Summer camp has become a tradition over the past decade. What started with a handful of kids during one week has grown into a month-long summer camp with over 100 children. Last year’s summer camp was canceled due to the pandemic, much to the disappointment of kids and parents alike. This year, however, we got creative and crafted a COVID-friendly summer camp.
With 84 kids and 14 volunteers, this year’s summer camp was a little smaller than usual. COVID protocols meant limiting the number of attendees, holding almost all activities outdoors, not doing any field trips, and removing the lunch component of camp. Still, everyone was eager to return to camp this year!
New offerings included activities specifically designed for middle school kids. In years past, Doxa’s camp was only open to elementary aged kids, but now many of Doxa’s students are growing up. Ely was instrumental in putting together age-appropriate offerings for middle schoolers. These included physical activity games, DARE classes by Tijuana police officers, and psychologist-led mental health and sex-education seminars.
Meanwhile, the elementary school kids were busy with the usual arts and crafts, sports games, and activities. Thankfully, there were plenty of adult volunteers around to run the various stations.
Since there were no field trips this year, Flavio and Sabino put together a water obstacle course for the last Friday of camp. Something special that we haven’t done before. Kids were split into two teams and competed against each other to see who could finish the course in the fasted time. Everyone enjoyed it so much that I think we’ve inadvertently created another summer camp tradition.
Overall, it was so good to be active, playful, and creative around one another again. For many, this summer camp was the first time in over a year that they had really been around other people or did team activities. Time to dust the wheels off and get moving again!
Doxa’s house building, education, and community operations have been heavily impacted this year (no surprise there). The solutions of the past were not going to work as easily in a 2020 world. In order to continue Doxa’s mission, creative solutions were used. House building realized by employing local construction teams, education largely online (but some still in person), and community reimagined.
For the first time in over a month, the local house building teams were back on the job sites. They completed two new houses over the weekend. Bittersweet, as they were the first houses built without Rosa. Still, it is good to get back to work and work at something that Rosa believed in with her whole heart. The families worked alongside Doxa’s local building teams and together the houses were completed. New green and blue structures dot the hillside in Rojo Gomez, and the Jaral Cejudo Family and the Gomez Ambriz Family now have a house to sleep in. Next up for these families is moving in and turning their house into a home.
The education scholarship program has largely moved online, equipping all middle and high school students to learn with laptops and Internet access. A handful of the younger ones, 2nd and 3rd grade still come to Doxa and get more personalized assistance. Over the summer, we outfitted Doxa with all the necessary COVID-19 equipment and procedures in order to have smaller study groups utilize classroom space. Doxa continues to work with Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre on their education needs. Providing a dedicated tutor who comes to work with the kids on a daily basis has proved to work well in those settings. The classroom at Unidos por Siempre now functions as an in-home school for those kids.
Admittedly, finding ways to continue the community part of Doxa’s mission has been the most challenging. Aside from providing families with some food packages, holding a parent meeting on COVID-19, and some virtual communications with families, it’s been difficult to cultivate the kind of community that Doxa is typically accustomed to. We just haven’t been able to find a way to adapt the authentic in-person, face-to-face connection that draws people to Doxa’s summer camp, parenting classes, community events, fall carnival, clubs, and activities in a COVID-19 world. While those program offerings remain on pause, God has presented an enormous opportunity in the meantime: to assemble stakeholders and form a local task force to detail out the programmatic plan of the Pedregal Community Center. Parents, neighborhood leaders, Doxa staff, and subject experts are part of this effort. Just as the design for the community center was driven by local stakeholders, so is the programmatic approach. As things continue to develop, we look forward to sharing them with you all!
Finally, none of the reimagined house building, education, or community work could’ve been realized without your support. We are so thankful for all of the groups and individuals who have donated this year. We literally wouldn’t still be here without you! The trust that you’ve placed in Doxa to still carry out its work in the midst of a pandemic is something we don’t take lightly. The current status of Doxa’s fall/winter fundraising goals are below:
14.3 out of 20 houses funded!
65 out of 50 new scholarships funded! Goal exceeded, praise God!
$2500 out of $2500 raised for community food packages!
We’ve met or exceeded two out of three fall/winter fundraising goals and are closing in on the third! Thank you for the outpouring of generosity for the people of Tijuana!!
If you haven’t met Maria yet, here’s your chance! She is the director of Unidos por Siempre orphanage and Doxa’s house building manager for East Tijuana. Her words and interview below have been translated from Spanish to English.
