Greetings from Sunny & Warm Guatemala. Happy New Year to each and every one of you! I sit here once again in a t-shirt and shorts (sorry to those in the North). The winds have finally arrived and the oppressive heat seems to have finally gone. It is my favourite time of year here. Warm, breezy days, cool, windy nights. You actually get to use one of the many blankets I have crocheted while watching tv. Its wonderful. New Years Eve here in “little Canada” is very quiet in comparison to the rest of this wild, party country. We sit and attempt to make it to midnight and then we hug, kiss, cheers and peer out over our balcony to watch the show that unfolds in the form of some of the most spectacular (and loud) fireworks. We are notoriously quiet here. Everyone knows ‘little Canada’. If you are visiting and stray out for a walk and get lost, a question to anyone where “Canada” is will be greeted with a smile and some directions (maybe even a guide escort) to our house. While everyone else was partying, we were sitting, playing board games and chatting about the past year… and our future.
The past year was a tough one for me. I am not going to lie about that. My blog has gone from being a personal journal of my thoughts, hopes and fears to being heavily edited. I have changed my style because I know others are reading. This seems foreign to me and I honestly did not enjoy writing it anymore. I didn’t like thinking I had to ‘censor myself’ so as not to offend or make anyone reading feel uncomfortable. To watch my word count because some say I am too long winded and write too much…. As you may have noticed, this resulted in me writing a heck of a lot less. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. In talking with my boys on New Years Eve I realized that I have been wrong. I should not feel the need to censor myself. It’s my blog and I want to write. I need to write. But I need to do it my way, including how long I want. So, my ‘resolution’ of sorts is to go back to writing. My way. If it makes a reader feel uncomfortable then so be it. I am uncomfortable almost every day of my life and I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing. I think its through those moments we learn and grow as human beings.
So… I am back…. And I’m going to take a bit of time to tell you about my year. One of the best, but most difficult. Please be advised that after telling you of the good, I am going to cover some of the bad… if you want to stop reading I will understand…..
First, the good…..
We had the privilege of meeting and making some amazing new friends this past year. God brings people into our lives it seems when we most need them. We are thankful… always…..
We also had the privilege of building 2 new schools this year… One in “our” village of El Salitrillo and one in the lower village of Moran. El Salitrillo school is grades 1-6 and is such a huge blessing upon all. The school in Moran is a pre-school and will be opening in just a few short weeks!!! Exciting for us and a HUGE blessing for the people, especially the children. Guatemala has cut funding for most pre-schools and we are doing a study that plans to follow these kids through to grade 6. We hope to have solid data that can prove to the government here that pre-school (our kindergarten) is necessary and helps children prep for later school life. The alternative here is to have these little ones work… and so often the families get used to them working so much so that they don’t end up putting them in school at all. Potential doctors etc. never have a shot…. Elias is one such child. He is 14 now and is absolutely hands down one of the most brilliant kids I have ever met…. But his family needed him to work so he has never attended school. I swear this boy might have the key to something huge locked inside his head on that lonely mountain….. makes me sad.
Our Community Empowerment Program thrived in 2015. So many families received education, nutritious plants and seeds, solar lights and water filtration systems. We are seeing the benefits of this every day…. The people are healthier and that is what we came here for! Many of the people in our Community Empowerment also received Solar Powered Audio Bibles thanks to Galcom. We look forward to their return this year to hand out more. The people here consider these audio Bibles to be one of their most prized possessions and now, every time we go to a village we are greeted with people walking around listening to them. Its such an amazing thing to have helped not only the people’s physical state but their Spiritual as well.
Dental Clinics thanks to Dr Laszlo and his team…. What more can I say…. Years of hard work has truly made a difference…. STIMMA the medical team…. I can’t say anything more about that either. All this hard work in both medical and dental have truly saved lives. Priceless…..
Various individuals and teams like Ridley College have also helped us make huge strides in 2015. Individuals and teams working selflessly to help us reach our goals… and more importantly help the people have hope.
Our “School of Hope” began in 2015 and has now become a huge focus of our mission. A school for special needs kids…. But also, a centre for people to come who have need… whatever that need is…. There will be an office there… with a middle aged housewife sitting in it (me)…. And from there my family and the people that believe in us and what we do, will try to help them. It’s a dream come true for us…. And we truly believe this place will help change lives for the better.
If I have neglected to mention something or someone I am sorry. It is not my intention to leave anyone or anything out. I want to say that without each and every one of you we could not do one thing…. We love you and we are thankful for you… So many good things have come this year, they are just too numerous to mention each and every one….
