The Doxa Download (Blog)

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Matching Campaign Recap

Last year Doxa held its first matching campaign, where donations made throughout the month of December were matched by the board of directors. We were blown away by the generosity of everyone! 

As part of that effort, we released a new video each week detailing an aspect of Doxa’s mission and impact on the ground. They included interviews with families, staff, and partners throughout Tijuana. If you missed any of those videos, we’d encourage you to take a quick look. Here they are: 

Doxa is more than just house building, video released 11/30/21.

Impacts of House Building, video released 12/8/21.

Doxa Education, video released 12/14/21.

Doxa Community, video released 12/20/21.

Doxa Partnerships, video released 12/27/21.

As the end of this year approaches, keep your eyes and ears open for when we kick-off our 2nd annual December matching campaign. All funds raised are essential to keeping Doxa’s presence active on the ground in Tijuana year-around.

Introduction to Doxa’s Values

Last year, Doxa’s board underwent several months of working on a strategic plan. A comprehensive process that included assessing the vision, mission, strengths, weaknesses, and operational goals of the organization. Looking back at 30 years of history and commitment to Tijuana, it was so insightful to take some intentional time to reflect and prayerfully consider all these aspects of Doxa. Truly more than just groups building wood houses on spring break. 

Going through this reflective process highlighted the areas where we could’ve done better and where things were clicking on all cylinders. One of the takeaways was that we didn’t have any stated organizational values (even though we had been living out many of the same values for years). The board decided to intentionally state Doxa’s values and incorporate them into our organizational language. 

Values are incredibly important as they shape how we carry out Doxa’s operations. In missions, and just about all other work, the “how” actually matters more than that we simply do something. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and nailing the execution is what ultimately results in greater impact. It’s not that Doxa facilitates house building that makes it great, it is the process that has been developed over 30 years that sets it apart and results in consistent life-changing impact. The same goes for Doxa’s education and community programs. 

Sometimes arriving at the correct “how” is a process of trial and error, but it is worth it. It’s not always clean and orderly. As we like to say, missions is messy. Doxa hasn’t always gotten it right and continues to have areas of improvement, but the dedication is there to journey along together and actively listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance. 

Doxa has five values, which are core to everything we do. We believe in: 

  • Commitment to people, communities, and places 
  • Collaboration with local organizations 
  • Glorifying God 
  • Transformation through service 
  • Empowering young people 

Being an organization that exists at the intersection of different cultures, it is important that we can apply these values to every stakeholder that comes into contact with Doxa. Whether it’s a house building volunteer from Illinois, a middle school girl from Tijuana, or a youth pastor in Washington. These values are weaved into everything we do. 

Over the next five issues of the Doxa Download, we’ll unpack these values and see how they apply to Doxa’s daily operations and partnerships. 

Staff Spotlight: Angeles Perez

As Doxa’s education program has grown so has its staff. Meet Maria de los Angeles Dominguez Perez… or Angeles for short. In addition to just graduating college (!!!), she is the education administrator and tutor for all the East TJ kids. She is based out of Unidos por Siempre orphanage, where a school classroom was built a few years ago. Her words and interview below have been translated from Spanish to English. 

My name is Angeles and a large portion of my life has been spent at Unidos por Siempre. Since I was little, my family was in a lower economic class and we came searching for some help. Unidos por Siempre took us in and we quickly became part of the family. During this time we underwent some large changes. It brings great satisfaction to see Unidos por Siempre grow from its humble beginnings as a soup kitchen. In the moment I started working with Doxa, things got better at Unidos por Siempre. Most notably, the organization of family and student information has improved. In addition, the education of the boys and girls is better now that they have more resources and tools to succeed in school. I am delighted to help with these projects. 

What has been your experience with Unidos por Siempre? 
It has been very good, from the moment I got to Unidos por Siempre I have received a lot of love and unconditional support, and it is easy to call everyone family. It is nice to meet people and especially children who come here with serious problems and see their emotional and academic progression. Without a doubt, it is a wonderful place that regardless of any situation of condition, one can receive it all. 

