In March of 2016 I went on a medical mission to Guatemala with a Rotary friend and we stayed at Opal House for over a week. Although I was very busy providing technical backup for the fine doctors of the medical mission, I was equally impressed with the operation of the Opal House and particularly taken by what Will and Diane Boegel have created. So much so that six months later I returned to Opal House with my wife and three teenage kids.
On this second trip we stayed for over a week again and split our time between seeing the area and helping with projects around the farm, to the best of our abilities. Never have I had such a rewarding experience! Both of my daughters have committed to a return trip and are now dedicated to helping those less fortunate as a major part of their future. This experience allowed me to deliver a very important message to all of my kids, Service Before Self. I have Will and Diane to thank for allowing me to participate in their great giving adventure, and helping me to raise three wonderful well-rounded teenagers. Thank you both,
Review from Guidestar
Since 2007 I have been an observer, watching Will and Diane abandon their challenging medical careers and comfortable lives in the USA and re-locating to the poor Mayan community of Agua Escondido on the hills above Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. They established Opal House as a charity organization, legally recognized in both Guatemala and the USA, through which they could help the local people in whatever ways God called on them to do so.
They bought a 70-acre farm with existing groves of avocado trees and coffee plants which had been largely neglected by the previous owners. They hired local workers to resurrect the farm, paying them more than the minimum wages customary in the largely coffee-growing region. It is now a working and productive farm, although the income is far short of the needs of their charity and mission work.
Besides micro-financing, rescuing single moms and sharing their clean spring water they have focused a huge amount of energy on providing nutrition and free Montessori education to local children at the recently expanded two-story well-equipped school built on farm property. This school recently obtained certification from the Guatemala government for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Will has also generously donated his skills at free clinics for two half days a week at the hospital in San Lucas Toliman and another half-day per week at a clinic in Panajachel. He is becoming well known by clinics around Lake Atitlan and beyond in some distant communities. Every year for the last five years I have brought a surgical team to operate on all the needy patients collected by Will, mostly children with foot and lower extremity deformities, although now we have expanded into more pediatric and general orthopedics.
Through Opal House, Will and Diane change lives every day. There is also not a volunteer who has visited them whose life has not been positively impacted. Their vision is to serve our loving God by exercising charity to the needy around them, totally committing themselves to His Majesty’s Plan.
Review from Guidestar
Although I was not involved in the actual founding of Opal House I became aware of it during its formation when I was with Dr. Will Boegel on a Healing the Children surgical mission team to Hanoi, Vietnam in 2007 with both Will and my youngest son, Ryan. The idea sounded both lofty and ethereal at the same time. It seemed so radical for two people to give up their comfortable American life-style, exit their “comfort zone” and pour their lives and their souls into the hands of God, trusting in his/her design and providence.
A few years later, I volunteered to participate in a Rotary project in Guatemala with members of the LaConner Rotary Club close to my home. We had partnered with “Child Aid”, an NGO out of Portland, Oregon dedicated to promoting literacy, to ship a container of 23,000 Spanish language educational books to be distributed to schools and libraries in many towns throughout southwestern Guatemala, including a Rotary-sponsored traveling library bus. Our team of Rotary volunteers ended our project by helping to catalogue some of these donated books at a school library in Yepocapa. This was only a couple of hours drive from Lake Atitlan, so after the project, I decided to visit Opal House.
By then Will and Diane and a handful of temporary volunteers had done an enormous amount of building renovation and farm restoration. I was pleasantly surprised to find a working avocado farm high above Lake Atitlan (5,400’ ASL) facing NW where every day hidden coffee plants were being uncovered from the bushes in the shade of the avocado trees. Local people were being employed and paid more than the average local wages. The potential seemed endless.
Diane was helping take the children of very poor local single mothers into her free day care so they could be safe and get improved nutrition while their mothers could work. They taught health and sanitation to the neighbors in Agua Escondida and worked at finding a way to clean their water supply or share theirs from Opal House. Will was volunteering two half days a week at a free clinic in the Hospital Parroquia de San Lucas in the town of San Lucas Toliman, 20 km away. (The hospital has since been named in honor of the recently-deceased local parish priest: Hospital Obras Sociales de Monsignor Gregorio Schaffer.)
Probably the most impressive thing about Opal House is the beautiful chapel built on the edge of the vista of the lake. Through its panorama windows, one is exposed to an almost surreal scene of water surrounded by volcanoes with villages sprinkling the shoreline. Lights and stars twinkle at night.
