Archive for ‘House Building’

House Building with Local Teams

We are now three-quarters of the way done with 2020 and not a single nail has been hammered by an American volunteer group. That’s a statement most, if not all, of us never thought would be the case. Instead, local building teams have been hard at work cranking out houses (15 houses completed so far). This has led to a very interesting dynamic, a worksite with all Mexican builders. 

With the onset of COVID-19, it became clear that this year was going to look very different for house building operations. While Doxa was firmly committed to building for qualified families that had been on the waiting list, it would be accomplished with the hiring of local building teams and raising financial support from groups and individuals. This new model has showcased some of the best of everyone involved. Groups and individuals have shown enormous generosity in giving, families have worked hard on their own houses, and Doxa has been able to provide increased employment opportunities for builders in the local community. Seeing everyone shine in their roles has been a privilege. 

Many times groups that have experience building in Tijuana assume that locals would build the house much better and faster than they do. While there may be some truth to this, there’s still a learning curve. The local teams use cement mixers and power tools to speed up the process. It’s also not uncommon for them to pre-cut all of the lumber the day before. These steps dramatically speed up the assembly process on the worksite. Not to mention the experience that these teams gain week after week of working with each other and the 12-hour days they put in. 

Of course, there’s still the moments of “oh, I forgot the box of roofing nails back at the orphanage” or “I could have sworn that the window lengths were 46” instead of 46 ½,” guess we’ll have to recut some lumber.” Squaring up the walls and roof can also be a challenge. It doesn’t magically just come together for the local teams, either. Kids on the worksite still play in the paint while moms chase after them. It seems as though, even across cultures, we still have things in common. 

One thing that is different on the worksite is the feel and atmosphere. There’s less talking and more non-verbal communication. There’s an awareness of process and order of building that is unspoken. When things are explained, few words are used. Everyone is keenly aware of the overall goal of finishing the house and is constantly looking to see how the group is progressing. To describe it in a nutshell, it is a group mentality versus an individual mentality. It is approaching the task from the standpoint of what is needed, instead of what I want to do. Not surprisingly, the time with the most talking is lunch time. Conversations start and drag on through the food; until it’s time to get back to work! 

Through the end of this year, our goal is to keep the local teams building and houses coming. We are about half way to our goal of funding 20 more houses. Thank you so much to everyone who has already contributed, you’ve already made such an impact. If you’re interested and able to donate, please do so through our secure website

Update on Doxa’s COVID-19 Response

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!

If you would like to support, donations can be made through Doxa’s secure website and we also have an Amazon List setup for school supplies.

We are so thankful for your prayers and support during this time. It has been breathtaking to see the larger community moved into action, on both sides of the border.

How is a family selected to receive a house?

All families that end up receiving a house from Doxa must go through an application process. This process has been the product of many years of experience and, to some extent, trial and error. Since 1990, it has been Doxa’s privilege to be part of building over 2000 houses all over Tijuana. This magnitude of work, however, has also necessitated an application process that ensures only qualified families receive a house.

Rosa and Maria work on the western and eastern sides of Tijuana, respectively, to process family applications. All families follow the same process:

  1. The family makes initial contact with Rosa or Maria and fills out an application form with basic information (names, contact info, employment, financial info, family history, location of land for the house).
  2. The family submits various documents: IDs of all adults who will live in the house, birth certificates for the kids, proof of land ownership, employment/school records, and other documents as required. Doxa has learned the importance of requiring land ownership. If the recipient family does not own the plot of land, then they can soon lose their new home to a formerly absent landowner.
  3. Rosa or Maria interviews the family, reviews all of their information, and begins to understand why they are applying for a house. Sometimes a site visit of the family’s current living situation is needed, other times not. Rosa or Maria typically make a determination as to whether the family is approved. If a family falls into a gray area and they are not sure if a family should be approved, then we discuss that family among everyone to make a final determination together. Most families that apply for a house successfully end up receiving one.
  4. If approved, the family moves on to complete 120 hours of volunteer service. This is usually to a partner orphanage, but could also be to other local organizations. Rosa and Maria try to find a natural fit for any skills that the family has. For example, if the husband in the family knows how to weld, then maybe there’s some metalwork that needs to get completed. Likewise, if the wife in the family is an excellent cook, then perhaps she’ll dedicate some time to cooking for the orphanage. It’s all dependent upon the current needs of the community and the skills of the family.
  5. Rosa or Maria conduct a site visit of the family’s land. They counsel the family about what work, if any, needs to be done to the land to adequately prepare it for a Doxa house. Some families have nothing to do while others have to move entire hillsides or take down their current living structure to make room.
  6. The family goes on the wait list. We typically get to families within a year, but there are some cases where they wait longer. During this time is also when the family is responsible for preparing their land.
  7. Sand, gravel, and water (if no running water available) are delivered to the family’s land a couple days before the volunteer group is scheduled to begin.

This process ensures qualified families receive houses and are good stewards of the home after the volunteer group leaves Tijuana. On return trips, we encourage groups to visit their old building sites, reconnect with the family, and see how they have turned the house into a home.

Update on Doxa’s COVID-19 Response

For the first time in Doxa’s 30-year history, there were no groups in Tijuana building houses this spring. The faithful Spring Break groups that have been a cornerstone in Tijuana house building were noticeably absent. Unfortunately, many other organizations that build houses around Tijuana and northern Baja California also canceled their house building plans. Instead, a handful of organizations (Doxa included) quickly pivoted to raising donations towards the building of houses by locals. Not only can this still be a way to ultimately accomplish the mission of building houses for qualified families, but it has the added benefit of increasing employment opportunities in the region where many may be facing layoffs. 