What do you like about your job? 
I like being able to contribute something and see the progress of the orphanage as well as its children. To be useful and fill this niche at this time. 

Why do you think school is important for these children? 
I consider education to be the best benefit that can be given to someone. It is one of the many tools that in the future of any child’s life can tangibly make him or her successful. Learning interesting and important things is also crucial for their development and creating future opportunities.

In what ways are you leading by example? 
I consider myself a creative, responsible, and hard-working person. The fact that they see me work, supporting them, and knowing things that they do not know because of their age makes me a good example. I can help illuminate a part of what their future may look like. 

What are your strengths? 
Creativity, communication, empathy, and organization. 

What are you currently working on to improve? 
The way I express myself, the way I relate to people, and patience. 

How has Doxa helped you? 
I am so grateful because not everyone has the opportunities that Doxa has offered me, to be more responsible through growth and be able to love what I do. 

What did you study in school? Why did you finish college instead of just middle or high school? 
I studied a degree in business administration. Continuing to study beyond a basic level, I consider necessary for a better future and better opportunities in terms of work. To be able to feel proud of myself and what I do. I don’t consider myself a conformist and now that I’ve finished college there are even more things that I would like to do and learn. 

What do you like to do in your free time? 
In my free time I like to read, cook, and also paint. 

Angeles, Angelica (little sister), Panchita (mother), Luis (big brother)

Storytelling with Dignity

This article is geared towards all the self-declared “mission nerds,” non-profit professionals, and everyone who tells stories. We tell stories all the time, whether to show the impact of mission work, raise donations, or communicate an example of how something works. However, we must be mindful of exactly how we portray someone’s story. It’s so easy for us (in the missions and non-profit space) to fall into the trap of exploitive storytelling. That is, using the stories of families and those we serve in a way that only focuses on their short-comings and serves our end-goal. 

Exploitive storytelling often happens without the writer’s knowledge. An unconscious bias that slips its way into the finished work. It’s a byproduct of the writer taking in someone’s story and then using it to fit their narrative or their end-goal. For example, if our goal is to raise donations then we might be tempted to cherry-pick only the worst parts of someone’s story to evoke pity, guilt, and sorrow onto potential donors. Not only does this create a toxic donor relationship, but also a distorted view of the people that are getting help. Overtime, exploitive storytelling creates an unconscious structure of haves and have-nots. The donors have what the families lack and the non-profit staff are the answer. Such a culture isn’t healthy or sustainable for anyone! 

Some telltale signs of exploitive storytelling are that it invokes pity, but not empathy from the reader. That the story being told results in the provision of help or services, but not respect or dignity. Exploitive storytelling only focuses on a family’s short-comings, differences, and problems just to invoke a reaction from the reader. That reaction could be donating, volunteering, or something else. The reader may come away with a sense of absolute superiority, which just feeds into the unconscious structure of haves and have-nots. Exploitive storytelling results when we tell someone’s story incorrectly, incompletely, and through our own lens. 

Unfortunately, Doxa has been guilty of exploitive storytelling. Something we continue to work on to this day, in communicating our work honestly, transparently, and completely. Many other non-profits struggle with this, too. One advantage that Doxa has, though, is that thousands of people have been down to Tijuana to see the impact first-hand. A picture is worth a thousand words and evokes something more than just reading a story. 

So how can we move away from exploitive storytelling? And towards stories that are not just honest, but complete and honoring. 

