The Doxa Download (Blog)

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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

Distance Learning in Tijuana and Doxa Education

Just as COVID-19 has caused many schools across the United States to transition to distance learning, Tijuana schools have taken the same approach. Since April, there has been no in-person classes and there won’t be any until at least 2021. Zoraida, a Tijuana schools assistant principal, shared that distance learning is largely dependent upon the teacher. Various methods are being used such as Google Classroom, Zoom, WhatsApp, and broadcast TV. Zoraida believes it’s important to have some sort of communication with each student and their family, but what that looks like is dependent upon the family’s resources and teacher capability. 

For the students sponsored by Doxa’s education program, Rosa notes that distance learning over video seems to work for middle school, high school, and college students. Elementary school children, however, still need the in-person atmosphere in order to properly learn. In preparing for this school year, Doxa equipped all of the middle school, high school, and college students with the technology and access needed to learn remotely at home. For elementary school children, Doxa has opened its after-school program for in-person classes. Of course, all the necessary safety and health precautions are being taken to ensure students remain healthy while getting the educational support they need. 

Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre are equipped with laptops, Internet access, and tutors to help their children engage scholastically. The older kids often help the younger kids with their homework. Thankfully, both orphanages have a dedicated classroom where kids study throughout the day. Unidos por Siempre even has a school teacher who comes a few days a week. The children in both of these orphanages are fortunate to have school brought to them this year. 

For a school year where learning in the classroom probably will not occur, we are so thankful for the new solutions that still allow learning to take place. Even though all of these students will be automatically passed onto the next grade level, our goal is that they will learn the material at the same level they would have in-person in the classroom. 

As expected, we have seen an increase in scholarship applicants and the cost of equipping students to learn remotely. Through the end of this year, our goal is to raise an additional 50 scholarships and we are half way there. If you have already supported, thank you so much! If you’d like to get involved, you can purchase any of the school supplies from our Amazon list or give a monthly scholarship. Any and all support makes a huge difference, thank you!

Staff Spotlight: Maria Figueroa

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.

How to Responsibly Engage with Tijuana Orphanages

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.

“Successful” Mission Work

There are entire organizations and books dedicated to uncovering what “successful” mission work looks like. How to identify, define, and evaluate it. In this article, we’re going to touch on a few of the larger themes that concern stories, pace of change, recognizing brokenness, and process.

As we engage in mission work, so much of what we do is shaped by the stories we believe. Not only the stories we believe about the people we are serving, but the stories we believe about who we are as people. When serving the materially poor, it’s hard not to bring in our own bias and stories about others’ situations. We need to be especially careful about implicitly telling people through our work that success looks like us and we are here to “help.” Instead, we should be asking God what’s the larger story here? We should increase our awareness to realize what work He has already got in motion and ask what role He would like us to play? What is God’s story for everyone? 

Asking those larger questions also makes us equal actors in the story. This is the first step to recognizing that we are just as broken as the people we are serving. Sure, our brokenness may look different, but we are broken nonetheless. Flourishing life is a balance of community and stuff. Our Western culture typically has plenty of stuff (i.e. income), but lacks in community (i.e. relationships). Non-western cultures typically appear to have the opposite. We must recognize and be aware of God’s larger work of change not only for the people we are serving, but for ourselves. 

This change may also take longer than we would like. Changes in material poverty can take a while, especially on a large scale. If our human hands deviate from His plan or rush the work, then human hands are also capable of undoing the progress. What has come from God and is built by God, no human hands can undo. 

While results matter in mission work, so does process. It’s important to keep an objective eye on both. For example, it’s tempting to increase programmatic efficiency by use of technology. Doxa could provide scholarships to more students if there was no requirement for students to apply in person and we did everything over the phone. However, this advance in efficiency would undermine the relational contract that is formed between the student, their family, and Doxa. While technology can help increase programmatic efficiencies, it must not result in undermining the community aspect of poverty alleviation efforts. 

If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into these topics, we’d recommend listening to the Rethink Poverty podcast. This interview with Brian Fikkert is a great starting place. 

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.

