Notes From Honduras – September 2018

The independence of Honduras is a complicated history. The five original Central American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) were under Spanish rule from 1524 until 1821, when on September 15 they signed a Declaration of Independence in Guatemala City, granting them Independence from Spain. They were annexed to the First Mexican Empire until 1823, when Mexico became a republic and gave the Central American provinces the right to determine their own fate.

The dream of Honduran military and political hero, Francisco Morazán, was to unite the Central American countries as one nation. Honduras formed part of the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America, also known as the United Provinces of Central America from 1823 to 1840. Francisco Morazán, president of the union from 1830 to 1839, introduced a number of liberal reforms, exacerbating the existing conflict between the Liberals and Conservatives, leading to the dissolution of the union and the declaration of independence from each member state. Honduras’ declaration came on November 5, 1838, following Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Despite the various steps to become an independent nation, Honduras and the other Central American countries hold their Independence Day celebrations on September 15, when they gained independence from Spain. Every September during the Mes de Patria (Month of National Celebration), schools, office buildings, and stores are decorated in patriotic blue and white, and the national anthem is played every day at noon on all the local radio stations.

(Clockwise L to R) Cristian plays the güiro; Selenia and Nelsin with the school sign; Felix and Eduin in peloton; Jennifer plays the lira; and Fernanda leads the palillonas.

El Hogar participated in their annual Independence Day parade on Sunday September 9, along with the 24 other schools in their district. The banda marcial (martial band) in their new uniforms played a variety of traditional songs, including “Sopa de Caracol” and “Banana.” The palillonas (baton twirlers) and pelotón (marching platoon) followed behind, executing steps that they had practiced for weeks. Teachers, high school students, and parents followed the students along the parade route, supporting them and passing out water as they marched under the hot sun.

On Thursday, September 13, the Technical Institute (ITSM) students marched with the elementary school in their town, and a band from a close by high school. Students on the honor roll wore a distinctive badge on their arm, and had the privilege of carrying the Central American flags and the ITSM banner, leading the parade from the main highway to the ITSM campus. The flag bearers, banda de Guerra (marching band) and pelotón (marching platoon) did a special salute in formation once they arrived to the ITSM campus, applauded by their parents, siblings, and friends who had come to support them.

(Clockwise L to R) Rony Yacir carries the Institute banner; Brayan, Wilmer, and Jose (front line) with ITSM Director Lazaro Juarez; Miguel Antonio carries the Honduran flag; and Jairo leads the banda
de guerra.

Under the hot sun, schools across the country had a chance to show off their national pride as the Rumbo a los 200 Años de Independencia (Route to 200 Years of Independence) campaign was announced to begin planning the celebrations for Honduras’ 200th anniversary.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – August 2018

The Technical Institute (ITSM) celebrated it’s 34th anniversary on Friday, August 24. All of the staff, students, and a Service Team from Toronto gathered in the chapel at 7:30 a.m. to start the day with a Eucharist led by Padre Gerardo, the dean from the Episcopal Cathedral in Tegucigalpa, and Padre Luis, the chaplain at ITSM.

An anniversary banner that was displayed during the celebration on August 24. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

Following the service, the celebration continued with a soccer game – the final match of a tournament that had been played out since June. The six best players at ITSM were made team captains and they carefully chose five more to complete each of their teams. They played every Wednesday afternoon to determine the two teams that would play in the Anniversary Final; Score and Juventus. A crowd of students, staff, and volunteers gathered around the freshly painted concrete soccer pitch and watched as the two evenly matched teams played out the final. In the end, Score came out on top with a 6-3 victory. The majority of the players on the winning team came from El Hogar’s elementary program, and one player credited their victory to the bond they have from all the years they have known each other.

