Doxa creates opportunities for people to serve Tijuana through
house building, education, and long-term community.
Araceli and her 7-year-old daughter are dressed up in Christmas clothes, coming from a school Christmas recital. Araceli’s 1st grader sang in front of the entire school this year, which she so much enjoys. Araceli smiles with joy as she recounts the performance and shows pride in her daughter.
Araceli grew up in Tijuana, spending almost her entire life in the neighborhood of Pedregal de Santa Julia. She is the third of six kids, who grew up at Hogar de los Niños orphanage. She recounts that her family was the orphanage, as she never knew anything else. Some of her siblings still live there all these years later. She talks about the orphanage with a heart full of gratitude. Hogar de los Niños filled a void for her, not just one of physical needs with food and clothes, but also the necessary intangibles of love, growing up with family, and role models.
Rosa and Eduvigues, who worked in the orphanage, practically became her parents. Rosa taught her to read, write, and memorize math tables. Araceli recounts that she was never really a good student, but always tried hard and Rosa did see value in that. Araceli gets emotional when talking about Rosa, as she passed away a couple years ago. Rosa left a strong impression on her that she still carries with her to this day. Perhaps that’s where her strong work ethic came from.
What Araceli lacked in study skills, she made up for with her love of physical activity, exercise, and spirit of determination. Putting all that together led her to open a neighborhood Zumba studio. Not bad for someone who didn’t finish middle school. She operated the Zumba studio for years, teaching many in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, she had to close that business due to the pandemic, but her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again as she went back to school to be a masseuse.
Araceli shares that she wants to open her own Zumba and spa business once her house is built. She already has it planned out, where the house will be on one side of her property and the other will be dedicated to studio and spa. She hopes rent payments for housing and business space will finally be a thing of the past.
When talking about her daughter, Araceli’s face starts to brighten up. She says she wants to impart humility, a good work ethic, and persistence onto her young daughter. All qualities that have served her well throughout her life. Araceli also shares of a deep desire to break the cycle of family trauma, specifically of absent biological parents. She starts to get emotional again when explaining her motivation to be an active and present parent in her daughter’s life. Wanting her daughter to have access to family in all its fullness.
Taking a moment to reflect on her life, Araceli says that she’s learned to recognize when things change, it is always for the better. Even when it doesn’t seem like it at the time, change brings opportunity. Whether its leaving Hogar de los Niños, starting a new business, becoming a mother, or dealing with a pandemic. She shares that each stage in life should be used as a step that leads to bigger and better things. Moving on before dependence and complacency have a chance to creep into the picture. Better days are always ahead for Araceli.
In hearing how Araceli describes change in her life, I can’t help but think of her on the waiting list for a Doxa house. How a house will be another big change in her life and how it will fulfill a need that will help catapult her and her daughter to better things.
It was my 8th grade science teacher who first introduced me to the concept of “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Sounding funny at first, but is so true. Every decision we make has some element of unknown that we are unaware of. In Tijuana, Doxa has seen this happen frequently with youth who have to make decisions about school and work earlier on in life. Without the opportunity or access to try new skills, learn new things, and more fully develop their giftings these critical decisions are made with far too little information.
Schools in Tijuana operate on a permanent half-day schedule. This allows school buildings and teachers the ability to service twice as many students. However, it also means significantly less classroom time for students. While students receive the usual core subjects, such as math, history, reading, and writing, almost all schools lack access to the performing arts, visual arts, sports, technology, and counseling services. Furthermore, as students finish high school and look towards college, they must declare a major prior to enrollment. This pre-mature decision, forces them into a path with too many unknowns.
Likewise, Doxa has found that youth who decide to exit school prior to finishing college, often choose work in the same area as their parents. While not necessarily a bad thing to do what your family has done, youth need to be empowered to experience the world and have the opportunity to develop their own giftings before making such a large life decision. After all that, if they decide to follow in their family’s footsteps, that’s great. And if they choose a different path, that’s great, too. This is at the heart of Doxa’s value of empowering young people.
Recognizing the void of access to the performing arts, visual arts, sports, technology, and counseling services, Doxa sees an opportunity. Several years ago, Doxa started with a little dance group called Yelitza. Juan Sabino, the dance instructor, has since grown that group into one of the premier youth dance groups in Tijuana. Over the years, kids have shown a curiosity and desire to learn dance. They keep showing up!
Earlier this year, Doxa’s Tijuana staff assessed what other opportunities we may have been missing and how best to address them. The top three were visual arts, music, and counseling. Over the past several months, we have undergone pilot programs in each of these areas. Ultimately, the goal is to grow Doxa’s offerings into permanent programs. I had the opportunity to interview a few of the newer instructors earlier this week.
Susy is Doxa’s art teacher. She started with Doxa about 6 months ago in partnership with Tijuana’s cultural center and has a background of working with vulnerable communities. She believes that “art is therapy that changes lives” and that “art is important for the full human being because it opens doors that allow us to develop our talents.” She has seen how autistic kids have used art as therapy to become more independent and others have used art to calm their anxiety attacks. Susy hopes that exposure to visual arts will spark “changes in kids’ personality, growth in their confidence, self-esteem, and the skill of working in teams.” Susy’s motivation comes from her belief that cultivating the next generation of adults starts now, with how we treat and view the youth around us. She says that “while I may not be able to change a kid’s life in one day, I can help them to express themselves and mitigate their burdens through art.”