Doxa’s orphanage partners are also heavily impacted by the absence of groups. Normally, the spring house building season is when they host many volunteers and recognize the income that those groups bring. This income is what helps to sustain their operations year around. In response, Doxa has started a special fund for each orphanage so they can still be supported financially during this time. 

With school classes canceled, various distance learning strategies are being used. For older students, online classes have started and Doxa’s education program quickly shifted to providing laptops and home Internet access to families without those resources. Having kids study from home has been an adjustment for all our families, just as it probably has for yours. The after-school program is temporarily closed until we can safely reopen. We use a mix of WhatsApp and phone calls to check-in with families and attend to student progress.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, Doxa has taken this as an opportunity to rethink, repurpose, and pivot into new strategies for still accomplishing its mission of house building, education, and community throughout Tijuana. These needs don’t cease just because of the current pandemic. While all of our lives in the short-run have been drastically altered by COVID-19, Doxa remains attentive and perceptive in the ways that COVID-19 may have impacts in the long-run. We hope to be able to use this window of opportunity as a way to ultimately better serve the families of Tijuana. 

Below is an update on fundraising efforts for house building and both orphanage funds. Thank you to everyone who has contributed towards these efforts, we’re making great progress! You can continue to be involved through active prayer, giving, and reaching out to someone you know in the Tijuana community.

Total fundraising in response to COVID-19

Tijuana’s Explosive Growth

The city of Tijuana has undergone explosive growth. With a population of 1.3 million just 10 years ago, it is now estimated to have over 2 million residents. People from all over Mexico and Central America are drawn to the city in hopes of more lucrative job opportunities, a slightly higher standard of living, and maybe a shot at crossing into the United States. Tijuana is also quite diverse with Chinese, Haitian, and American populations, among others.

Initially, people settled towards the Western part of Tijuana and the coastline. Available land in these areas has significantly increased in price (lots that used to go for $7,000 are now up to $50,000) and undeveloped space is getting harder to find. This has naturally pushed Tijuana’s growth toward the East side of the city.

The city is much newer on the East side than the West side. Neighborhoods on the West side can date back for 50 or more years. They have benefited from all of those years of development, even as slow as it may be. East side neighborhoods are much newer, about 20 years or less. They look and feel significantly behind in terms of development. Little to no street pavement or utilities, and household income levels are much lower. When comparing these areas of Tijuana, the East side appears 10-15 years behind the West side.

In East side communities, housing and infrastructure are typically the primary need. This makes the East side a natural next step for Doxa in its house building operations. We want to acknowledge and act on the changing needs throughout the city of Tijuana. This is always guided by input from Doxa’s local staff and partners.

It won’t be too many more years before the outskirts of Tijuana and Tecate grow together. Doxa’s expansion to also build houses on the Eastern side of Tijuana is a natural next step in response to the city’s changing needs.

Introduction to Unidos por Siempre Orphanage

With Doxa’s expansion of house building operations to also include the East side of Tijuana, it became clear that another orphanage partnership was needed. Someone who knew the new neighborhood, people, and could be an effective partner. The Rojo Gomez neighborhood is over 1 hour away from Doxa’s more traditional house building neighborhoods on the West side of the city. This also meant house building groups would need a place to stay closer to their building sites.

Enter Unidos por Siempre Orphanage. Founded by Maria Figueroa in 2002, originally as a community soup kitchen, Unidos por Siempre is now home to over 30 children who come from a variety of backgrounds. The orphanage itself is cozy and bright with yellow walls, and laundry often hanging to dry in the central patio. There are two dormitories (accommodating about 30 boys and girls), a kitchen, dining room, and common spaces to play. Maria and her staff spend time with the kids in an unhurried manner. The pace of life is comfortable here and love is in abundance. Maria greets you with the trademark “my house is your house” and you know you are home.

As house building groups have slowly gotten to know Unidos por Siempre, there are lasting relationships formed. It’s impossible to spend even a couple days there without someone getting to know your name and vice versa. Groups have even undertaken many smaller projects around Unidos por Siempre to help their facilities improve. The house building experience serves as the springboard for so much more. It’s been such a joy to journey along with them and they have been so gracious with inviting us in. We have only struck the tip of the iceberg here!

To see a current map of houses built around East Tijuana, feel free to checkout our Impact Map. Rosa, the person who screens and prepares families for houses on the West side of Tijuana, has been a mentor to Maria as she learns the screening process and how to adapt it for families throughout the East side of Tijuana.

Meet Teresa

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 orphanage.”

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!

Spring Break House Building

Since the early 1990s, groups of high school students have traveled to Tijuana to build houses over their Spring Break. These early groups, predominantly from Washington and California, continue to be the cornerstone to Doxa’s development throughout the city of Tijuana.

The month of March is marked by large semi-trucks of materials arriving at Doxa’s Annex in Tijuana, families preparing their land for a new house, and groups putting the finishing touches on their trip preparations. Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre orphanages also plan for the influx of people and prepare their best salsa for all of the temporary guests set to arrive!

Groups with 15, 20, and 25+ years of history not only have significant experience with Tijuana, but more importantly have long-term relationships with the people. These are house building families, orphanage people, hardware store owners, neighborhood leaders, church pastors, flea market vendors, and others. The commitment and consistency that each group shows translates into value and love when communicated in Tijuana.

While, unfortunately, some groups from the Seattle-area have been impacted by the coronavirus this year, the majority of groups are continuing as planned. As hard as it is to cancel a Spring Break trip like this, it is all understandable and safety comes first for all involved. Sometimes mission can get messy and things don’t always function the way we had planned. These moments provide perspective and an unexpected opportunity for creativity. In partnership with the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible.

Doxa is so thankful for all of the house building groups that have made this serving experience part of their larger ministry and annual rhythm. We look forward to this year’s building and many more years to come!

Checkout some of these old school photos, taken back in the 1990s.