clinic that we run with the Hermana’s from the hospital that saw 125 children and provided much needed medicines and medical treatment for all of them and as a result sponsored an entire family that is in dire need. We had Rachel, a friend and co-op student here who finished her grade 12 education here in Guatemala… This is the same Rachel who, if you have followed the story of Marquito, has sponsored him and his recovery for the past few years. We also hosted many individuals, family members and friends…. Everyone brought drops to put in our bucket…. each and every one. And we are so very thankful. Each and every one of you, no matter how you came here, left as a part of our family and we miss you all!
The future you ask? I am so excited to see what the future holds… We have some very exciting things going on down here…. I have to admit at times I get discouraged. Especially with the Canadian side of things. Last year we came home to Canada only to realize that we had some major setbacks due to some circumstances beyond our control. But we pushed through… This year, just a week or so ago we found out that some pipes burst in our house and basically it is an unintentional indoor swimming pool. Our insurance does not cover burst pipes in the winter and so we lose…… I really have no earthly idea exactly what we will be coming back to in a few weeks other than what I have been told… and that amounts to… “You won’t be living in your house for a while”… Disaster, yes…. tragedy, no. Things like this get me down at times. BUT, they do not affect my ‘happily ever after’. Sometimes it takes my amazing husband and my amazing boys to help snap me out of the funk these things get me into… and they do a great job. Another thing that helps snap me out of these funks… well, renewed hope!
And I have renewed hope! To go along with that hope I also have big dreams. And I personally feel like we are getting so much closer to those dreams being realized. I have prayed for a miracle… and it looks like I might just have gotten one via an organization called, Miracles in Action. These amazing people, with hearts and minds and dreams equal to ours could not have entered our little world at a more opportune time. One thing we have always thought… its great to give people in need the necessities to live… but how can we help them not only live but become sustainable and prosper? Well, through education and opportunity, thats how! And we are so much closer to bringing education and opportunity to the lives of those here who need it most. If you have followed this blog through the years you will know that I have a passion for nutrition and am almost finished my journey to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, which basically means to use natural things on this earth to nourish and heal the body. Miracles in Action has a very similar program using Chia and Chaya plants to do just this. And our miracle is that we are now working together to grow these plants and get them out there to people… This is actively making a difference in peoples lives. We have already had one training session for the leaders of villages in our province. Some of these people came by bus from hours away to attend. They know the value of education and are so eager to learn…. they WANT so badly to keep their children healthy but sometimes don’t have the means to do it. Giving your child proper nutrition to help them grow, develop and thrive is a right, not a privilege. And it is our dream that together with Miracles in Action we can make this dream a reality in Guatemala!
The bottom line, our agricultural program is finally getting off the ground. And with your help it can grow into so much more than we had ever dreamed. We have spent the last few weeks planting seeds, touring farms and meeting with biologists and eco-minded people here. As some of you recall we have been in the last year been raising money to purchase land for our agricultural program. We have not reached our goal yet so we have rented a few acres in the meantime while we continue to raise money. Thank you to those of you from Royal LePage and all other friends who have supported this thus far. We hope to get there this year!! In a few weeks our seeds will be transplanted to the land in time for the rainy season (which is the only growing season here). My dreams have become so much grander. I envision an organic farm that will be used for research, education and distribution of the materials needed to each and every person here who wants it and especially those who NEED it.
So… come on down, see whats going on… give and support the future of nutrition here in Guatemala…. and, think of your own ‘happily ever after’ and how that looks for you….
Check out the pictures below… Then visit: http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg/ to partner with us so together we can eventually eliminate the need for malnutrition hospitals! Help us help empower the people to take back their right to live healthy lives and have a true Happily Ever After!
This post comes with a warning…. I am going to make you think… and then I am going to make you take up a personal challenge. So be prepared…. this one requires that you go beyond reading…. and move into DOING! Are you up for the challenge? I think you are….. as a matter of fact… I KNOW you are!
Have you ever sat and thought…. “I am just one person… what can I possibly do to change the world?” I know I have…. There are times here in Guatemala that I think it every day…. every single day. I look into the hope filled eyes of the children at the Hospital Infantil and then everything changes…. I can do lots…. I am doing lots…. and so can you!!
Hope Lives Apparel is doing lots. They are selling t-shirts that feed children! Yup, buy a t-shirt and feed a hungry child 21 meals! 3 solid nutritious meals for an entire week! It may not sound like much in the grand scheme…. but combined with employment & education incentives that we have for the families of these precious children…. the sky is the limit!!! What a fantastic company making a difference!!
Before I go on, its come to my attention that some people are confused as to what our hospital does…. and what malnutrition is…. well let me show you…. then let me tell you….
This is what the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro does….
