Seeing the Highs and Lows of Guatemala

Debbie Effler is a professional writer who volunteers with Miracles in Action. We asked her to share her impressions of her recent trip to Guatemala.

Last month I had the chance to visit Guatemala and see firsthand some of the joys of helping people in this country, and also some of the heartaches.

Or, as Geoff and Rita Doppenberg say, the highs and lows.

Rita Doppenberg

Rita Doppenberg is a favorite of the local kids in Salitrillo. That evening they brought her a bouquet of flowers.

The Doppenbergs are a Canadian family who moved to Guatemala permanently last year with their sons Zach, Luke and Gabe. Their organization, The DIG (Doppenbergs In Guatemala), has been working in Salitrillo, a village of roughly 140 people, to install a water system, teach sustainable agriculture, provide health care and offer vocational training. 

Our Thursday Salitrillo highs: Watching healthy kids play soccer, when not long ago some of them were being sent to the malnutrition hospital nearby. Lows: Hearing that someone vandalized the new water line and many residents got sick from drinking dirty water. 


This tin shack served as the school in El Silencio. It had a dirt floor and was completely open on some walls..

We spent Friday putting the finishing touches on a new primary school built by The DIG in El Silencio . On the drive in, we stopped at the current school, a crumbling, corrugated tin shack with dirt floor. Those of us with children tried to picture our own kids learning here. That had to be the low point of the day.

On the drive home, we visited the Pediatric Malnutrition Rehabilitation Center, another program supported by The DIG. We saw many children, some playing, some sitting quietly in little chairs. Many lit up when the Doppenberg boys come in to play with them.

patient at the pediatric malnutrition hospital

One of the patients at the pediatric malnutrition hospital.

One girl had just arrived. Her head was shaved and she was crawling on arms so thin I couldn’t believe they held her up. We guessed she was about five years old, but later learned she is 11. The low: Rita said it was doubtful the girl would survive. The high: Last year there were 56 kids in this center and now there are only 23.

On Saturday we celebrated El Silencio’s school dedication (Miracles Schoool #45) and met the 22 kids who’ll now be more likely to finish their elementary education. (What a high!) For lunch we were served a meal of soup, tortillas, chicken and rice that was likely enough food to feed several families for a month. The people of the village didn’t join us, as there wasn’t enough food for all of them. We couldn’t turn it down, as that would have been a great insult. I have never felt so bad about filling my plate, and found every bite humbling.


Celebrating with El Silencio at the school dedication. Each student received a backpack with school supplies.

All these highs and lows, woven together, make up the fabric of life in Guatemala. The great news about the work Miracles in Action is doing is that the highs are starting to outnumber the lows. And looking at the big picture, that’s what really matters.

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