The very first step is a recognition that we are just as broken as the people we serve. Our brokenness may look different, but to think that we aren’t broken or are better is an inaccurate understanding. As a side note, this recognition will also help to avoid white-savior complex. Which is so easy for us to fall into, especially when we’re engaged with projects that have large generational impacts such as house building or education scholarships. (by the way, if you haven’t heard of white-savior complex before, feel free to Google away and maybe we’ll dedicate a future article about how Doxa actively discourages it) 

A second safeguard against exploitive storytelling is maintaining a close connection with the people we serve. As an organization, Doxa puts volunteers on the front lines thereby letting each person’s eyes, ears, nose, and touch do the storytelling. This is also why all of Doxa’s programs are led by Mexican nationals. All Doxa staff, except one, are Mexican and live in the same neighborhoods where we conduct house building, education, and community programs. Every recipient of a house or scholarship is qualified and stewarded along by a Doxa staff member. That relationship is maintained long after the house gets built and throughout their involvement as a scholarship recipient. 

Finally, there is an even simpler way to avoid exploitive storytelling. That is if we’re not comfortable with the families reading their own story as we would publish it, then don’t do it. Running the finished stories through this lens is a simple check and balance against exploitation. 

So how can we achieve telling stories with dignity? The answer doesn’t mean just avoiding hard or sad stories altogether. Pain, sorrow, and brokenness are part of our world and have a place in stories. I would venture a guess that these things are also part of our own stories, in at least one way or another. 

Keeping the people we serve at the center of the story is a great way to build in dignity. This means just being a conduit for their own words and voice. To the maximum extent possible, just translate their words and let their own voice shine through. This preserves the authenticity of voice and guards against the storyteller being the author of their story. Additionally, we need to fight to urge to interpret their story; and thereby, subtly changing the meaning. As the writer for stories, we need to develop the mantra of less is more. 

Another important characteristic of storytelling is balance. Telling stories with dignity means telling the entire story, not just the parts that you want the reader to react to. This means showcasing the strengths along with the weaknesses. It is far too easy to see the people we serve as just a bunch of weaknesses, short-comings, and problems that need solving. This mentality is toxic and isn’t putting anyone in right relationship. 

Instead, we should focus our stories on how the help or service will enhance the strengths already present in the community or family we serve. This means that our help is not the main show, but an added benefit that has ripple effects and builds upon local strengths and capacities already present. That our programs complement what is already going on in the local community. This type of approach is also related to the Asset-Based Community Development model, which looks at communities through the lens of what they already have rather than defining them based on what they lack. 

The art of good storytelling is rare. When a story is told with dignity and respect, it not only honors the family but also engages the reader. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

For further reading on exploitive storytelling, check out the following two articles.
Are Your Nonprofit Organization’s Stories Dishonoring the Families You Serve? by Dani Robbins
How Can Nonprofits Move from Exploitative Storytelling to Justice-Oriented Storytelling? by Debi Jenkins

Doxa Update and Ask

Like most everyone else, Doxa has never experienced something like the effects of a pandemic. It will be at least a full 2 years before the first US volunteer group comes back to stay and build in Tijuana. A slower than projected return. The only other time in Doxa’s 30-year history that even comes close is 2008, when the effects of Mexican cartel activity and the global financial crisis caused some groups to skip building that year.

Even with the pandemic disruption, Doxa has continued to operate on the ground in Tijuana. Since April 2020, groups and individual donors have funded the building of 39 houses, equipped 117+ scholarship students for distance learning, facilitated limited community events (such as summer camp), and supported Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre orphanages.

House building fundamentally changed with the creation of two local building teams. Once houses are funded, these teams work with the families to level the site, pour the cement slab, and construct the house. Thankfully, we have been able to build houses for all families that were promised one last year. The wait list continues to grow, though, with no firm dates of when the next houses will be built.

Education has looked different, as well. Equipping all scholarship students for distance learning entailed the purchase of many laptops, tablets, software, and school supplies. It also meant outfitting Hogar de los Niños, Unidos por Siempre, and Doxa with business printers, more tutoring staff, good Internet connections, and supplies. These classrooms function as resource centers to support kids during distance learning.