Meet Sam, long-term volunteer in Tijuana

Hi, my name is Sam. I’m 19, I live in Spokane, and this past year I was lucky enough to spend 9 months in Mexico, volunteering with Doxa. I had worked with Doxa twice before during high school, going with my youth group. Those weeks were spent learning about Mexico and how different the culture was. I remember being amazed by how happy people could be with so much less than what I had. That very well may be the only lesson I really remember from those trips, frankly I was a pretty self-centered high schooler and didn’t really think too hard about it. But that one lesson sat in my head for a long time and in November of 2018 I decided to act on it and go down to Mexico right after high school.

Sam and his Dad

When I first arrived in San Diego, Alex took me over the border and helped me move in to Hogar de los Niños. He introduced me to Carmen, the director, and then said something along the lines of “Okay, you have my number. Give me a call if you need anything. See you later.” This was the moment when I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (or a high school in suburban Spokane for that matter.) The following three-month period was quite possibly the hardest time of my life. I was unsure as of where I fit in the culture and struggled to communicate my most basic thoughts. Largely cut off from the support system I had built in Spokane, I was forced to go against my own introversion to varied levels of success. Poor communication skills continued to be a theme right up until my abrupt end in March due to COVID. I got to learn a lot about the lives of the people in Tijuana and how different the city is on the east and west sides. I got to work with orphanage staff and play with kids. Some of my favorite memories are from nightly fútbol games on the helipad at Hogar de los Niños. But weirdly enough, I learned the most working with the various American groups that I served alongside. From high school youth groups to some crazy geezers from Seattle’s U-District, every group had a whole slew of stories from their casts. Every story I heard different and interesting but somehow leading to them coming to serve in Mexico.   This led me to realize that my life isn’t about me. It’s about everyone else. It’s about how I can help a group have a better experience. How the houses I helped build will affect the family I built them with. How my actions factor into other people’s lives and wellbeing.

Sam with U-District Group (top right)

I went down to Mexico to give myself away. Maybe in the name of God or maybe just to run away from my problems. It doesn’t matter. What ended up happening was the most enriching experience of my life. I’ve become much more confident in not only my own abilities but in who I am as a person. I also learned from day 1 that silence is something I take for granted. Considering Hogar de los Niños was almost entirely composed of concrete rectangles, complete silence is something I’ve REALLY come to appreciate. All throughout my schooling I was taught that if I didn’t get good grades and go to a good college then I’d be a total failure in life. Schools fail to tell students that there are other options that are just as good if not better for you than the pursuit of money in a capitalist society just to improve yourself. My time in Mexico flipped that on its head.

If you want to know more about my experience, I’d be more than happy to tell you about it.

Shoot me an email at ssaito23@comcast.net. I’m an open book.

What is Doxa Education?

Started in 2007, as a natural extension and reflection of relationships created through house building, Doxa’s education program provides scholarships and resources to children in Tijuana. We target the same neighborhoods in which we have built houses, thus reflecting the natural progression of shelter being a primary need and education coming next. In the long-run, education empowers youth to break the cycle and mindset of poverty which is so prevalent in Tijuana.

Doxa’s scholarship program meets children on a holistic level, taking an individualized approach to the success of each student. Entering into relationship with their family, journeying along with them, and sharing the successes and failures along the way. This intimate knowledge helps guide exactly what resources and assistance the student needs to be successful. Doxa scholarships work through two main avenues:

  • Relationally equip kids to succeed. This entails surrounding kids with competent tutors and coaching their parents to be a positive voice when to comes to education. In Mexico, school is only half-day so there can be a lack of discipline and mentorship around homework time.
  • Materially equip kids to succeed. This entails the required school tuition fees, uniforms, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, transportation, access to computers and Internet, and glasses (you’d be surprised by how many kids don’t know they need them). Having the basic necessities affords kids greater opportunity to succeed.

With kids relationally and materially equipped to succeed, they can dedicate more of their effort to their studies and be effectively supported when times get tough.