(Left) Josue Isais and Profe Omar play during the students vs teachers soccer game. (Right) The teacher’s soccer team: (Back Row L-R) Profe Julio (counselor), Profe Omar (counselor), Profe Carlos (Social Science and Civics teacher), Profe Gerardo (counselor), Lazaro (Director of ITSM); (Front Row L-R) Profe Juan Jose (Physical education teacher), Profe Enrique (Computer and English teacher), Profe Arnol Leiva (Science and Technical Modules teacher), Profe Cristian (Counselor), George (assistant PE teacher). (Photos courtesy of Erika Skafel)

Now crowned the best team at ITSM (at least for now!), Score had one more game to play…the teachers! The teachers put a team together with the bravest and best, and the game was the highlight of the day. The students thought the game would be easy, but it turns out that the teachers have more skill than they were expecting! After the first couple of minutes, the students picked up the pace and started to play with a little more power. They scored back and forth and were tied for a good portion of the game. The crowd was wild during the whole game; some of them cheering for the teachers and some cheering for the students. Scoring goals for the teachers were Profe Gerardo, Don Tino, and Profe Cristian. The goal scorers on the students’ team were Moises, Jose Angel, and Josue. When the final whistle blew, the teachers were ahead by one goal and took the victory with a score of 5-4.

Students relax and enjoy their barbecue lunch during the August 24 celebration. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

After the game, all of the staff, students, and volunteers enjoyed a barbecue lunch prepared on the grill down by the river. Before cutting the cake, Lazaro, the director of ITSM, spoke about the pride he has being involved in the years of history that ITSM has educating the youth of Honduras. He stated that he, and the staff, want the best for the students, and that this celebration was one to remember as El Hogar moves towards an exciting future.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – July 2018

The street that runs in front of El Hogar’s elementary campus is quiet. There is no familiar sound of traffic or horns honking. Nationwide, the bus, taxi, and mototaxi drivers have been on strike since last week in protest of the recent increase in the government tax on gasoline; an increase that has had a ripple effect on other necessities like food and service prices, creating more of a burden on families who are already struggling to get by. The drivers have organized themselves and by parking their buses, taxis, and mototaxis across the streets, have created roadblocks on many major thoroughfares in an attempt to call attention to this issue. Safety on the street hasn’t been a concern, but the ability to mobilize throughout the city has been challenging.

The entrance to Tegucigalpa is blocked off by city buses. (Photo courtesy of Televicentro Honduras)

While transit and government officials negotiate a solution, at El Hogar, teachers are coming and going on foot, trips to the lumberyard and hardware store are being done by bicycle, but classes have continued as normal.

Junior returns from running errands at three hardware stores on his bicycle. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

Being “peak” Service Team season, teams have had to be more flexible than normal as some of the scheduled activities off-site have not been possible; it’s a different reality in Honduras than many teams have experienced before. Taking advantage of all the time inside our centers, teams have had the opportunity to dig deeper into their experiences. Some have been able to participate in folk dancing lessons, music classes, and other recreational activities with the children and youth. They’ve also been able to engage in conversations with both staff and students to learn their diverse stories.

Tenth-grade boys at the Technical Institute spend time with their North American peers from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Glenwood, MD. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

At the Technical Institute (ITSM), some groups have had the opportunity to engage in conversation with the tenth-grade boys of the bachillerato (high school) program. Jose and Lenin graduated from ninth grade at the Agricultural School, and Alan and Jairo from ITSM. They all felt that the transition into bachillerato was fairly easy. Alan and Jairo were already accustomed to life at ITSM, and Lenin and Jose felt welcome from the beginning. At the beginning of the year, Lazaro Juarez, the Director of ITSM, talked about the ITSM family; nobody comes from one place or another, they all belong to the same family. These young men embody this principle.

Tenth-grade boys from left to right: Jairo, Lenin, Jose, and Alan. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

They spend all day together, and have developed a camaraderie, as José describes, that is like a brotherhood. They are in classes from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., when they have some time to do chores, laundry, and homework. In the evening, they join their other peers and participate in study hall and recreational activities. Tenth grade focuses on academics, including courses like philosophy and psychology – new to the curriculum in bachillerato. Next year in eleventh grade, they’ll take technical classes; all in the electricity workshop.