Thankfully, Doxa has a large property that is mostly undeveloped. This means lots of outdoor space, which has permitted limited community events. Summer camp made a return this year, dance classes have resumed, and every Thursday afternoon people gather to play soccer, volleyball, or kickball. Doxa’s community programs, however, aren’t as active as they once were.

Pre-pandemic, about 1000 people per year came down to Tijuana with Doxa to build houses. These operations and the resulting donors accounted for the majority of Doxa’s revenue. Not only did house building groups have an immensely positive impact on Doxa, but also on Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre orphanages. The absence of groups has, unfortunately, resulted in a financial toll on Doxa that also has ripple effects to the partner orphanages.

Doxa desires to still be present in the lives of students, families, and both orphanages. To continue the long-term relationships that have been formed over the past 30 years. In order to sustain operations, education scholarships, and community programs Doxa is embarking on a fundraising goal of $175,000. These donations will result in a fully operational education scholarship program, continuation of community events, and retention of all staff through 2022.

We ask that you prayerfully consider supporting Doxa during this time. Here’s how:

Thank you for your years of partnership and together we’ll continue impacting the communities of Tijuana.

What is Doxa? – by Dale & Liz Whitney

If you are reading this newsletter then it is possible you have been to Tijuana and are missing the community there as desperately as we are. We must acknowledge at the outset our deep appreciation for Rosa, our mentor and friend.

Many of you have been asked this question, “So what is Doxa?” If you have been to Tijuana, depending on when you went or with whom, your answers may have varied from house building, day camp, to worshiping in a “thin” place where God seems to be nearer than our world back home. An underlying component of our collective experience is the relationships that have surrounded all of us – teammates, house families, and the orphanages that have hosted us.

For the Whitney’s Doxa is defined by the people and encounters we have had in Tijuana: from brilliant Rosa who believed that education could change a generation, to the house building efforts from donors and builders up and down the West Coast, to Tony and Casa Hogar de Los Niños, to friends like the Tzecs, to our visits to the bodega and materiales store, to the plan for a Community Center in Pedregal, to a new partnership in East Tijuana, and to the students whose career paths were influenced by their time in Tijuana. We have had twenty-five years of shared meals and prayers, celebrations of births, weddings, birthdays & anniversaries, loads of lumber, and gallons of paint. Over two thousand new homes, new opportunities for education, new connections in developing neighborhoods, and a whole lot of lessons about grit and tenacity, this is our Doxa.

The Church in Tijuana Meets the Church in Seattle

For us, friends in Tijuana prayed for our kindergarten Sunday School students, many who grew up to make their own trips to build a house, while we in Seattle prayed for the children we met in Tijuana. How grateful for who they are now and their voices in our lives. (Thank you, Facebook.)

We are also thankful for a congregation in Seattle who believes in each other. They have generously supported house building and education in Tijuana. Dale remembers a little girl sitting amidst the debris in the old dump in Tijuana and to this day, she lingers in his prayers. He says Doxa isn’t just the people who build, but also the people who donate, who pray, and encourage those who are partnering with her family (and families like hers) for something different. We have often been part of an Easter house building trip with high school students and are often struck that the same God who died for us also died for that little girl. Resurrection Sunday.

Liz notes that new home owners in Tijuana have been so supportive of the team members working with them on their homes. For those in Tijuana, they have to own the land – no small feat, and then they are trusting our teams to construct a solid structure. Many of you know the dynamic we are describing. Families providing drinks or treats; asking about the builders, praying for them.

A Part of the Gospel

One father of a new home gave this crucifix to our team, with these powerful words, “Thank you for your part in the Gospel.” The crucifix hangs in the kitchen at the Old Orfa as a reminder of a partnership that we have participated in and one that continues to change lives on both sides of the border.

This is Doxa.

Summer Camp Recap

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!

