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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

Being Helpful: Relief, Rehabilitation, or Development

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? 

How do kids end up in a Tijuana orphanage? Is “orphanage” even the correct term?

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: 

  • Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF)
    • 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. 
  • Volunteer kids 
    • 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. 
  • Daily childcare 
    • 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? 

Grupo Yelitza – Doxa’s Dance Club

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. 

COVID-19 & Call to Action

I hope this message finds you healthy and safe. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. In short order, our lives have changed and many are experiencing uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety. The full ripple effects of COVID-19 are still unknown, especially as it continues to work its way from region to region around the world. These are unprecedented times indeed. 

The Tijuana-San Diego region used to be extremely mobile, with people regularly traveling internationally. Families, friends, employment, and lives that are truly binational. For a culture that is so highly relational, it is a new challenge for us to reconcile the reality of social distancing and restrictions on gathering. Doxa, along with similar organizations in Tijuana, has temporarily closed its doors. House building by groups, community center gatherings, after-school programs, and related events have all been cancelled or rescheduled. Hopefully these small actions can be part of a larger region-wide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The impact touches many on both sides of the border: high school youth groups, Hogar de los Niños, Unidos por Siempre, local bodegas, hardware stores, lumber suppliers, and the families that were slated to receive houses. As for Doxa’s staff, we have committed to paying full salaries during this temporary break. Doxa acknowledges these ripple effects and is called into action to help the greater Tijuana community. 

As agents of change in a highly relational ministry, we can still carry out this work even though it may look a little different than we originally planned. Together, we can pivot, repurpose, and still continue to serve the families and partners in Tijuana. Here’s how: 

  • Pray 
    • Our hearts break for the 22 families that were scheduled to receive a house in April. Rosa, Maria, and I are afraid that we’ve blindsided some families, especially with less than a month’s notice that plans needed to change. Many families were already preparing their land. Pray that God would still make a way for each family to receive a house. 
    • Lift up Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre orphanages, their staffs, and their children. May they continue to be healthy during this time, grow in relationship with each other, and know how loved they are by so many. 
    • For the entire Tijuana-San Diego region, that cooperation and care for one another would win the day. 
  • Donate 
    • With no house building groups coming to build in April, Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre will see a reduction in expected revenue. By donating, we allow them to keep employing their staff and continue providing children with a home. Some of these funds will also be used to equip high school and college aged students with laptops so they can continue their school year online. 
      • Hogar de los Niños funding goal: $7,500
      • Unidos por Siempre funding goal: $15,000 
    • With the cancelation of house building groups in April, 22 families are now in a tough spot. The good news is that Doxa can still build these homes with local labor. Not only does this provide a solution for 22 families, but also provides local employment opportunities during a time where many will face reductions in pay or layoffs. 
      • Cost per house is $6,438. 
      • Currently, we have 9 of the 22 houses covered! Thank you! 
      • For groups and individuals who contribute towards the building of houses, Doxa is providing more personal and meaningful feedback so some connection can be made even if not in person. 
  • Send a kind and encouraging note to people you know in Tijuana 
    • Many of you have come to serve in Tijuana, either through house building or in another capacity. I would encourage you to utilize Facebook, email, Messenger, WhatsApp, Facetime, or regular phone calls to reach out. Thankfully, there are a number of communication methods at our disposal. 
    • Families all across Tijuana have not forgotten the impact that you’ve made and always appreciate a nice note. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, and Google Translate can be of help. Families always enjoy having a touch point from someone who has made a lasting impression on them. 

Thank you for your prayers and support of Doxa, its partners, and the families of Tijuana. I hope that this challenging time can put on display the best of who we are. That we can double-down on kindness, generosity, and exemplifying God’s love. 

Alex Knopes 
Executive Director
alex@doxaserves.org

Development of Pedregal Neighborhood

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 of dollars.

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!

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.