Additionally, Doxa operates an after-school program. This provides a natural conduit for ongoing communication and a place for homework to be completed. As most schools in Mexico are only half-day, the after-school program fills the niche of the other half while most parents work a full day. The after-school program not only affords the resources, tutors, and space for homework completion, it also provides a safe, respectful, and disciplined atmosphere for young students to grow in community.

Local school teachers have even been known to recommend that their students who need a little extra help attend Doxa’s after-school program. This allows for more individualized and specialized teaching, that the public schools can not always offer.

Schools in Tijuana have been impacted due to the effects of COVID-19. Schools have been closed for the past several months, some efforts were made regarding distance learning, and now administrators are assessing options for next school year. Regardless of what instructional format they decide, learning will occur and Doxa is ready to equip its students to be active participants in that process.

In the 2019-2020 school year, Doxa’s education program sponsored 140 students. Transitioning into the 2020-2021 school year, we believe there will be an increase in scholarship applications due to the COVID-19 economic downturn that Tijuana is experiencing. Our summer fundraising goal is 50 new scholarships and we’ve already got 16 funded! Would you consider joining us?

If you are interested in supporting Doxa’s scholarship work in Tijuana there are two ways to help: 

  • Consider giving monthly towards the sponsorship of a child. There are varying levels of sponsorship and more information can be found here.
  • Consider providing school supplies from Doxa’s Amazon List. Pick out your favorite items and provide some of the necessary supplies that these kids need to succeed.

Staff Spotlight: Ely Martinez Salgado

If you haven’t met Ely yet, here’s your chance! She is Doxa’s administrator. Her words and interview below have been translated from Spanish to English.

My name is Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Ely. I’m originally from Morelia, but have lived in Tijuana for almost my entire life. For 12 years I volunteered with World Vision and learned a great deal from that experience. I’ve currently been working 6 years with Doxa and originally came to know Doxa through my son Angel. He was in 2nd grade and needed some more structure around his school work, so I went to inquire about helpful resources. One of my strengths is organization and administration, so Rosa and I make a great team! I’m a fast learner and believe that everyone goes to school to get straight A’s. If we’re not shooting for the best, then why are we here?!?! I strive to be a great mother to my 4 kids, providing the encouragement and love that they need to succeed in their own lives.

From left to right: Jesus, Ely’s mother-in-law, Sofia, Leo, Angel, Ely, and Esteban.

What do you like most about Doxa?
The strong relationship with kids and how their faces light up when they do something they previously thought impossible. I also really like the opportunities that we provide parents, kids, and adolescents to participate in cultural activities, sports, and counseling that isn’t always widely available.

During this time of sheltering in place, what have you learned about yourself and your family?
I have realized that, unfortunately, many times we do not value everything that we have around us. This pandemic came and has paralyzed our lives. Showing us that at any time the world can be taken away and, in the worst cases, our lives can be taken away. I thank God for keeping my children and my loved ones healthy. As a family we have had to really value every meal we have and every peso that we make. Above it all, we see that we are blessed because we all continue to be united at home and that with a little prevention for the future we can make a difference.

How has Doxa helped you and your family?
The help that Doxa has provided is much more than something material or financial. Doxa has helped us to establish rules with our kids, form values and responsibilities, and develop other abilities that we didn’t have as a family. It’s also been the reason why I could continue and finish my high school studies. The opportunity that Doxa has facilitated regarding sports and cultural activities is also something that my family would have grown up without.

Why is Doxa’s work in the neighborhood of Pedregal de Santa Julia important? 
In this community Doxa is more than a couple classrooms, it is where dreams come true. Through the years that I have been working at Doxa, I’ve seen the faces of kids with absolute amazement as they are able to do things they thought they couldn’t, and that their parents thought they would never do on account of not being able to financially support them. Facilitating after-school activities is very important because sometimes the mom and dad have to work and this prevents them to being able to help with their child’s homework.

What does Doxa mean to the surrounding community? 
I think Doxa represents something very important for our community. Doxa has put itself on the line for us and our kids. Over time we have seen those kids grow up and some are now adolescents who are attending college. Doxa has also marked the lives of thousands by bringing the peace and tranquility that a new roof provides.