Education Scholarship Report

Last year was turbulent. The adjustment to online learning was tough; not just because of the change in scenery, but also because of a technology gap experienced by almost all of Doxa’s students. Likewise, it was a time of adjustment for Doxa, as we learned how best to support students in this new environment. For many, it looked like providing laptops, tablets, and Internet access. Doxa also worked to quickly and safely open back up its after-school program to serve as resource classrooms. These efforts made it possible for students to complete their work and continue their studies.

Over the past few weeks, students all across Tijuana have headed back to school. There are various public school systems and private schools, so not everyone has the same start date. The vast majority of students continue with online learning, with some universities and high schools going back in-person on a hybrid schedule.

Over the summer, there were rumors of a return to in-person classes for everyone come this September. Those were, however, just rumors as school administrations keep pushing back the date to return to the classrooms. The most recent communication stated November, but that even seems too good to be true.

Doxa’s education program remains strong with 117 students this academic year. They range in age from kindergarten to university and live all across Tijuana. They come from Hogar de los Niños, Unidos por Siempre, and the neighborhoods that Doxa has typically built houses. Most of these students are on a full scholarship; which includes school uniform, supplies, backpack, shoes, books, transportation, tutoring, and access to a resource classroom every school day. There are also many students who are not formally on scholarship by Doxa, but attend a Doxa resource classroom when needed. They could just need a dedicated place to study, Internet access, or a tutor for homework help.

Doxa’s education program has been operating for 15 years. And as the program has gotten older so have our students. Doxa now has 14 students in college, wow! They are studying towards a wide range of degrees that include hotel management, international relations, administration, and psychology. It’s amazing to see these students grow up into awesome men and women!

If you’d like to help Doxa develop great students all across Tijuana, it’s easy to become a sponsor. Click here for more information. We currently have openings for new sponsors at elementary, middle, high, and college levels.

2020 from Andrew, Doxa’s Board Chair

The ministry of Doxa has been around for almost thirty years and continues to grow as God calls us to serve in the many neighborhoods of Tijuana. Over the last year the board and staff took the time to reflect on what the next five, ten and twenty years has in store for Doxa. This was not always an easy process as we were forced to identify our strengths along with our weaknesses, but the results have been rewarding.

We studied our vision, mission and values, which allowed us to refine these key concepts to align with the organization we have grown to be while not losing sight of the core values that were set in place almost thirty ago. The refining of these foundational elements set the stage for us to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the upcoming years that creates short-term and long-term goals. 

Some of our short-term goals include expanding board membership, fundraising and increased marketing. We have already brought on two new board members and will be looking to grow the board by a few more in the months and year to come. Our fundraising efforts took shape this last spring as our Executive Director, Alex Knopes, led a robust campaign to ensure that houses were still being built even though the pandemic restricted groups from participating in the building of the houses themselves. Through this fundraising we were able to safely employ local labor to complete the houses and provide homes for families that had been waiting. We have also begun to establish fundraising campaigns that will include the Pedregal Community Center and expansion concepts for house building and community outreach in East Tijuana. As we continue to expand our marketing efforts, we encourage all of our supporters to follow us on social media. Please see links below so you can stay up to date on all of these goals as we work hard to push them forward. 

We believe these goals will continue to push us towards our vision and mission. A vision of:

A world in which relational and economic life flourishes, where people are globally compassionate and gain new life by giving theirs away.

Doxa’s Vision

And a mission to:

Create opportunities for people to serve Tijuana through house building, education, and long-term community.

Doxa’s Mission

In all our ministries we are striving to further our vision and mission. We are most excited to see our first community center building take shape in the neighborhood of Pedregal. We are nearing the completion of the plans and will begin to get bids for the construction and strategize the phasing of this capital project. The community center will be designed to support the Tijuana community through child and adult education, providing tutoring programs and community events. Taking a relational and interactive approach will help to form long-term community relationships. It is exciting to see this concept turn towards reality and we look forward to engaging all of our communities on both sides of the border to come alongside as we realize this goal together. 