Alan is very grateful for the expansion of the high school program at ITSM and spoke to the benefit this will have for many future generations of students, like himself, who have had the opportunity to study at ITSM. With goals of being a marine, a police officer, a pilot, and a computer engineer, these four young men are on the road to success as the pioneros (pioneers) of the bachillerato program at ITSM.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – June 2018

Those who have been to El Hogar will know that over the years, the area between the volunteer house and the dining room has been many things. It was a tendedero (clothes lines) and most recently, a soccer field. Now, it’s been transformed (hopefully permanently!) into a garden plot with raised garden beds. The area will fit twenty 4’ x 8’ beds to plant vegetables, fruits, and herbs. A Service Team from Burlington, Ontario, Canada worked alongside the students and maintenance staff at El Hogar to erect a fence around the perimeter of the garden, and now 10 raised beds have been built – we’re halfway there!

The planting beds and the protective fence placed around them. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

In early April, a mother/daughter team from California worked with the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classes to plant the first crops. Not everything they planted initially germinated, but the green beans, radishes, beets, cucumber, and cilantro thrived.

At the beginning of May, the sixth-grade class helped with the first harvest. They were able to harvest about three pounds of radishes and a large bunch of cilantro. With that, Doña Tona, the cook, made chismol (a salad similar to pico de gallo) with radishes. Since then, they have had three more harvests of radishes, three harvests of green beans and cucumbers, a harvest of beets, and an ongoing supply of cilantro.

(Clockwise from the upper-left) Denia and Genesis inspecting the radishes; Erika Gissel with fresh picked cilantro; Erika Gissel and Carol plant cilantro with Profe Karen; Rocio found the biggest radish; Alondra harvesting radishes; Cristian, Felix, and Amy picking green beans. (Photos courtesy of Erika Skafel)

Profe Karen, the science teacher, uses the garden as a live laboratory for her classes. Whenever the gate is open, children come in and inspect the plants, and always ask to help water in the morning and evening. She’s promoting a sense of ownership among the students, and even held a competition between each grade to come up with a name for the garden. After a schoolwide vote, the fourth-grade class won, giving the garden the name Huerto Sembrando Esperanza (Planting Hope Orchard). A sign is in the works and will be hung at the entrance.

One afternoon, Ingeniero Yony, the Director of the Agricultural School, came to talk to the children about planting and caring for the gardens. Afterwards, they headed out to the gardens with a Service Team from Cincinnati, and with what they learned, planted more green beans and cilantro, as well as some tomato and green pepper seedlings.

(Clockwise from the upper-left) Sixth-grade students planting tomato and green pepper seedlings with volunteers from Cincinnati; Third-grade students with the first harvest of green beans; Franklin, Jorge, Yener, and Elmer with the second harvest of cucumbers; Jafeth and Eddson find a funny shaped radish; Second-grade students cleaning radishes. (Photos courtesy of Erika Skafel)

When children participate in growing edible plants, they develop a respect for nature and the environment. They can be more motivated to taste, eat, and enjoy fruits and vegetables. Snacking is always promoted when they are harvesting!

With the ongoing support of the staff and students at El Hogar, the garden project is thriving, and will continue to grow as more gardens get built to make room to plant cabbage, lettuce, carrots, onions, and much more!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – May 2018

Every April, El Hogar has student council elections to vote in a new student body president. The elections are regulated and observed by delegates from the Ministry of Education, and are run on the same day in every school district across the country.

At the beginning of the year, each grade votes on a class president, among other delegates. When it came time for the school election, the presidents of each class and their delegates got together and selected two candidates for school president: Eduin and Lizzi. The week before the election, Eduin and Lizzi presented their platforms and held two debates, in which all of the students attended.

