Greetings from Sunny & Warm Guatemala. Happy New Year to each and every one of you! I sit here once again in a t-shirt and shorts (sorry to those in the North). The winds have finally arrived and the oppressive heat seems to have finally gone. It is my favourite time of year here. Warm, breezy days, cool, windy nights. You actually get to use one of the many blankets I have crocheted while watching tv. Its wonderful. New Years Eve here in “little Canada” is very quiet in comparison to the rest of this wild, party country. We sit and attempt to make it to midnight and then we hug, kiss, cheers and peer out over our balcony to watch the show that unfolds in the form of some of the most spectacular (and loud) fireworks. We are notoriously quiet here. Everyone knows ‘little Canada’. If you are visiting and stray out for a walk and get lost, a question to anyone where “Canada” is will be greeted with a smile and some directions (maybe even a guide escort) to our house. While everyone else was partying, we were sitting, playing board games and chatting about the past year… and our future.
The past year was a tough one for me. I am not going to lie about that. My blog has gone from being a personal journal of my thoughts, hopes and fears to being heavily edited. I have changed my style because I know others are reading. This seems foreign to me and I honestly did not enjoy writing it anymore. I didn’t like thinking I had to ‘censor myself’ so as not to offend or make anyone reading feel uncomfortable. To watch my word count because some say I am too long winded and write too much…. As you may have noticed, this resulted in me writing a heck of a lot less. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. In talking with my boys on New Years Eve I realized that I have been wrong. I should not feel the need to censor myself. It’s my blog and I want to write. I need to write. But I need to do it my way, including how long I want. So, my ‘resolution’ of sorts is to go back to writing. My way. If it makes a reader feel uncomfortable then so be it. I am uncomfortable almost every day of my life and I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing. I think its through those moments we learn and grow as human beings.
So… I am back…. And I’m going to take a bit of time to tell you about my year. One of the best, but most difficult. Please be advised that after telling you of the good, I am going to cover some of the bad… if you want to stop reading I will understand…..
First, the good…..
We had the privilege of meeting and making some amazing new friends this past year. God brings people into our lives it seems when we most need them. We are thankful… always…..
We also had the privilege of building 2 new schools this year… One in “our” village of El Salitrillo and one in the lower village of Moran. El Salitrillo school is grades 1-6 and is such a huge blessing upon all. The school in Moran is a pre-school and will be opening in just a few short weeks!!! Exciting for us and a HUGE blessing for the people, especially the children. Guatemala has cut funding for most pre-schools and we are doing a study that plans to follow these kids through to grade 6. We hope to have solid data that can prove to the government here that pre-school (our kindergarten) is necessary and helps children prep for later school life. The alternative here is to have these little ones work… and so often the families get used to them working so much so that they don’t end up putting them in school at all. Potential doctors etc. never have a shot…. Elias is one such child. He is 14 now and is absolutely hands down one of the most brilliant kids I have ever met…. But his family needed him to work so he has never attended school. I swear this boy might have the key to something huge locked inside his head on that lonely mountain….. makes me sad.
Our Community Empowerment Program thrived in 2015. So many families received education, nutritious plants and seeds, solar lights and water filtration systems. We are seeing the benefits of this every day…. The people are healthier and that is what we came here for! Many of the people in our Community Empowerment also received Solar Powered Audio Bibles thanks to Galcom. We look forward to their return this year to hand out more. The people here consider these audio Bibles to be one of their most prized possessions and now, every time we go to a village we are greeted with people walking around listening to them. Its such an amazing thing to have helped not only the people’s physical state but their Spiritual as well.
Dental Clinics thanks to Dr Laszlo and his team…. What more can I say…. Years of hard work has truly made a difference…. STIMMA the medical team…. I can’t say anything more about that either. All this hard work in both medical and dental have truly saved lives. Priceless…..
Various individuals and teams like Ridley College have also helped us make huge strides in 2015. Individuals and teams working selflessly to help us reach our goals… and more importantly help the people have hope.
Our “School of Hope” began in 2015 and has now become a huge focus of our mission. A school for special needs kids…. But also, a centre for people to come who have need… whatever that need is…. There will be an office there… with a middle aged housewife sitting in it (me)…. And from there my family and the people that believe in us and what we do, will try to help them. It’s a dream come true for us…. And we truly believe this place will help change lives for the better.
If I have neglected to mention something or someone I am sorry. It is not my intention to leave anyone or anything out. I want to say that without each and every one of you we could not do one thing…. We love you and we are thankful for you… So many good things have come this year, they are just too numerous to mention each and every one….
Through all of this joy…. And so much more than I could ever write about…. There has been pain. Pain enough for me to literally want to throw in the towel.