Incredible isn’t it? These are not just kids on a screen… these are real, living children that I personally have watched grow… I have held them as they cried…. I have seen this incredible transformation with my own eyes!
KWASHIORKOR – MARASMIC Malnutrition
“Malnutrition affects one in two Guatemalan children under five,” according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, “meaning the country has the sixth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world.”
The primary forms of malnutrition that Guatemala is plagued with are Kwashiorkor – Marasmic malnutrition. Very severe but totally preventable afflictions.
Kwashiorkor malnutrition is a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is not enough protein in the diet. It is most common in areas where there is: famine, limited food supply and low levels of education where people do not understand the importance of eating a proper diet. This disease is common in very poor countries.
Marasmic malnutrition is a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is both not enough protein and not enough calories. It leads to severe tissue and muscle wasting. Child looks emaciated and body weight may be reduced to less than 80% of the average weight that corresponds to height. It simply occurs because people do not have enough food to eat.
Symptoms: changes in skin pigment, decreased muscle mass, diarrhea, failure to thrive, fatigue, hair changes (colour & texture), increased and more severe infections due to damaged immune system, irritability, psychomotor retardation, large protruding belly, lethargy or apathy, rash (dermatitis), shock (late stage), swelling (edema), enlarged liver.
Treatment: Getting more calories and protein will correct kwashiorkor – marasmus, if treatment is started early enough. However, children who have had this condition will never reach their full potential for height, growth and development.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. People who are in shock need immediate treatment to restore blood volume and maintain blood pressure.
Calories are given first in the form of carbohydrates, simple sugars, and fats. Proteins are started after other sources of calories have already provided energy. Vitamin and mineral supplements are essential.
Since the person will have been without much food for a long period of time, eating can cause problems, especially if the calories are too high at first. Food must be reintroduced slowly. Carbohydrates are given first to supply energy, followed by protein foods.
Prognosis: Getting treatment early generally leads to good results. Treating kwashiorkor in its late stages will improve the child’s general health. However, the child may be left with permanent physical and mental problems. If treatment is not given or comes too late, this condition is life-threatening.Complications: coma, permanent mental and physical disability, death.
So there you have it. This is why children enter the hospital here and stay for up to a year… This is what we are up against every day here in Guatemala! Does it seem like something that is untreatable? How can this be when we live in a country that has to have food recycling programs because of an over abundance of food? I know personally when I am in Canada, I throw away, in any given week, more left overs from my fridge than the average child here eats in a month, or 2 months… or 3… Honestly its mind boggling that something like malnutrition still exists in a world where there truly is plenty…..
Just in case you have been over-burdened by reading….. let me show you Sandra again…..
This is the incredible, life saving work the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro does…. but it cannot do it without your help…. So…. go to www.hopelivesapparel.com and but a shirt and DO SOME GOOD!
I am not stopping there! I have a challenge for you….
It’s February…. the shortest, yet longest month of the year…. the time when the children begin to arrive at the hospital…. the month where the harvest begins to run low up in the mountains…. the month that signifies that the hospital will be over-burdened and under funded…. the month where the entire cycle begins again… the scary month…. so….. here’s where you can help.
I am going to ask you to give up something this February…. a week’s worth of coffee in a coffee shop? A dinner out? A meal? A new outfit? …. anything…. pick something and give it up. Give it up and donate $20.00 (or more if you are able). Sitting here one day brainstorming, Geoff, myself, Zack, Luke and Gabe all thought… together we have over 1000 friends on facebook alone! If every one of them gave $20.00 then WOW!!! So lets begin this challenge together! Lets each and every one of us put our own drop in the bucket and fill that baby up!
What is $20.00 to us in North America? Not much…. I have that much in loose change lying around the house back home in Canada…. but here it means so much… nutritious food and medicines for a dying child…. so lets take up this challenge together and lets make some changes in the world!
Give up that meal… give up that coffee… gather up that loose change and together we CAN make a difference! There is strength in numbers…. and the challenge is ON! Go and make your tax deductible donation now at http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg/ . Don’t wait… do it now! If every one of you reading this donates $20.00 that truly would be a miracle… a miracle for a real, live child here… a miracle that will save a life!
Why not drop us a line at email@example.com afterward and let us know what you are giving up and we will compile a list in a later post.
Mother Teresa once said: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”…. You CAN feed one…. and your $20.00 will do just that!
Go now, don’t wait until later… life gets in the way later… and this is important. Face the challenge head on now…. visit www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg/ and BE the change!
Greetings from beautiful Guatemala everyone! Wow, have we really been here for over 2 1/2 months? Must be true because we are off next week on a furlough to Costa Rica for 72 hours. We travel here on visas that are only valid for 90 days and you have to leave the country to renew. The alternative is to pay a hefty fine at the end and risk refusal to re-enter next year. So off we go!