Jafeth casts his vote during the recent student council elections at El Hogar. (Photo courtesy of Erika Skafel)

On Election Day, the voting public was assigned a voting area alphabetically by first name. The ballot is a full page with a photo of each candidate so young voters who can’t yet read are able to cast their vote. Once all the votes are cast, delegates for each voting station count the votes, under the supervision of a teacher and the representative from the Ministry of Education, and fill out the corresponding forms. The votes from all stations are tallied and the new president is voted in.

For the first time at El Hogar, the students voted in a female president. Lizzi wanted to be president because she believes that the students of El Hogar have an opinion and she wants to facilitate changes so that all of the students are happy. A strong statement for a quiet fifth grade girl, proving that anyone can be a leader.

When called on stage to accept her new role, Lizzi addressed her peers with confidence and conviction. She thanked them for voting her into this position, welcoming them to approach her if they want to see changes, and promising that she would do her best to make them happen. She expressed her appreciation to the teachers that educate and counsel her, and gratitude for the opportunity to be at El Hogar; a place, she stated, where she can receive an education and can focus on studying, not on helping her parents earn money or worry about how she could get school supplies. Lizzi is very keen to make a difference and has a lot of personal drive to succeed and have a good future.

(Upper Left Clockwise) Eduin congratulates Lizzi on her win; Lizzi giving her acceptance speech; the new student government is sworn in; the members of the new student government. (Photos courtesy of Erika Skafel)

Lizzi is an example of the confidence that the teachers and staff foster in the children at El Hogar. Voting in a female school council president is a small step in the progression that El Hogar is working towards as the program evolves.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – April 2018

Every spring, the eight Episcopal Schools in Honduras take turns hosting a volleyball and soccer tournament. This year, the 19th Annual Episcopal Games were hosted by St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Tegucigalpa on Thursday, April 12th and Friday, April 13th, 2018.

A change from the last few years, the boys from the Technical Institute (ITSM) did not get to travel to the north coast of Honduras where they have previously played. From their point of view, it was a disadvantage because they did not get to go to the beach after the tournament! The advantage, however, was having the support of all of their peers and teachers who came out for the two days to watch them.

Jose, Angel, and Rony cheer on their classmates during the volleyball tournament.

The other seven Episcopal schools are private schools, and this year only four were able to make the trip to Tegucigalpa. After a brief opening ceremony, the volleyball tournament began on Thursday afternoon in gymnasium #2 at the Villa Olimpica – a public sports complex in the city. The boys’ coaching team was Profe Juan José – physical education teacher at ITSM – and Profe Gerardo – national volleyball player and son of Profe Norma, the sub-director at ITSM.

The ITSM boys played hard and won some matches, but finished in last place after six games.

Under a blanket of clouds on Friday morning, the soccer tournament began at 8:30 am at the Estadio Olímpico (Olympic Stadium) at the Villa Olimpica. The group of Folk Dancers from St. Mary’s performed, and all participants sang the National Anthem before taking the field. The clouds disappeared at the perfect time and made way for a hot, but beautiful day for soccer.

With three other teams to play, the ITSM boys hit the field in their brand new cleats, designed and fabricated by a company in Tegucigalpa. In the first two games, they tied 0-0, but in the last game they lost 1-0 on a penalty shot. Unfortunately, this eliminated them from advancing further in the tournament. However, with the amalgamation of ITSM and the Agricultural School, their players had incredible skill and played as a cohesive team.

(Top) The ITSM soccer team and (Bottom) volleyball team represented El Hogar well during the 2018 Episcopal Games.

One student participating in his first Episcopal Games, commented on the fact that their skills were well matched with those of their opponents, despite the differences in resources that each school and individual student has access to. He felt like the competition was fair and these differences were not noticeable on the field. All of the players had comments about their experience, including some of the referees’ calls, and some challenges they ran into with opponents. But despite this, they all said that their overall experience was positive. A student taking part in his second Episcopal Games commented on the excitement of participating in a competition; a feeling, he remarked, that was much different than the pick-up soccer they play in their free time.