My name is Maria Esther Figueroa Torres and my motivation for doing everything I do is my family, love of kids, and becoming a better person every day. I am originally from Tijuana, Baja California and what I like most about this city are the traditions, food, and people that live here.
How did you learn about working in orphanages? Initially, I worked as a volunteer at Hogar de los Niños where I did all sorts of things like work with kids under 5 years old. It was then that my love and interest in working with kids started.
How did you end up in the Rojo Gomez neighborhood of Tijuana? I ended up in that neighborhood because they (local land board) gave me the land to start a soup kitchen and all I had to do was construct a small house. I was already looking for somewhere else to go because of my poor financial situation and domestic violence situation with my husband.
Why did you decide to work with kids and open Unidos por Siempre orphanage? Because I thought about my kids growing up, how I had difficulties in providing food and supporting them in their studies. So I thought about helping other kids have better possibilities for school, food, and a dignified life.
Since you’ve lived in Rojo Gomez, how have you seen the community change? I’ve lived here since 2002 and was one of the first people to move here. There have been great changes and I’ve helped to work with the government to build local schools and install running water. Working with Doxa, we’ve been able to provide dignified housing to families.
What are the primary needs of people in Rojo Gomez? The most important needs are quality food, street pavement (or street grading for dirt roads), street lights, and quality houses for families.
What do you like about your work with Unidos por Siempre? I like to see the evolution that each child has after receiving the attention, love, and space to live freely. That they are converted into educated professionals that will have a positive impact on their community in the future. I also enjoy seeing how families react in their new houses and the ownership they have. This makes the community better little by little.
During this time of sheltering in place due to COVID-19, what have you learned about yourself? I have learned more about each of the kids at Unidos por Siempre, the ways they live together and develop. My love for them and for this greater work has only continued to grow. I’ve realized that if anything happens to them, it also deeply affects me.
Before leaving, I’d like to thank God for putting you in my path and for helping Unidos por Siempre unconditionally. I’m thankful for the boost you have provided and knowing that there are people who care about our well-being is invaluable. I send you blessings and hugs from Tijuana.
In a previous edition of the Doxa Download there was an article on how kids end up in Tijuana orphanages and even if “orphanage” is the best term to use for these homes. Perhaps surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of kids in an orphanage have living parents. Their parents, for whatever reason, just may not be in a position to care adequately for their kids. In Tijuana, and many other places around the world, this has led to the creation of orphanages.
Over the course of many years a network of orphanages has emerged throughout Tijuana and its surrounding cities. This is common among many other countries around the world, too. Even though orphanages started out of necessity and good intentions to care for children in need, the last several years of research have shed a different light on children who grow up in an orphanage setting. This research points to family reunification as the best course of action in almost all scenarios. That it is better to work with families to ensure that kids stay with them or be reunited with them.
When short-term mission teams are added to the scenario, orphanage work can become even more difficult to do responsibly. First, it is common for orphanage directors to feel that they must keep kids in their care in order for financial support to continue. This creates a cycle incentivizing orphanages to keep kids in their care instead of facilitating family reunification. Second, the rapid and intermittent introduction and removal of volunteers can lead to attachment disorder in children. This can happen especially if children are not receiving the love and affection they need directly from their primary caregivers. Third, local initiatives and solutions can become undermined when outside actors are the main drivers of programs and institutions. Articles from the Chalmers Center and Ethical Mission Trips highlight and expound upon these short-comings.
Recognizing these dynamics and possible pitfalls is not cause to just shut everything down. Instead, it is an opportunity to heed this sound wisdom and rethink and rework the outdated model. Doxa has taken a fundamentally different approach to orphanage partnership in the following ways:
Doxa groups’ primary activity while serving in Tijuana is building a house, not interacting with orphanage children or even having prolonged contact with them. Not only does building houses actually help to keep families together in the first place, having limited interaction with orphanage children helps to prevent attachment disorder. This ensures that the main source of love and affection for kids is coming from a stable place, and anything else they experience is just a supportive complement to the important work already going on.
Since Doxa groups pay orphanages for their hospitality and space to stay, this creates an opportunity for earned income that is not tied to the number of kids or even the specific kids in an orphanage. This removes the pressure often felt by orphanage directors to keep their orphanage full of kids and retain the same kids from year to year. Overall, this helps to build long-term capacity for care of children when warranted and responsible.
Doxa staff are in contact with orphanage staff year around and these relationships are centered around supporting the orphanage in its work. Doxa is not the star, instead it is just there to journey along with the orphanage. Sharing in the highs and lows, and playing a supportive role when needed.