A very young girl… and one I am very close to in one of our villages was raped. As I drove up the mountain in the night with a friend from the medical field and my husband, I was shaking so hard I could barely function. Geoff waited outside as myself and my female friend went into the home to chat with the girl… things I never thought I would have to ask anyone, ever, swirled through my head. As my dear young one threw herself into my arms and sobbed uncontrollably I could actually feel my heart not only break, but shatter almost completely. She is so young… so small… so fragile….. Her father had told Zack about the rape earlier that day, and asked him to tell me…. Zack talked with the dad…. Making sure that he was not going to kill the man that raped his little daughter…. Retribution is common here since there is no formal law help. The dad admitted he and his brothers had discussed killing the man but decided that God wouldn’t want that…. The man who raped this poor girl has no idea how close he came to death…. I thank my son for taking the time to talk to his friend and make sure that no more pain would come of this horrific event.
Apparently it had happened a week before and this young, tiny girl had already tried to commit suicide. So the father who was trying his best to keep this secret had turned to me for help with her. I decided to go up the mountain that very night with my female medical friend to examine her and see what we could do to help her mental state.
I remember travelling up the mountain praying… praying for the right words to come… praying for strength to help this poor little girl…. When I was young I went through something very similar to her and it was from that experience I was able to draw strength and try to help her feel not so alone. The culture here is very specific on this…. She is damaged now… she feels it deep into her bones and knows that if this ever came to light she would have trouble ever getting a husband. So sad…. There is no help… there is no calling the police… there is no therapy for her to help her…. There was only me. A white woman from a foreign country dragging along a virtual stranger to examine her and try to console her….. I knew this poor girl was so fragile and if I screwed this up she could once again try to take her own life and I would never forgive myself….. No pressure…..
While holding her tiny sobbing body and trying my best to soothe her…. Something awful happened… I froze…. My medical friend was asking me questions to translate….. every bit of Spanish I had vanished. It was nerves but I couldn’t for the life of me put together a coherent sentence in Spanish. It was simply gone. My dear friend sat me down with the girl on my lap… and very calmly talked me down… encouraging me and looking straight into my eyes telling me I was “doing great”. I don’t know who my friend was there for more… me or this poor young girl. It helped and I was able to pull myself together and calm enough to ask the tough questions…. I will never forget that dark, late night up the mountain…. I will never forget my dear friend from Canada who was there for me and for the girl. You know who you are and I love you so much for how you got me and her through that awful night. The tiny wide eyes of the little girl still haunt me when I sleep.
I prayed all the way down the mountain that I had done some good…. That I had helped somewhat…. A mere hour of my life…. Forever changed me. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this”… “it hurts too much”…. “I cant really help”…. “I want to go home”…. In the space of an hour, my “home” went from being the newly adoptive Guatemala back to Canada. In my head I was already booking plane tickets……. But in the meantime I had work to do. We had a team and I had to get myself through it and then speak to Geoff about going ‘home’.
Fast forward 2 days….. the doorbell rang…. Geoff answered….. the young girl was in my garage with her mom. As soon as she saw me come down the stairs she ran and flung herself into my arms…. Her eyes filled with tears as she held me tight. She looked up at me and smiled the tiniest of smiles….. She was ok. Somehow, in my ridiculous attempt at talking with her that night, I had done some good. I was shocked. Floored actually….. I had some antibiotics I needed her to take and so I broke the hug and got them…. She took them without question…. (Im talking like 7 different pills here)…. Complete trust in me and no question about what or why she was taking all these different pills.
In that moment, she hugged me again and I realized something…. I am here for a reason…. And I, despite my inability to see my own talents, I am good at what I do. I always feel a bit inferior here… a bit lost. I watch Geoff and Zack thrive with the people and the construction and everything they touch…. I am watching Luke and Gabe grow and thrive also…. Learning from their father and older brother… prepping themselves to take over someday. They are male… they have a place…. They are loved and trusted and do amazingly well at whatever they tackle. I cannot lift heavy things… I am not good at construction…. I cannot really be a part of meetings between men because women here just aren’t respected in that way…. At times I feel lost and confused as to my place here. Relegated to not much more than a housewife again…. Don’t get me wrong, taking care of my family and being a Stay at home wife and mom has always been my career of choice and I love it…. But having worked my behind off going back to University to learn about Holistic Nutrition etc I always wondered what my place was. Sure I do education seminars and work with the women here teaching them about health and nutrition but that’s a few times a year. I guess I always wondered if there was ever going to be ‘more’ for me.
It was the plight of a little girl that now, every time I go up that mountain is one of the first out of her house and hugs me with such force it literally knocks the wind out of me, that taught me so much…. I am valued… I am needed…. I am good at what I do…. I AM making a difference. In my head I have gotten a refund for those plane tickets and it is so worth it…… I am in tears even as I write this and re-read it now….. But they are good tears… the kind that only come when you are remembering deep pain from a very different place… a good place….