Through all of this joy…. And so much more than I could ever write about…. There has been pain. Pain enough for me to literally want to throw in the towel.
A very young girl… and one I am very close to in one of our villages was raped. As I drove up the mountain in the night with a friend from the medical field and my husband, I was shaking so hard I could barely function. Geoff waited outside as myself and my female friend went into the home to chat with the girl… things I never thought I would have to ask anyone, ever, swirled through my head. As my dear young one threw herself into my arms and sobbed uncontrollably I could actually feel my heart not only break, but shatter almost completely. She is so young… so small… so fragile….. Her father had told Zack about the rape earlier that day, and asked him to tell me…. Zack talked with the dad…. Making sure that he was not going to kill the man that raped his little daughter…. Retribution is common here since there is no formal law help. The dad admitted he and his brothers had discussed killing the man but decided that God wouldn’t want that…. The man who raped this poor girl has no idea how close he came to death…. I thank my son for taking the time to talk to his friend and make sure that no more pain would come of this horrific event.
Apparently it had happened a week before and this young, tiny girl had already tried to commit suicide. So the father who was trying his best to keep this secret had turned to me for help with her. I decided to go up the mountain that very night with my female medical friend to examine her and see what we could do to help her mental state.
I remember travelling up the mountain praying… praying for the right words to come… praying for strength to help this poor little girl…. When I was young I went through something very similar to her and it was from that experience I was able to draw strength and try to help her feel not so alone. The culture here is very specific on this…. She is damaged now… she feels it deep into her bones and knows that if this ever came to light she would have trouble ever getting a husband. So sad…. There is no help… there is no calling the police… there is no therapy for her to help her…. There was only me. A white woman from a foreign country dragging along a virtual stranger to examine her and try to console her….. I knew this poor girl was so fragile and if I screwed this up she could once again try to take her own life and I would never forgive myself….. No pressure…..
While holding her tiny sobbing body and trying my best to soothe her…. Something awful happened… I froze…. My medical friend was asking me questions to translate….. every bit of Spanish I had vanished. It was nerves but I couldn’t for the life of me put together a coherent sentence in Spanish. It was simply gone. My dear friend sat me down with the girl on my lap… and very calmly talked me down… encouraging me and looking straight into my eyes telling me I was “doing great”. I don’t know who my friend was there for more… me or this poor young girl. It helped and I was able to pull myself together and calm enough to ask the tough questions…. I will never forget that dark, late night up the mountain…. I will never forget my dear friend from Canada who was there for me and for the girl. You know who you are and I love you so much for how you got me and her through that awful night. The tiny wide eyes of the little girl still haunt me when I sleep.
I prayed all the way down the mountain that I had done some good…. That I had helped somewhat…. A mere hour of my life…. Forever changed me. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this”… “it hurts too much”…. “I cant really help”…. “I want to go home”…. In the space of an hour, my “home” went from being the newly adoptive Guatemala back to Canada. In my head I was already booking plane tickets……. But in the meantime I had work to do. We had a team and I had to get myself through it and then speak to Geoff about going ‘home’.
Fast forward 2 days….. the doorbell rang…. Geoff answered….. the young girl was in my garage with her mom. As soon as she saw me come down the stairs she ran and flung herself into my arms…. Her eyes filled with tears as she held me tight. She looked up at me and smiled the tiniest of smiles….. She was ok. Somehow, in my ridiculous attempt at talking with her that night, I had done some good. I was shocked. Floored actually….. I had some antibiotics I needed her to take and so I broke the hug and got them…. She took them without question…. (Im talking like 7 different pills here)…. Complete trust in me and no question about what or why she was taking all these different pills.
In that moment, she hugged me again and I realized something…. I am here for a reason…. And I, despite my inability to see my own talents, I am good at what I do. I always feel a bit inferior here… a bit lost. I watch Geoff and Zack thrive with the people and the construction and everything they touch…. I am watching Luke and Gabe grow and thrive also…. Learning from their father and older brother… prepping themselves to take over someday. They are male… they have a place…. They are loved and trusted and do amazingly well at whatever they tackle. I cannot lift heavy things… I am not good at construction…. I cannot really be a part of meetings between men because women here just aren’t respected in that way…. At times I feel lost and confused as to my place here. Relegated to not much more than a housewife again…. Don’t get me wrong, taking care of my family and being a Stay at home wife and mom has always been my career of choice and I love it…. But having worked my behind off going back to University to learn about Holistic Nutrition etc I always wondered what my place was. Sure I do education seminars and work with the women here teaching them about health and nutrition but that’s a few times a year. I guess I always wondered if there was ever going to be ‘more’ for me.