While there is always room for improvement, these key differences in how Doxa partners with Tijuana orphanages can help lead to healthier outcomes. With everyone’s interests aligned, this frees up the orphanage and local social workers to pursue the ultimate goal of family reunification for every child. At the heart of that work is relationships and the reconciliation of ones that have been broken in the past.
The deeper we get into 2020, our experience continues to look different than what we all had expected. Doxa has used this crisis-filled time for prayer, evaluation, and innovation. To revisit the ways by which we carry out our mission. Even though it may look a little different, Doxa continues to create impact through house building, education, and community.
For house building, this has meant creating and employing local building teams to construct homes. Many groups and individuals have financially supported the building of houses during this time. It has not only resulted in houses still being built, but also in increased employment opportunities for a community that is experiencing layoffs and reductions in working hours. This “new” way of building houses has opened up an opportunity that Doxa has never seen before. It may also be something that becomes a permanent fixture within Doxa, even after this season of crisis passes.
For education, we have equipped students for distance learning. Instead of investing in school uniforms, Doxa equipped those students to learn from home with laptops and Internet access. Tutors from Doxa’s after-school program also continued to check-in with students and families through WhatsApp or phone calls. Now that the 2019-2020 school year is finished, we have several weeks to catch our breath, strategize, and plan for what Tijuana schools will do next. One thing that we do believe is that there will be an increase in scholarship applicants for the 2020-2021 school year.
For community, we have had to stop all activities and the dance group practices. While we hope to continue those soon, we recognize that safety and health take precedence. For Doxa’s annual summer camp, which routinely draws over 100 children and adults, we have had to delay and augment its implementation. We are planning for a shortened camp, limiting numbers of kids, instigating increased health and sanitizing procedures, and conducting mainly outdoor activities. One of the major needs that summer camp will address is school review. Many students did not absorb or retain the same amount of school lessons as they normally would have.
Back in March, as shelter in place orders were starting to occur around the world, Doxa undertook a spring fundraising campaign. Those goals were to fund 22 houses, raise $7500 for Hogar de los Niños orphanage, and raise $15000 for Unidos por Siempre orphanage. We have been completely blown away as you have helped to exceed these goals. Thank you so much for your generosity! 22 houses have been funded, over $8000 raised for Hogar de los Niños, and over $15000 raised for Unidos por Siempre. A grand total of $164,705 for Tijuana! We can’t thank you all enough for this outpouring of support!
As we transition into summer, the effects of COVID-19 have lasted longer than we originally anticipated. We had thought groups were going to be able to travel again to Tijuana and build houses, school planning would be back to normal, and summer camp would be the joyous laughter-filled time that everyone looks forward to. In the wake of prolonged COVID-19 impacts, this has left even more families without the prospect of a new house. The cost of access to education increases with laptops and Internet requirements. While we are still planning on summer camp, it definitely will look different.
In order to respond to these continued needs, Doxa’s goals for this summer and fall are to fund the building of 20 houses, 50 education scholarships, and $2500 for a modified summer camp. There has already been awesome progress on these new goals!
Our response to poverty and how we carryout poverty alleviation plans matters. We have a desire to help in a productive way, and not enable or make worse someone’s situation in the long-run. How can we do this?
First, it helps to determine what type of poverty alleviation effort is appropriate: relief, rehabilitation, or development. This classification was pioneered in the best-selling book, When Helping Hurts.
Relief is characterized by an urgent need that people are incapable of fulfilling themselves typically due to a one-time crisis (think COVID-19 sickness or food shortage).
Rehabilitation occurs when people have recovered their bearings and can start to actively be part of their own solution (think active job searching after unexpected job loss). This continues until they return to pre-crisis conditions.
Development describes the growth that someone has above and beyond their pre-crisis state (think moving into a nicer house due to years of dedicated job growth or being able to provide education opportunities to their children that were unattainable for themselves). Development can take years to materialize and even span generations in the same family.
Another key distinction between these poverty alleviation strategies is that relief is typically done to someone and rehabilitation and development are done with someone (learn more from The Chalmers Center).
Within the current context of COVID-19 in Tijuana, Doxa’s response has been a mixture of relief and rehabilitation. Relief efforts have included food distribution to community households, special emergency funding to orphanages, and the provision of face masks. The procurement process for the food and face masks has been rehabilitation as we source these items locally. Partnering with a local farmer, produce vendor, and larger grocery stores to give them all needed business. Repurposing our house curtain maker, Luis, to instead make hundreds of face masks during this time. Additionally, when legally allowed to resume house building, Doxa will be employing local people to build houses. Another example of rehabilitation efforts.