(** update note: Geoff and Zack have worked with this family, finally convincing them to seek help from the police. The man who raped this young girl is being charged and will have to go to court and face his crime. The likelihood that he will spend time in jail is actually very good. Guatemala is not really changing in this regard but because of our presence here things like this for the Mayan people are beginning, slowly to be taken seriously. Thank God.)
Suffice it to say 2015 is gone…. It was a good year…. Filled with very high highs…. And desperately low lows…. But worth every minute. I look back upon 2015 with bright fresh eyes now…. I can see my value again…. I know why I am here and I know that despite my not being able to help at times, it is the times I CAN help that I need to focus on. I absolutely cannot wait to see what 2016 brings for me, my family, the people that visit and of course the people of my “HOME” …. Guatemala….
Hello there dear friend. It’s been a while…. I do really try to keep on top of everything but honestly sometimes its just a bit too much. Running a Ministry, a family, a home, fundraising efforts etc. etc.…. It just overwhelms sometimes. And again there are times when there simply isn’t much to say. I’ve said before, at times its not very exciting here… But there are still some things to report on…. Settle in, blogging only every few months means I have a lot to say…. Sorry about that….
Much of the past few months was spent preparing for our STIMMA (Short Term International Medical Missions Abroad) team. It was a huge team and a huge success! Not to sound lazy but you can read a much better description of their time here, complete with tons of photos, than I could ever write at: http://footprints.stimma.org/ . Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy but its all there so why re-write it? Have a look when you get some time… the blog was so incredibly well done and I’m not going to try and duplicate it. Suffice it to say more than 1500 people received medical care they so desperately needed AND medicines were left to sustain those that need it for the next year (yup they are coming back next year)! AND, part of the team worked tirelessly on our newest project, The School of Hope, Jutiapa Provinces first and only school for special needs! The progress they made was outstanding…. Despite the rain, mud and horrific conditions. You see our ‘rainy season’ was a bit weird this year and the rains came… but they came late… and did not stop until about a week ago. The school began as a huge swimming pool almost every day for the construction team…. Sorry guys… haha.
This brings me to talk about the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken…. The School of Hope (Escuela de Esperanza) . First of all, the people chose the name in a round about sort of way. The word Hope keeps coming up from the parents of potential students. During the medical clinic with STIMMA we met some incredible young people with Down’s Syndrome. Christian, Boris and others. Christian’s mom cried with excitement when we told her about the school. Hope. That was the word she used. Boris’s mom had a similar reaction. Hope.
Hope – such a simple word and yet it conveys so much. Good old Webster defines it as: “to want something to happen or be true and think that it can happen or be true”. We hesitated to use it as it can be a bit… um… overused. BUT, honestly, it fits. Parents HOPE for a bright future for their kids. Parents HOPE their children can have a place in this world. The School of Hope is bringing that to Jutiapa Province for the parents of the forgotten children. Christians mom said: “You mean there will be a place in this world for my son?” Yes dear mommy… there will be…. And we all have such HOPE that it can bring a bright future for your son and so many others like him.
The snags however are abundant. We learned, and continue to learn some valuable lessons here as always…. The largest being…. Its probably not the best idea to begin a big, ambitious project in Guatemala during an election year. I have to admit, sometimes we get so frustrated. There is so much corruption in Government and among the people. All we want to do is help but then you hit brick walls… people searching for bribes… special favours…. robberies of money and materials….. those in power threatening to stand in your way unless you pay them. Its actually crazy.
My dad, Rudy, passed away more than 23 years ago. He was one of the best men on this planet. He had a special place in his heart and life especially for children with special needs…. He was very instrumental in the world of Unions back in the day through his humble work as a tool and die maker. He taught me to stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. Be a voice for those who have none. To always have hope and cling to it. He also taught me to also stand up for myself and never give in to threats, corruption or anything like that. But at the same time to be patient with people and to look behind their motives and ask yourself one question: Why? Perhaps there is much more going on than you know or realize. I realize that sometimes the answer to why is greed… but sometimes, the motivations are fueled by desperation. Poverty is soul crushing. Not having enough to provide for your family makes you do and say things you normally wouldn’t. I don’t fully understand this desperation because I have never lived it. Thank God I was born to a family who provided and had the means to. I have the absolute blessing of marrying a man just like my father…. But so much better in the way that he is so much better educated through life experience. Geoff keeps me grounded in this frustration that sometimes grabs a hold of me, makes me throw up my arms and be ready to just pack it all in! He has the ability to restore my hope when I feel all is lost. I love my husband with all my heart. Its amazing to feel so much love and thanks for having someone like him in my life. Its incredible to watch this man raise his boys to share in his dreams and take a full and integral part in them. My boys are a good mix of the two of us. Enough of me to ask the questions and enough of him to search for the answers without throwing up their arms and walking away.