It was the plight of a little girl that now, every time I go up that mountain is one of the first out of her house and hugs me with such force it literally knocks the wind out of me, that taught me so much…. I am valued… I am needed…. I am good at what I do…. I AM making a difference. In my head I have gotten a refund for those plane tickets and it is so worth it…… I am in tears even as I write this and re-read it now….. But they are good tears… the kind that only come when you are remembering deep pain from a very different place… a good place….
(** update note: Geoff and Zack have worked with this family, finally convincing them to seek help from the police. The man who raped this young girl is being charged and will have to go to court and face his crime. The likelihood that he will spend time in jail is actually very good. Guatemala is not really changing in this regard but because of our presence here things like this for the Mayan people are beginning, slowly to be taken seriously. Thank God.)
Suffice it to say 2015 is gone…. It was a good year…. Filled with very high highs…. And desperately low lows…. But worth every minute. I look back upon 2015 with bright fresh eyes now…. I can see my value again…. I know why I am here and I know that despite my not being able to help at times, it is the times I CAN help that I need to focus on. I absolutely cannot wait to see what 2016 brings for me, my family, the people that visit and of course the people of my “HOME” …. Guatemala….
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Well hello there dear friend…. its been a while. Many have asked if a blog was coming soon. Apparently people enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Im sorry… its been busy and time has a funny way of getting away from me. When I finally fall into the couch at night, writing has been, quite frankly, the last thing I have wanted to do. Its not even that I have been tired. Tired is a perpetual state of the Doppenberg Family during our volunteer season… I am used to that. Its more that I have been avoiding writing. Writing is hard. Not going to lie. VERY, very hard. I sit and stare at the blank screen and wonder how I can put into words the things I feel and experience here. Those that follow this blog know that its more of a journal. My thoughts and feelings placed here so others can get a glimpse into how things are here… Its raw and ugly at times… and beautiful at other times….
Honestly, so much of the beauty has escaped me in the past while. You know how life goes through seasons? Things come in threes? etc etc. All the things we make up to let us know that there is an end in sight… light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Well, sometimes for us, things come in the 333’s. These are times its difficult to write. How am I supposed to be full of happy thoughts, hope etc in the times where I feel very lost and alone. Even my relationship with God has been a bit off. With so much in my head I feel empty when I hear words like “God’s plan” etc. Its ok though… I know my God understands and can handle my questions. He is bigger than all of it and I know He has my back so to speak even when I feel like screaming.
But, with all that being said.. here I am. I am writing again. Writing because I have a renewed sense of joy and hope. Its taken me a while to get here to be honest. The past weeks have been full of those “things come in 3’s moments”… Lots of losses…. children dying from the families lack of the money needed for simple cheap antibiotics. People knocking on our door to help them pay for funerals for children who died for similar reasons…. Taking blind children over and over to specialists to see if they can regain sight…. One is a young girl who had an infection… this infection could have been cured for $5.00 worth of medicine… they couldn’t afford it…. she is now blind for life. The other is Bryan…. Bryan came into our lives by accident. A tiny 3 year old boy born without eyes… his lids fused shut. Bryan is one of the happiest little guys we have ever met. Him and his mom stay at our home the nights before the many trips to the city to see the doctors. Doctors that gave us hope that he indeed did have eyes behind those fused lids… and that those eyes could be surgically worked on to give him sight…. Those same doctors last week became the ones to tell us they were wrong. Bryan did need surgery but it would only be a surgery to help him grow properly since the situation with his facial bones is not conducive to allowing proper growth. Bryan would never see. A devastating loss for us at a time in our work where we could have used a win.
We cried… all of us. Bryan blew us kisses and hugged us. Bryan didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Bryan was ok. It was us that were hurt beyond words. To have so much hope and then to be so brutally let down. I honestly felt like I was falling off a cliff with no one to catch me.
Things kept up this way for a bit. So many things have happened these past weeks. Much too numerous to mention here. Problems upon problems upon problems. Seems this is the season we are to have right now. Its gotten so bad that I have been afraid to open either my email or my front door. I just don’t know who’s going to be writing or knocking with more bad news.
I have to admit I’ve been a baby. A suck. The very thing I teach my children to not be. I gave a dear friend some joking advice the other day… She is going through things that make mine look like a trip to Disney. She spoke about whether the glass was half full or half empty…. I told her to smash the stupid glass and dance on the shards while screaming. It made her laugh. Heck it made me laugh…. What it also did was tell me to suck it up and get over myself. This is not about me. It never was. How on earth can I be so down and so defeated when I see so much around me that is good.