Even without the challenging times of COVID-19, it can be hard to accurately respond to poverty. For some it evokes an emotional and spiritual reaction and for others an alarming panic and urgency to just do something. If we’re not careful, however, the wrong application can lead to long-term harm. As the situation around COVID-19 further develops and gradually comes to an end, there will be another difficult decision-point on the horizon. When to stop relief efforts before they start to do harm?
While volunteering in Tijuana, groups typically stay at one of Doxa’s partner orphanages. Either Casa Hogar de los Niños or Casa Hogar Unidos por Siempre. The casa hogar prefix is part of their full name and translates to the word orphanage. The literal translation, however, is house home. Neither of these translations do justice to the work that these organizations actually do.
Kids that are at a casa hogar typically come from one of four backgrounds:
This is a government entity with offices in Tijuana that work with children, elderly, and vulnerable populations. One of their specific functions is to regulate orphanages and other organizations that care for children. They are also legally responsible for minors that are removed from their families or need a temporary place to live. The ultimate goal of DIF is working towards the well-being and strengthening of families, which will result in their self-sufficiency.
DIF uses the orphanages throughout Tijuana as places to house kids when the courts determine that their parents are not fit to care for them. Since the ultimate goal of DIF is to reunite families and work to improve them, DIF kids typically do not spend more than 1-2 years maximum in an orphanage setting.
In rare cases where kids truly have no family or fit adult to care for them, DIF works to secure a permanent placement in a casa hogar.
Oftentimes kids have a parent, relative, or someone else who is legally responsible for their wellbeing. This person loves them and wants to care for them, but doesn’t always have the necessary income to do so. In these instances, the responsible adult will directly approach a casa hogar and reach an agreement on what child care looks like.
In these situations, child care typically looks like the kids living at the casa hogar from Monday-Friday and then returning back home on the weekends. It is also common for the responsible adult to pay a small fee to the orphanage (in the range of $5-15 per week).
Kids of orphanage workers
It takes various employees to properly run an orphanage and some live on-site. It is common for the employees who live on-site to also have their kids be part of orphanage life and essentially grow up there.
Similar to volunteer kids, these are children whose responsible adult has directly approached an orphanage and worked out a childcare agreement. This is particularly common among single parents who work long hours and have no one else to help with childcare. School is typically half-days in Mexico, so parents who work full-days can rely on a casa hogar to fill in the gaps.
In this arrangement, the responsible adult drops off their child in the early morning and picks them back up at night time after work. The child does not sleep in the casa hogar. Just as with volunteer kids, this type of arrangement is typically accompanied by a small weekly or daily payment from the responsible adult to the orphanage.
The director of the orphanage has the ultimate say over which kids get admitted and which do not. They also have the ability to create a mix of kids from these four sources, according to what they prefer.
With varying backgrounds and the ultimate goal of family reunification and self-sufficiency, this explains why kids are in orphanages for unpredictable lengths of time. Some just weeks and others for years. While it is always nice to see the same child from year to year on your house building trip, just because they are no longer at the orphanage doesn’t mean that anything negative has occurred. They are almost certainly reunified with their family or responsible adult. With a more accurate understanding of how kids would end up in a casa hogar, the term orphanage doesn’t really make sense. It makes one assume that none of these kids have family, which is simply not true. An effective casa hogar meets families where they are at with childcare needs and does so on a temporary basis, until the responsible adult can resume their rightful childcare duties. In fact, the services of a casa hogar are typically a last resort, employed when no other suitable or safe solutions exist. Perhaps a more accurate name for these organizations would simply be a children’s home?
Doxa’s dance group is called Yelitza, which means “door to the sky” in the native Mexican language Nahuatl. Juan Sabino started Yelitza in 2016, along with the motto “dance rescues youth.” Its mission is to reach more youth in order to wake up their love of dance and create a link with all audiences.
Sabino shares that “folklore dance is considered a Mexican tradition and is central to culture. We should pass this onto our youth and children. Unfortunately, in the border region, this type of activity is not widely considered important, but Yelitza creates an atmosphere where youth can fall in love with these cultural traditions. Additionally, activities like this keep youth busy and away from poor influences and other temptations that might otherwise fill their time.”