Will and Diane quietly work their service to the local people, from micro-financing and donating useful equipment such as sewing machines to simply helping as needs arise for the local Mayan people. They have since built a two-story school and have a Montessori program for pre-schoolers, with plans to get certified to teach elementary grades. This is Diane’s pre-occupation.
My involvement expanded when Will asked if I would bring surgery teams for foot and ankle deformities and problems, relative to our specialty. This year marks the third year in a row that I have brought a team to San Lucas Toliman to deliver free surgical care to those in need. We come for a little more than a week at a time and have operated on 23-35 patients each visit, mostly children with clubfoot and neurological or post-traumatic deformities. Without Will accumulating these patients through his free clinics and contacts, these children would never get the care that changes their lives and opens up opportunities. Will does a tremendous amount of work before abnd after each of these surgical missions.
I have personally seen many good works done through this Opal House charity. The doors to Opal House are always open – to the curious and to those seeking a chance to provide humanitarian care to improve the lives of others less fortunate. For some, the experience is live-changing in and of itself. It has a tremendous impact on my own life.
My wife and I have just returned from our second visit to Opal House. We are so amazed at the work happening there in Guatemala. They are all in. Their only administration costs include the basics to live. All other income is directed towards the farm, school and helping the community.
Their 75 acre farm does take a lot of time and effort. I have seen a huge change since we were there last in 2012. They are tending it so that it will become sustainable and eventually support all the work that is happening on the property. It is completely organic, using composted trimmings to re-nourish the previously over used land. They have concentrated on the planting and growth of coffee and the re-establishment of their avocado grove. They have also planted many other varieties of fruit in hopes of providing a more balanced diet for the children in their schooling programs. They also employ several local men who are able to sustain their families well with their hard work.
Their school is small and growing. The students are young and the school is growing grade by grade as the oldest students move into new grades. The Montessori program is effective and creates leaders among the children. They have situated their school to take advantage of the wonderful view from their property. In a small way this shows the care that they have for their students by allowing them to enjoy nature. The children also get a share of the best that Opal house has to offer.
The two of them are also in the medical field. They work all year helping the poor. This work culminates with a week or two of free orthopedic surgery for children who benefit greatly from reconstructed limbs. Even this aspect of their work in Guatemala is growing as new specialists are making themselves available to provide services outside Will and Diane's specialties.
Will and Diane have shown themselves to be quick to help those around them but also wise so not to create a dependence in those they help. They want their neighbours to rise up and live a life of worth and value.
We have also had the privilege of meeting their core support in Seattle. They are all like minded. I have also noticed that any new individuals or organisations who encounter Will and Diane are quick to support them with enthusiast. In my case, I met Will very randomly in a lunch line in San Lucas Toliman (a small town close to their home.) In our short two hour conversation we became supporters and made our first trip to visit their property one year later.
They provide a wide variety of opportunities for volunteers. They welcome workers who can do physical labor and doctors with specialised training. Most anyone can be of help to Opal house. I recommend them to all. Their love and care is infectious.
Review from Guidestar
My time at the Opal House was the most incredible, inspirational, and life changing experience I have ever had. I absolutely can not wait to go back, visit, and help out on their farm or with the school.
I didn't know it was possible for two people to do so much for a community like they do at the Opal House. From keeping a clean supply of water in case the town below dries out, providing a free education to young children, and providing jobs for the locals to work on their 75 acre avocado and coffee tree farm. Will and Diane have created a wonderful atmosphere and we should all strive to make an impact like they have, it would make the world a better place.
Our main goal coming down to Guatemala was a surgical mission team. We did 35 surgeries and screened over 60 patients. The overwhelming sense of accomplishment was incredible and spending time with the children that were preparing for surgery was a whole new experience in itself. The hospital staff was incredible and I have never seen a group of people work as hard as they do. I am blessed to have had this opportunity to stay at the Opal House and i can't wait to go back next year.
I encourage everyone to help this organization, as much as anyone can!
Review from Guidestar
I was introduced to this organization by a friend of mine in Seattle.
One of the things that impressed me with Will and Dine is the investment in relationships with the community to know the children and families. It seems like they are respected and well known in the town of Auga Escondida. What I like about this program is that they are growing organically and looking for where the need is.
Here is a review of their programs:
○ Will is a podiatrist (lower extremity) and works at clinics in San Lucas and Panajachel. He partners with other medical clinics to share recourses.
○ He preforms complex surgeries and serves the state of Solo la.
○ His clinics are Monday and Wednesday in San Lucas and Thursdays in Panajachel with Mayan Families.