Despite the losses in the tournament, the boys gained competitive experience that will help push them to work hard for next year. They’re hoping to win, but also hoping that they’ll get to go back to the beach!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – February 2018

2018 is a year of changes at all our campuses in Honduras. On February 5, the first day of classes, students and their family members gathered in the chapel at the Technical Institute (ITSM) for the beginning of a new phase at El Hogar. With the addition of 10th grade, and the restructuring of the Agricultural School, students from ITSM and the Agricultural School are now together on one campus.

While the 87 students come from all over Honduras, Director Lazaro Juarez spoke of uniting a family; that nobody is from “this place” or “that place,” everyone is from ITSM. “We are ITSM.” While many things have happened to get to this moment, he spoke of the readiness to head into this new phase together and the pride and joy he felt to be a part of it. Lazaro emphasized the important role that the parents play in the success of their children, and the gratitude that he has that the parents trust them to work together to raise respectful young men with strong moral and spiritual values.

Teachers are introduced to the students at ITSM.

Anthony is one of 19 students who joined the ITSM family from the Agricultural School, where he completed the 7th grade. He will start the 8th grade at ITSM. His mother and young brother accompanied him on the five buses they needed to take to get from Talanga to Amarateca, so that he can take advantage of the opportunity he has to continue with his education.

Anthony poses with his mother and younger brother at the ITSM campus.

Last year, some Service Teams visited the home of Gabriel, a student at the Agricultural School. This year, he is heading into 9th grade and his mother and younger sister came to wish him well. His mother expressed that it will be difficult to have him so much farther away, but is grateful for the opportunity he has to be at ITSM. She visited him every weekend while he was at the Agricultural School, and despite the distance, promised Gabriel she would continue doing so while he is at ITSM.

Gabriel poses with his mother and younger sister as he prepares to settle in at ITSM.

The first day of school marks the beginning of exciting changes ahead at all the campuses of El Hogar.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

A New Path for a New Year

It’s always an exciting moment when the clock strikes midnight and another year begins. It’s a clean, untouched canvas that’s ready to be painted with the rainbow of emotions and experiences that make up life.

At El Hogar, the start of the new year marks the period just before the next school year in Honduras – school schedules there run from February to November. Some students stay with us on a year-round basis for a variety of reasons (safety, no family, etc.), but others are beginning to return from their homes to their campuses. It’s the beginning of a year filled with new ideas, new experiences, new friends, and new opportunities.

It’s also a period that brings to mind the poem – The Road Not Taken – by Robert Frost. The poem is all about moving out of what may be a place of comfort, and into one that holds more opportunity and promise, as well as a healthy dose of the unknown. It’s a time to decide to continue on the path we’ve been paving or to move in a new direction. At El Hogar, we’ve decided to take a new path.

In late 2017, El Hogar announced the implementation of a new strategic vision for our operations in Honduras. It’s not a plan that was developed quickly or lightly. There was a lot of thought that went into this new vision, and it’s an exciting new path forward.

It’s a path that begins with offering tenth-grade classes to boys for the first time in our history, starting this February. A path that will bring our students closer together by consolidating our four campuses into two. A path that will lead to the completion of a self-sustaining high school that will offer not only a high-quality academic education, but one that also includes business, technical, and agricultural skills and experience. A path toward providing enhanced opportunities for our students.

Since the very beginning, El Hogar has always looked for ways to further improve the care we provide for students. In the early days, students lived with us and attended public schools. As we found that the public schools weren’t a reliable source of education, we expanded to provide a full education. As our students reached the completion of their elementary education, we began to offer a technical education that taught them skills in woodworking, electrical, and metalwork. We expanded again by offering an education in agricultural skills.

During all of this, we also opened our program to include girls, and began offering them a high school education – the first of those girls just graduated in November 2017. All of these were positive changes that provided enhanced educational opportunities for our students. This new strategic vision is the next step forward.