Manuel is Doxa’s music teacher. For about the past 8 months, he has been teaching acoustic guitar and singing. His classes consist of teaching basic cords, rhythms, reading music, singing, and putting it all together in a finished song. His class’s first public performance was last month at Doxa’s fall fair. Manuel knows that his music classes are a success when “kids enjoy the class, learn the song, and their parents like what their kids have done.” While Manuel provides the instruction, he often lets students pick which songs they’d like to learn. He sees motivation in each student to keep getting better.
Jorge is a psychologist, who works with Doxa a few times per week. He works with groups of elementary-age kids and adolescents. The age-appropriate workshops focus on emotional intelligence, depression, anxiety, family trauma cycles, and identity. Jorge has also dedicated time to grieving and processing losses experienced by the pandemic. Almost every single student at Doxa has experienced the loss of someone since March 2020. In addition, Jorge provides one-on-one sessions where necessary. Jorge strives to “form human beings who are emotionally intelligent and conscious of their surroundings, that can accept their errors and see them as a learning opportunity, that will be empathetic and help others without wanting anything in return.”
While Susy, Manuel, and Jorge have all been a tremendous value-add for Doxa this year, it is only the start. Susy hopes to undertake a community-wide mural next year. Manuel can expand classes to other instruments besides acoustic guitar. And Jorge would love the opportunity to work with parents, as so much more progress can be made when families are in sync with each other. Additionally, Doxa sees opportunity in the areas of sports, technology, and engineering (to name a few). Whether through partnership with other organizations or directly with subject-matter experts, Doxa can facilitate impactful programing that exposes youth to the world around them.
Doxa’s community center is a gathering place and facilitator of quality programming. Ely, Doxa’s director of operations, has worked hard to build a pipeline that can be flexible to changing needs. A way to bring experts into the community to share their passions and knowledge. These opportunities afford Doxa’s youth exposure to new things and a safe space to explore their curiosity. A way to find out what they like and don’t like. Youth emerge better-equipped to make decisions in their own lives and know a little more about themselves and the world around them. Doxa serves as a stepping-stone to greater things.
Since the early 1990s, Doxa has been active on the West side of Tijuana. We’ve had the privilege of building over 2200 houses, thereby providing shelter to over 11,000 people. Over the last several years, needs have been changing and Doxa has started to also build houses in East Tijuana.
Doxa absolutely wouldn’t have been able to build so many houses in West Tijuana without a great home base. A place where volunteer groups can come, stay, and prepare for their building days. A place that is well-known throughout the local community and trusted so that families can come and apply for houses. A place to store house building materials and tools that is safe and secure. Apart from the right place, it also takes the right relationships. The people that activate those places and make them come alive. People who are deeply embedded into the local community, know the families, know the needs, and can be present year-round.
For West Tijuana, Doxa’s home base has always been Hogar de los Niños. We’ve had the privilege of growing alongside that orphanage for decades and used house building as a launching point for even more partnership.
When thinking about the vision of an East Tijuana home base, we strive to embrace Doxa’s values at all levels of implementation. This means collaboration with local organizations to the maximum extent possible. There’s no need to recreate the wheel, if we can partner with another organization who is already active. Working together, we can often have a larger impact than working alone and complement each other’s strengths. This also means being deeply committed to people, communities, and places. Making targeted and high-impact investments in relationships and spaces that will further strengthen the local community and help Doxa to achieve its mission. Cultivating and being committed to long-term partnerships sets the stage for future collaboration. This is exactly how house building led to the creation of Doxa’s education program.
In 2017, Doxa started to build houses in East Tijuana and has built around 70 houses so far. We’ve been able to hobble along without the benefit of an established East Tijuana home base. Groups have stayed at Unidos por Siempre and Rancho. House building materials have also been stored at both of those locations, and even at a neighbor’s house! Doxa’s supplies have been scattered everywhere. When it rains, we need to throw tarps over the lumber piles! It’s a real chore to keep everything organized and accounted for.
What Doxa has lacked in an established facility, however, it has made up for with relationships. Maria Figueroa (pictured right) and Jaime Ortiz (pictured at top) are the two principal relationships that have been cultivated over the past few years. Maria is the founder and director of Unidos por Siempre. She heads up family selection and on-the-ground logistics for groups. Jaime is the manager at Rancho. He heads up Rancho facilities and interfaces directly with groups who stay there. Together, these two (and their respective coworkers) are integral to working in concert with groups during their time in Tijuana.
With the relationships in place, it is now time for Doxa to work on a more established East Tijuana facility. Unidos por Siempre is a good place for small groups to stay, but we also need to be mindful that it is a working orphanage without much space. Rancho, on the other hand, is a very large place with over 20 acres of land and can accommodate groups of all sizes in their dorm-style rooms. Unidos por Siempre and Rancho are only about 3 minutes away from each other and are both focal points in the neighborhood.
The most urgent need is now a shed in East Tijuana that can accommodate 14 houses of materials, tools, and storage. This will complete the vision of having an East Tijuana home base where groups can land and launch out of in service to the local community. Rancho has graciously offered to provide room so a storage shed can be built. Plans are already finished and its time fundraise to make this a reality. Our goal is to complete fundraising for this project as part of Doxa’s December matching campaign and build the shed in time for groups to use in 2023. While there will always be more projects to further enhance and improve an East Tijuana home base, the addition of a shed signifies that all the pieces are present and functioning.
The team of Maria and Jaime, as well as their respective spaces at Unidos por Siempre and Rancho, provide Doxa with partners for the next 2200+ houses! We are so thankful to them for working with Doxa and ultimately bringing glory to God through their service!
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