A 15 yr old boy is building a school here bringing the village of El Salitrillo so much hope and joy. This school will be the first generation of children from this village that can read and write. Let me make this clear… this boy is 15! He raised the money for this school. This illiterate village will become literate bringing with it the opportunity for so much in the future. Absolutely incredible.
Bryan doesn’t care if he can see or not. He has no idea what he lost, because he never had it. He touched lives… our lives and the lives of those that met him…. Who knows why… who cares… We will take what we have been given and work with Bryan to be all that he can be, blind or not. Absolutely incredible.
Our Community Empowerment program is changing lives. Less kids in the Malnutrition Hospital… better health… access to healthy food… access to light which is helping everyone but especially kids because they can do homework, get better grades and secure a better future. Absolutely incredible.
We have begun construction on the DIG school #3. A preschool for JK and SK. This has always been a dream of ours since hearing Guatemala has done away with preschool in some regions because they see it as unnecessary. We have always wanted to build one and do a study to prove that education at a young age is so very important. This is happening thanks to like minded donors. These children WILL receive education at an early age and this will help them to build a better future. Absolutely incredible.
Our incredibly talented Dave Tebbutt has completed a documentary that features our family. It is his hope to show people how precious time is and how much joy can be found in service to others. That we all have a responsibility to help those in need and “perhaps it is us who need to change”. We are hoping that this movie gains a wide audience and can help people to see that we need to change the world together… and united in this common goal, we all can! Absolutely incredible.
Last week, we opened our door to the surprise of the week, month, year, decade…. Friends, Elaine and Libro were set to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary…. They were at our door to surprise us…. in their words… “we looked at doing an all-inclusive but felt that there was no where else we wanted to be than with you guys”. I don’t think anyone can truly understand what that meant to us… in a time we were at a very deep low and had our ‘bucket’ completely full of holes. I tried to explain this once to friends… Imagine being away… not being able to share joys and sorrows in person with people… always relegated to a blurry screen over skype. Our friends ‘surprise’ was a blessing to us that I can never begin to put into words….. Absolutely incredible.
We got word yesterday that someone very special to us is doing something HUGE. A bucket list type of thing… and planning on using that to help us. While its still in planning stages and a large secret I cannot elaborate… All I can say is summer 2016, God Willing, is going to see something that makes me so proud to call her my family. You know who you are… and you are…. Absolutely incredible.
The past months have seen health problems and tragedy within our family and friends across Canada and the USA. It is so difficult as I said above to witness these things from afar and feel powerless to help. BUT…. we have seen incredible miracles and watched as people from all over the world have stood united in prayer for those that suffer. To us this is simply, absolutely incredible.
Our volunteer season has come to an end…. this season we saw family, friends, strangers, young, old, etc etc come through the doors of our new home. We saw our son get married and gain a wife and a step-son. WE gained a daughter, sister, grandson, and nephew. I’ve watched my other 2 sons grow and thrive… finding their own way here and be such a great example of love toward others. I’ve had my marriage grow and thrive here in ways I could have never imagined. All because my husband and I are ‘on the same page’ and together united in our common goals. He and I are better than we have ever been before and I am so in love with him… and so very thankful for him. Absolutely incredible.
We had the privilege of spending tons of time in Salitrillo with the building of the school there. Last week, Good Friday, we headed there with visiting family to work. It ended up that the people there wanted us to spend time with them, in prayer, in community, in fellowship and in friendship. We scrapped our work plans and spent the day just ‘being’ with them. Normally so wrapped up in helping people we forget to take our own advice and spend time in relationship with them. It was a perfect day filled with joy and laughter and quiet reflection. This single day taught our family so very much. Its not always about the money, the funding, the projects… its about the people. They need us… and we need them. A lesson learned and one we will not forget. Absolutely incredible.
Our family made some decisions this past week. Decisions that have already impacted us for the better…. decisions that we needed to make a long time ago but avoided because we were focused on the wrong things. This isn’t about us…. even in our troubles and sorrows we find learning… learning about our work here… learning about ourselves… Learning from others… the joys in the little… Who cares if the glass is half empty or half full… I think its like our proverbial bucket I speak about all the time. The bucket is ours to fill or empty. When holes get poked in that bucket its up to us to figure out how to plug them and keep filling it, one drop at a time.