Sabino started to learn the art of folklore dance in 2003, while in elementary school. After a couple years he joined the dance group Ballet Folklórico Ixchel and has been with them for over 15 years. Participating in countless events and shows, Sabino had the motivation to pass the art of dance onto a younger generation. He says that “starting and growing Grupo Yelitza has taught me the value of hard work and the effort that Doxa puts behind the community through cheerful education to kids who need it the most.” He takes delight in serving these kids and helping them to grow culturally through dance. Grupo Yelitza gladly performs at a wide variety of gatherings such as festivals, dance shows, religious assemblies, rallies, and municipal events.
Colonia Pedregal de Santa Julia is where Doxa first started
building houses about 30 years ago. After decades of development and more than
2000 houses built in and around Pedregal, it barely resembles what it once was.
Back then there were many notable differences: no paved streets, no street
lights, sporadic electricity service and running water, no sewer system, no
telephone or Internet service, lots of open space and undeveloped land, and
schools were often canceled for just a light rain (or because the clouds looked
like rain!). Land values have gone from the hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands
In 2020, Pedregal is a well-equipped neighborhood in every sense of the word, like a small suburb a short distance away from downtown Tijuana. Pedregal now enjoys: pavement in the vast majority of streets with sidewalk space, all major utility services (electric, water, sewer, telephone, and Internet), street lights that illuminate the neighborhood, almost no more vacant land for new housing development, and schools that operate rain or shine. Take a look at some pictures that show the development of Pedregal over the years. See if you can spot any of the brightly colored Doxa houses.
Not only does Pedregal look different, but families are more
established. They have more history there and household incomes have risen
overall. For the first time, parents are experiencing what it’s like to have
some disposable income above and beyond the immediate needs of their families. All
of this development is something to be celebrated!
At the same time, though, development like this throughout
communities can mean that the needs are changing. Housing and infrastructure
used to be the primary need in Pedregal. Now, the primary needs revolve around
education and community.
Doxa’s education program equips children relationally and
materially to succeed in school. This methodical approach means that a Doxa
staff member gets to intimately know the needs of a specific child and family. Then,
journey along with them and learn what is really needed for success. While this
approach may be more time intensive, it yields amazing results. As long as the
student is willing to put in the work, there is nothing that Doxa won’t do to
help them succeed.
Doxa’s community events, gatherings, and programs span a
wider breadth of offerings which have included: parenting workshops, dance
classes, cooking classes, neighborhood fundraisers, Christmas parties, Mother’s
Day celebrations, counseling sessions, community fairs, and summer camp.
While these newer education and community needs are exciting, it is also one of Doxa’s values to continue partnership and support of local organizations like Hogar de los Niños. Especially, as they have been an integral part of the Pedregal community since the 1970s.
Doxa looks forward to sharing more about what the vision for education and community looks like in Pedregal!
Teresa and Ubaldo come from Puebla and have been married for 14 years. Like most adults in Tijuana, they ventured here for better job opportunities. Teresa also says that “living with my mother-in-law” in Puebla helped guide their decision-making (ha!). Tijuana is a popular destination as it’s known as a major economic hub and manufacturing city throughout Mexico.
Teresa and Ubaldo have three children and live in the Eastern
TJ neighborhood of Rojo Gomez. They were successful in buying a small piece of
land, but were unable to fund the building of a house. Teresa remembers how she
first encountered Doxa’s house building: “one day I saw a group building a
house near my land and I also saw Maria [Unidos por Siempre founder] so I
decided to investigate how it all worked, and thanks be to God she told me she
could help… all I needed to do was apply and do some community service at the
After Teresa’s 120 hours of community service, a group from
Oak Brook, IL came to build in August 2019. Ubaldo vividly remembers all the
work that he did to prepare their piece of land for the house. He excavated, by
hand, about 9 square yards of compacted dirt and rock. Talk about commitment!
At this point in the house building process, families typically start to make their new house into a home. What makes Teresa’s story unique is that, apart from moving into her family’s new house, she continued to serve at Unidos por Siempre. She is a gifted cook and Maria recognized this during her regular volunteer hours. Teresa has now joined the Unidos por Siempre staff as a cook. She is a great fit for the culture and mission of Unidos por Siempre, not to mention she live just right up the street.
Under different circumstances, Teresa and Maria might not have met and discovered their natural synergy. What an extraordinary example of a win-win-win for everyone involved!
It was amazing to go to another country and help change someone’s life. Building a home was a satisfying experience. There are so many underprivileged, impoverished individuals and families in the world, and Doxa is helping make their life better. Helping someone is a wonderful feeling.