I am sorry I haven’t written a blog in a long time. There are various reasons for this… firstly I was completely snowed under by my University work for the first 2 months here. Back in Canada I fell behind… seems ‘stuff’ really gets in the way for me in Canada. I am all caught up and have only some cases studies to complete now over the next 2 months…. then my exam in June. God willing, by July I will be a RHN (Registered Holistic Nutritionist). I cannot tell you how invaluable this will be to what we do here. People do not know how to eat to maximize nutritional intake on what can laughingly be called a ‘tight budget’. Also with no money, comes no medicines to cure what ails them. Its incredible how much has been provided to us in nature to cure us. This is what I will be doing on a full time basis here. To say I am excited to get started would be the understatement of the century.
Another reason I have not written a blog until now…. well honestly, I haven’t much felt like it. This year, as opposed to previous years has been incredibly tough. We have a family that we have been trying to help for the past 2 years that is just impossible to help. You have to understand that sometimes here it feels as though we have 100 dependents. I know that others are not our responsibility but in a way, by default of what we do, they are. And lets face it, some families are just easier to help than others. This family has had all of their kids in the hospital at one time… some several times…. one has already died…. all because the parents are separated… and to be totally frank, they are irresponsible. The children are not cared for in the slightest…. and we fear for them every day. But Guatemala has no FACS (Family & Children Services) like back in Canada. So we jump through hoops trying to figure out ways for these children to get help. But at every corner we are blocked by the adults in their lives. We bring food… the adults eat it… We had plans to build them a house, but we fear the adults will take it over and the young ones will be left out in the cold. We visit this mountain family 3 times per week and the situation seems to be more desperate each time. The kids are hungry, sick, dirty and neglected…. The adults are healthy and vibrant…. You getting my drift here?
This situation has reduced each and every one of us… and some of our volunteers, to tears at times. We all just want to help so badly… but are at a loss at what to do. Hermana Mercedes has tried psychologists, sequestering the children at the hospital… but all to no avail. So needless to say, a feeling of hopelessness has overcome our little community here at times. We have all grown so close to these kids…. Everardo, Jakelin, Yeimi, Gabriella, Esdras, Moises etc etc…. there are so many…. so sad. Today Abram visited the hospital with his mom. Abram is from a different family. He was in the hospital last year and we all became very close to him. Today he arrived for his monthly visit, check up and meds. He looked so incredibly healthy. Thank God for the Hospital Infantil! Thank God for parents that care enough to help keep their kids healthy! This is the way it is supposed to be!!! Please keep this family in your prayers…. and us, that we along with the Hermanas can come up with a viable solution before its too late and we lose one of them or more… God Bless them.
So…. suffice it to say, we are struggling this year…. emotionally. And when I struggle, I do not write… and if I do, I certainly get way too morbid for even my own taste, and thus I avoid. Its just who I am.
Today however, I am writing. Today, was a great day! A day of renewed hope! We formulated a maybe-plan for the family that might just work. I won’t say too much yet about what it is until I begin to see it come to fruition. But suffice it to say, today after meeting with the Hermanas we may just see some light at the end of that proverbial tunnel.
We also met with Manuel this afternoon. Manuel came to us last year, armed with a note. I will never forget what it said…. “ I am a man of limited means….. I cannot write but had a friend help me…. I do not want a hand out or money….. I want a job…. I am a hard worker and will learn anything.” I remember the exact moment he handed us that note after waiting patiently almost 4 hours for the opportunity to speak with us after we finished work for the day. Manuel did get work from us. He worked hard, was early every day, and never missed a moment of opportunity to help us any way he could. He even took a good portion of what he earned and bought and prepared a lunch for all the other workers on the last day of the job. He is an incredible man, with an incredible heart and he is our friend.
Our meeting today was to see how we could help his family and to see if he wanted work for this year. Yes he wanted work…. no he didn’t want us to help him. His reasoning? Well, he said that there are so many people out there much more poor than him and he never wanted to take anything away from anyone else in need. He went on to tell us that he and his family prayed every day for our family and all the other Canadians… that God would bless us, so we could return to help the poor of his country. He also wrote his name and phone number on a paper for us! He is learning to write!!! I am telling you, I love this man. We all do. He is so humble and amazing. He will be helping us this year…. and we WILL be helping him. There has to be 20 people living in his 2 room house that is crumbling. Since we have decided not to build homes this year, unless there is an emergency situation we will help him in other ways. Mainly by building him a roof like structure. The thing that struck me today…. after talking with Manuel for almost an hour…. asking over and over if he needed anything… (a question he refused to answer), he finally did come up with something… he pulled us aside and whispered to Zack…. he needed 100Q for his son to continue going to school…. and later he asked for 50Q so his other son could buy a hen for food…. he whispered because he didn’t want his sons to know…. Want to know how much 150Q is…. $19.00. We gave this man 19 dollars and it changed his 2 sons lives. How incredibly simple…. How do we drop $19.00 on trivial things back in Canada. Sorry to pick on Starbucks but I’ve dropped more than that on 2 large coffees and a scone. I can assure you I won’t be doing that anymore. One thing being here does to me is helps me to be much more aware of my money and how just a little can go a long way for a family in need.