Though we know the final outcome we’re working toward, the process is just in its very early stages. As we were always reminded by our mothers and grandmothers, good things come to those who wait. This project will take several years to complete in multiple stages, which will make it easier on everyone involved, especially the students in our care.

These are exciting times at El Hogar, and we’re so grateful to share them with you. The bottom line is that each donor – no matter the size of their gift – makes our work possible. Each step is made possible by you!

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To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

The Season of Generosity

The holidays are busy. From family visits to gift shopping, it’s easy for the spirit behind those celebrations to be lost. The spirit of generosity.

El Hogar exists because of the generosity that’s present within people’s hearts, not just during this season, but all year long. That generosity takes its form in a variety of ways.

For some, it means becoming a monthly or yearly sponsor who supports the daily costs of our work. For others, it can take the form of being a member of one of the many Service Teams who travel to Honduras each year. And for others, it can mean being an advocate for El Hogar within their communities. No matter which category – or categories – you fall into, we appreciate the generosity you’ve shown during this holiday season and the past year.

Our students’ lives have been changed in ways that can be seen and unseen because of you. I think about Lisbeth and her graduation from high school this past November – one of the first high school girls to ever graduate from our program. She’s beginning college courses in the fall to work toward becoming a psychologist. Then there’s Eder from our Agricultural School, who graduated from ninth grade this year and will enter our new tenth grade program for boys this coming February. These are just two of the many stories of achievement this year at El Hogar. The gifts that you’ve given these students are greater than any measure. And as we all know, this is the season of giving.

As we prepare to bid 2017 farewell, we look at 2018 with excitement and anticipation. It will be the first year we have a tenth-grade group of boys. The year when we begin moving forward with our new strategic plan, looking toward the day we open our new coed high school campus. The year when El Hogar takes new and exciting steps forward.

For those of you who have given of your money or time to El Hogar this year, take time to celebrate the part you’ve played in helping the children of El Hogar as you gather to celebrate the holidays. If you haven’t supported El Hogar in the past, I hope you’ll make the decision to help us provide a life-changing education to our students. Thank you for showing the true spirit of the season each day of the year.

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To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Final Thoughts and the Flight Home

I’ve never liked goodbyes. Whenever a family member who had come for a visit would say their goodbyes, I would inevitably respond with, “See you soon!” The word “goodbye” seems to have an unintended feeling of permanence. Like there’s no way of coming back.

When I come to Honduras, I dread that moment when I load my bags into the van for the final time and ride through the streets of Tegucigalpa. After navigating the maze-like layout of the city, we finally arrive at the airport. The trip has come full circle. The joyous smiles and hugs that were part of our arrival now turn into quiet moments coupled with tears. We’re all trying to savor every last bit of time together before we part company and countries. I consider the employees and students of El Hogar in Honduras to be part of my extended family. And as I said above, I don’t like saying goodbyes to family.

The campuses of El Hogar are special places to me. They’re havens of safety, joy, and hope. The students never cease to amaze me with their questions and boundless energy.

Each of the students who have been honored this week have their own stories. Before El Hogar, their lives were filled with uncertainty, fear, and other unthinkable factors that were setting them up for lives within the cycle of poverty. After coming to El Hogar, their lives took a different path. The education they’ve had access to provides them with skills and knowledge that can never be taken away.

Waiting at the gate for my plane back to Boston, I took a few moments to look back on the past days in Honduras. I began to tear up as I remembered the faces of the students as they were honored for their hard work. They were so proud, and each of us in attendance were proud of them. For my wife, this first trip to El Hogar was one that gave her a greater appreciation for the work being done here. She was also excited to have finally met the students.

The beauty of Honduras isn’t just found in nature, but in the hearts of the people who call it home. I always tell people that I count it as a privilege to work for an organization like El Hogar. To be a part of changing the lives of these wonderful kids is something that I will never tire of. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this year’s graduation ceremonies, and to have shared this amazing experience with my wife. Thank you for joining me on this journey and for your support of El Hogar!

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To change the lives of children in Honduras, please donate today!