The bottom line is that the budget for the School of Hope continues to climb. Corruption has greeted us at every turn. Corruption we know is fueled by desperation and a tad bit of greed at times. We figured this out when we took the time to step back and ask ourselves the WHY? We now know enough to ask the WHY? But we do not have to roll over and take the answer either. Thus we made changes. Big plans and big changes.
- The School of Hope now sits on land we purchased. A HUGE purchase that we did not count on. A HUGE purchase that was completely 100% necessary to secure the future of the school. We could not take chances on people coming in and taking it over 3 years down the road. The land includes a part for us to build a home. A home we so desperately need so we can stop renting and facing the corruption of that part of our lives as well. A home, right on site so we are there and readily available at all times. A home that will include an area for teams to stay. (NOTE: This part of the construction is funded by our family. This is not with Ministry money. Our home is 100% going to be built by and funded by our family. The school is funded by donations. Just needed to clear that up so there is never any question about the use of money within our organization.) A place for teams to work and be a part of the school and its workings each and every day.
- The School of Hope may in fact face a name change before we even begin. It may in fact change to the Centre of Hope because we are learning that this is going to be so much more than just a school. It is already planned to hold medical and dental clinics, hold nutritional seminars, health seminars, malnourishment consultations (The Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro where we began also has undergone many changes over the past few years and we need to begin doing some of our own childhood malnutrition consults- long story for another blog someday), education and training sessions etc. etc. The list is becoming endless of what will be done in this, our very own, central location. The “school” of HOPE is not even finished yet and is already so much MORE than a school it’s a Centre. A central location that we HOPE can bring HOPE in so many facets of life here.
- In the beginning the Director of Education in Jutiapa said we would need a small school. One for a maximum of 50 students. There are already over 100 waiting in just our little portion of the Province alone. Thus, the School of Hope has already evolved. This is Phase 1. Phase 2 and 3 are already being planned for. The foundation of the structure has been reinforced to include a 2nd and 3rd floor. All of the plans have had to be revamped and we have had to buy much more building materials than we first thought. All to accommodate this incredible small thing that has now evolved into something so much bigger and better than our original plan. Yes it is costing us WAY more than we had originally said…. But my father taught me something else as well…. Do it right the first time, even if it takes longer and with more effort than you thought!
- With the recent near total collapse of the Government here…. The election of a new President and almost total restructure of every facet of Government…. We needed to change our plan. Its take us a long time to debate and weigh the pros and cons but I think we have finally come to a firm decision that the School of Hope will be privately run. Funded 100% by donations and run 100% by us. Again, we have faced so much corruption amidst the board of Education here that we simply do not see another way. If we fund and run this school, then we remain in control. Classes will be held. Special Needs kids will be educated. Our work will continue. All with the security of knowing its not in jeopardy tomorrow from someone seeking a quick bribe. Life just runs differently here and while we are here to help… we are not here to pay to do so!
- Labour costs are above what we had initially thought. However, this is due to the fact we have hired professional masons and construction workers to oversee the work being done on the site AND we are employing some of the men from our Model Village of El Salitrillo. These men and their sons are working not only on our school and making much needed wages but ALSO learning a trade that gives them hope to secure more work in the future!!! These men literally sleep on site to protect our construction materials from theft. They are such incredible men and such hard workers. We are hoping that learning as much as they are about masonry on site they can secure work in the construction field long after their work with us is completed.
So there you have it. The School/Centre of Hope is well on its way to becoming a reality. Construction moves as money flows in at some and trickles in at others. We are still full of hope for a January 2017 opening date. We truly feel that this place is going to be the central location for the DIG. Work will be done there…. Special Needs Children will be educated…. People who need help will have a place to go…. HOPE will be given for free….. Thank you to my husband who keeps filling me with HOPE every day… hope for the possibility of this place making a real difference here…. And thanks to my father for placing within me the ability to have Hope and to cling to it. Sometimes it is all we have… and it’s the most important thing because without it, we have nothing! Daddy, we are going to dedicate this school in your honour. Rudy Oliverio… this one will be for you! Thanks for being who you were…. I miss you every day and I love you still.
**(Remember: If you want to be a part of this project…. A project that will be ongoing…. Join with us and donate any amount or buy a couple of blocks and a bag of cement for $25.00. Your name will be printed on a block once construction is done. Just imagine the School of Hope covered in names of people from all over the world. Names that show the kids and adults here that there IS Hope and that people really do care! Note that donations made online will say: Guatemala Community Empowerment – Doppenberg – This is a Rev Can rule, not ours so just email us at email@example.com and let us know you want your donation to fund the School of Hope.)
Partner with us today! www.thedoppenbergs.com
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