Remembering Rosa (April 17, 1966 – October 2, 2020) – by James B. Notkin

When we first began to build homes in Colonia Pedregal de Santa Julia the roads were dirt and deeply crevassed, without electricity the sprinkling of houses on the hillsides, were dark at night and every drop of water, whether for cleaning or drinking, was trucked around the neighborhood. Clearly, great change occurred over the last thirty years but one constant was Rosa and her passion to make life better for every person she encountered. 

I first met Rosa in the early 90’s when she came to Hogar de los Niños orphanage and cared for the kids there. Each year about a hundred high school students from our church would travel across the border to build houses and the orphanage was our base of operations. In addition to all her work at the orphanage, which at the time had over seventy children living there, Rosa’s duties included helping out-of-their-depth youth pastors, like me, navigate everything from finding building sites and creating a lumber yard throughout the orphanage to delivering sand and finding a tow-truck for a van teetering over a cliff – all done, regardless of what other mishaps had occurred that day, with graciousness and a brilliant smile. To be honest, I am not sure the smile was good natured restrained laughter at my ineptness or, in the early years when she was learning English, a way of communicating her great support for our endeavors. Either way the smile always helped. 

Over the years the building trips grew larger in size and in number and it became clear to the Doxa (then Homes without Boundaries) leadership team that growth was due in no small part to Rosa. Many short-term missions do more damage than good because of their “hit and run” nature but Rosa’s year-round presence and engagement in the community dovetailed into Doxa’s commitment to return year after year to the same place and built trust in the neighborhood and beyond. Logically, we hired Rosa full time and with that both the community and Doxa became stronger. More specifically, each of us became stronger inspired by her compassion and commitment. 

Most of the teams from the US knew Rosa from the educational offerings like day camps she organized or the house building projects she supported but there was so much more. She was known by multitudes as “la profe.” Others saw her as the unofficial mayor of the region. And for many she attained that mononymous status reserved for Elvis or Prince and was simply Rosa — as in one person saying to another in need, “go see Rosa.” Regardless of her title, Rosa was a force for good. In the movies the good guys wore white hats but in Pedregal they wore bright white sneakers and those white sneakers of Rosa were everywhere: out in Brisa Marina talking to a family about building a house, at the clinic taking a woman with cancer who had no other way to see a doctor, at the community center tutoring, meeting with Zumba instructors to offer classes, in another colonia delivering food and supplies to a woman with disabilities, at the Annex overseeing the delivery of house building materials, or downtown partnering with the City of Tijuana to build three hundred houses further out on the highway where we are still building today. Rosa was a one-person Social Welfare and Housing Agency — and a great one.

More importantly Rosa was Flavio’s beloved and Paola, Esmerelda, and Flavio’s mom. They were her pride and her joy — her eyes dazzling at the mention of them. To each of them I, Doxa and am sure all who benefitted from Rosa’s dedicated work, her sacrifice of evening and weekend time with her family to resolve a visiting group’s crisis, want to say the deepest thank you for sharing the gift of Rosa with us. 

Several years ago, Rosa traveled to Rome and received an audience with Pope John Paul II. As she spoke to me humbly of this joyful experience that affirmed her God-given belovedness, it was profoundly evident this belovedness was the source of the belovedness she poured out to all who met her. Rosa knew she was loved by Jesus and responded with her whole being. Her wisdom and influence permeate Doxa. Being in Tijuana will never be the same without Rosa who has travelled this journey with so many of us. Yet, her influence, example and inspiration remain, encouraging us to dream and persevere in our mission. Jeff Holland, a co-founder of Homes without Boundaries (now Doxa), tells the story of coming back from a tough day of building houses when Rosa, who had brought in a mariachi band came up to him and asked, “Why aren’t you dancing?” Jeff wanted nothing more than to take a bucket shower. But Rosa insisted, “It’s a fiesta. You have to dance.” That’s Rosa. There are always obstacles and heartaches on the road to being a beloved community but it doesn’t mean you don’t keep dancing. Constantly.