Now, about this roof structure… exciting times… one night, Geoff, Jamie, John and Zack (Jamie & Laurie and John & Helena were our most recent volunteers) sat outside at our plastic dining table and came up with a plan. An amazing plan of a pre-fab roof that can be put up in a day. There was a woman, Miriam from last year that we had promised to help when we returned this year because last year we were out of time and money…. This lovely woman and her family were our first trial of this roof structure. It went amazing! Geoff, Jamie, John and Zack, Luke and Gabe put it up in 1 day with some finishing touches the next day. It was all pre-fab and welded in the courtyard of our home by some Guatemalans and its awesome. Its not a house but its a structure that will keep them dry and warm in the rainy season. One can attach walls of rock, adobe mud, bamboo, metal lamina etc etc.. virtually anything! Our plan is to teach Manuel how to weld and employ him to make them for us for use in the mountain villages.
We also have quite the plans…. It always strikes me as funny how things change and how diverse we have to be. We have begun a pig farm with plans to expand. This will provide food (via pork) for the hospital AND money from the sale of the pigs. We hope to have 40 sows producing babies year round! At the moment we have only a few and need more. We also (thanks to John & Helena) now have 2 cows!!! Thelma and Louie. A boy and a girl that hopefully will be producing baby baca’s (cows) within 6 months! Again for meat and sale. If anyone had ever told me that we would be basically farmers down here…. I never would have believed it!
Our plan for the farmland crops is on hold for now. The market here is terrible for anything produce… even coffee (tell me please, coffee shops in North America, how Guatemalans are getting only 10 cents per pound of coffee when you charge so much?). Guatemalan’s have lost money… a lot of money in crops, so the land here right now is much better used for cattle. Thus, we are adaptable. Cattle it is!!!
The hospital is in full swing. Lots of new Novitiates there and life is good. So many awesome women who are giving their lives to serve the poor. I believe the total woman serving at the Hospital now, learning and getting ready to go out into other parts of Guatemala and Central America now stands at 38! There aren’t many kids at the hospital right now, around 10, but that is normal for this time of year when crops are still abundant from last harvest. February -March is when the surplus harvest begins to dwindle and the kids begin to arrive malnourished…. By summer there are upwards of 30. Such is life here…
I have to say, I have never been more proud of my boys…. they really have stepped up to the tasks here in Guatemala. Zack is our translator now and is loving the farm life. Secretly I think he was made for this…. It will be interesting to watch him grow and thrive over the coming years whether here or in Canada. He is 18 now and has many decisions about his future ahead of him…. But he has shown such growth in these past few months into a young man that Geoff and I are so proud of. He is actively a huge part of the decision making process here and has some fantastic input. Nothing like the mind and thoughts of the young to get things going! Luke and Gabe are also maturing…. its awesome to me to see their hearts and minds grown and work… when I think back to what I cared about at their age …. wow, they are incredible young boys and I am confident they will grow into incredible men… all of them! They have an incredible role model in Geoff…. God truly blessed me with the men in my life! I love them so much and its such an honour to serve here in Guatemala at their side.
So there you have it… the life here. Its trying at times but good. Volunteers have begun to arrive and we have said some ‘good-byes for now’ already. Overall its an amazing privilege to do what we do here. Even though its very hard at times…. The biggest obstacle as always is money. We have many things going on to help, but we cannot do any of it without you. We need money for pigs, more cows…. money for materials for the pre-fab roofs…. money for the hospital and the kids for food, medicine and education…. Pick something that touches your heart and visit our website www.thedoppenbergs.com to donate now so we can continue to do what we do…. maybe even consider coming down and seeing for yourself!!! We promise it won’t be boring… just ask anyone who has come before!
We have “Highs and lows” that traditionally accompany our after dinner talk. One night after an especially trying visit to the family we are struggling with, emotions were running high. Helena mentioned a quote by Mother Teresa. Apparently when Mother Teresa was asked why she would continue when its so little and the need is so large she said…. “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Helena likened it to a drop in a bucket….. Thank you Helena for that…. We feel we were given this beautiful bucket by God.
So this is our bucket…. and we need you to help us put some drops in…. The bucket is large….. but it gets filled one drop at a time. One drop at a time, together, we CAN make a difference!