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Geoff and Rita Doppenberg have always found themselves immersed in serving others.
“We’re the most happy when we’re helping other people,” Rita said. “We’ve figured out that true happiness comes from serving others.”
The Doppenbergs owned a construction company for 15 years, and they used their resources to help people. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, they spent the next five years rebuilding homes in Mississippi and Louisiana. Then, the Doppenbergs found themselves serving indigenous communities in Alaska with Habitat for Humanity. But it was a trip to Guatemala in 2010 that completely changed their lives.
They began building schools in rural Guatemala as a way to provide education opportunities in places where they didn't exist. Through their work, they realized that Guatemala had little support for children with special needs, learning disabilities, or families suffering from malnutrition, especially in the indigenous Mayan communities that were targeted during the country’s long civil war. The Doppenbergs realized that Guatemala has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with over half of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition.
And that’s when the Doppenbergs found their life’s focus: end the cycle of malnutrition in rural Guatemala.
They built the Centre of Hope as a base for their humanitarian efforts in Guatemala’s rural Mayan communities. Then, in 2013, the Doppenbergs and their three young sons made the bold decision to sell all of their possessions in Canada and move permanently to Guatemala.
Through the Centre of Hope, the Doppenbergs got to work. They partnered with Mayan community leaders to create the most effective solutions that would provide a long-term impact. They embarked on projects that empowered communities with a hand up, not a hand out. They focused their efforts on community health and well-being by providing education opportunities for Mayan youth, medical services for families, and sustainable farming and nutrition systems for entire towns. Through their empowerment efforts, the Doppenbergs aimed to cultivate dignity and hope in these communities.
As the Doppenbergs in Guatemala (DIG) began to expand their humanitarian impact, they hosted volunteers to help with their efforts. Since 2013, DIG has hosted thousands of volunteers who have come to Guatemala for an experience, not a vacation. Volunteers witness kids filled with joy as they kick a deflated soccer ball. They see a community exhibit kindness despite the absence of material wealth. They feel empathy that comes from a human-to-human connection. And it’s this experience that continues to drive DIG’s future.
“We’re helping humans,” Rita said. “The only difference between them and us is that we just happened to be born somewhere else geographically.”
The Doppenbergs feel a sense of fulfillment in their dedication to humanitarianism. Their sons have grown up; they consider Guatemala to be their home. Now, they operate their own divisions of DIG’s community empowerment programs, from education initiatives to sustainable infrastructure, paving the way for the future of DIG.
Through all of the work that DIG has done in Guatemala’s indigenous communities, the Doppenbergs continue to measure their success based on impact. And, through their immersion into these communities, they see how much more work is needed to achieve their ultimate goal of ending the cycle of poverty and malnutrition.