○ Will has a 75 acre farm with avocados, coffee and various fruits. He has started the reforestation process for his avocados and coffee. They are around 2-5 years old.
○ This land is up in the mountains and has been turned fully organic.
○ They have turkeys, goats and 4 worm compost bins that produce organic fertilizer.
○ They roast their coffee (small crop) with a local indigenous roster. They use the fruit of the beans to compost. Everything gets used.
• Clean water
○ On the Farm there is a natural spring that has been tested and is not contaminated.
○ They have the ability to supply the local town with clean water and do this through water cisterns that are available to the local community.
○ Cutting edge curriculum and Montessori based theories.
○ New school building with natural light that is conductive to teaching, learning and creativity.
○ This building also has the capacity to serve as an afterschool recourse center. There is a room set aside for this potential.
○ They are organically growing classes. They currently have three grades. Pre- k to 1st grade. They also have a few exceptions for children that that are in higher grades.
○ There are three teachers (salary for director is $400 and the other teachers is $320 a month)
○ They also feed the children a nutritious meal for snack and lunch.
• Young women mentoring on Fridays
○ 8-12 young teen women are mentored with Diana and the school director (Jacklyn)
○ Character building and skill building.
○ This week they are doing a HALO project around integrity. Example of how integrity is lost like when you take a photo and rip it up. Even if you put it back together it still wont look the same. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.
• Youth mentoring and bible study on Wednesdays:
○ Boys and girls
Youth in the greatest need Identified:
- Mayan population is the majority yet the most marginalized group in Guatemala.
- 50% of youth have malnutrition.
- More than half of families are single orphaned homes. (one parent at home.)
- The education is poor. (average marks are 60%)
- Average child goes to 3rd grade and not proficient in math and reading.
- The young women are at risk for early pregnancy's (as young as age 14.)
I would recommend this organization.
My time spent on the farm working was incredible. I was there for five weeks and I helped out on the farm completing tasks in the fields with the workers; cutting down trees, prepping holes for avocado trees, or just mowing the lawn I was able to experience unlike many. I was fortunate enough to befriend the workers on the farm and I enjoyed spending time working and playing soccer with them. It was such an amazing time and my love for photography and documenting really played out well in capturing my story in first person of my daily actions. I would hope that one day I return to this beautiful place.
The most obvious evaluation of people, and 501c3's for that matter, is their fruit. After visiting Opal House twice in the last 5 years, I can tell you with certainty that this organization is truly producing fruit in the world (and I'm not talking about the avocados and coffee grown on their farm).
On our most recent visit (May 2014), I brought my mother, sister, brother-in-law, wife, and two small kids and we were amazed at the progress in the last five years. Not only is it a place of peace and a refuge for many of the children and families in the area, but it's a great place to visit to see the way God is working among people who allow themselves to be "fruitful".
We will always support Opal House and return to be reminded that Opal House is built on hallowed ground by humble, loving people (Will and Diane).
Review from Guidestar
To be invited to spend time at Opal House is to be welcomed into a vision made real. From the escuelita serving local Mayan children, to the healthy fields of coffee and avocados, to the awe-inspiring chapel and finally, to the warmth and hospitality of the Will and Diane's home, our visit to Opal House was truly life-changing. It was my first encounter with people who followed God's call and, selflessly, and with great effort, are making a difference for the people in the community and those that have the opportunity to visit. We will not ever forget our visit to a Mayan home where Dr. Will checked on a patient. My four year old granddaughter will never forget riding in the tuc-tuc to pick up the children for school and my one year granddaughter will not forget the parrots' morning wakeup call "BUENO! HOLA!"
As Jacob said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." But I know it now and hope to share the vision with others.
My husband and I stayed at Opal House only a couple months after their formation, and we volunteered by helping with painting, yardwork, etc. We were so encouraged and inspired by Will and Diane's faith and approach to international development work that we have continued to support them since 2009 and just last week went down for the second time, this time with our children and extended family, to volunteer more and fellowship with them. Their work for the local Guatemalan people is inspiring and so loving. They are filling crucial gaps that exist in their local community in a sustainable way. We couldn't recommend this organization more highly!
I met Will and Diane in honduras while they were staying with the organization i work with and i was compelled and amazed by their story of what brought them to create opal house. I decided during my vacation time to visit Opal house and see for myself all of the work they do for their community. Their grounds are not only stunning but they provide a home away from home for children and families of their community. Not only do they help their community medically and educationally, they share everything they have to help serve others. I am very grateful to have met them and to have seen a glimpse of the beautiful work they do in guatemala.