Notes From Honduras – August 2017

On July 26, El Hogar hosted the science fair for all the schools in their area. Ten schools came to showcase their experiments, and the panel of judges, brought in from various universities, were to decide which projects would advance to the science fair for their school district.

In Honduras, there are four levels of competition for the science fair…

  1. All the schools in the zone (geographical area)
  2. The whole school district (which is comprised of various zones)
  3. The department (which is what we would refer to as the
    state or province)
  4. At a national level

The projects were split into two categories; Group 1 (Grades 1-3) and Group 2 (Grades 4-6). Representing Group 1 were Amy Kimberly (Grade 2), Estiven Emmanuel (Grade 3) and Fernanda (Grade 2), with the support of Profe Karen, Profe Karla and Profe Virginia. Their project was called “Tobacco and its Affect
on Health.” With plastic bottles as the lungs, they filled them up with smoke from a cigarette. As the smoke left the bottle, a yellow film was left on the surface, demonstrating the damage that cigarettes do to your lungs.

Amy, Estiven, and Fernanda – representing Group 1 – prepare to present their science fair project.

Representing Group 2 were Rene Gabriel (Grade 6), Yener (Grade 5) and Cristopher (Grade 4) with the support of Profe Heyser, Profe Siloé and Profe Gladys. Instead of the conventional natural science project, they chose to focus on the social sciences. Their project was called “Impact of the absence of parents in the behavior of children and adolescents at Hogar de Amor y Esperanza.” Designing a survey and choosing a random sample of children and parents, they asked questions related to the relationship with their parents, the frequency to which they received visits or phone calls, and their behavior. The conclusion that the students came up with was that not only is the frequency of visits important, but the quality of the visit as well. They also suggested that the parents should build up their skills so they could find employment to improve their situations at home.

The students from Group 1 presented well, but unfortunately didn’t win because they were one of two schools that demonstrated the same concept. Because of the creativity of their experiment, the students from Group 2 received an honorable mention and represented El Hogar at the science fair for the school district.

After advancing to the school district level science fair, the students from Group 2 won first place and for the first time will represent El Hogar and their school district at the science fair for the Department (State) of Francisco Morazan this month.

Yener, Cristofer, and Rene Gabriel with Profe Heyser and their first place trophy.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – July 2017

If you’ve come to El Hogar on a Service Team in the last couple of years, chances are you’ve been to Villa Olimpica. The Autonomous Sports Confederation of Honduras (CONDEPAH) regulates 40 sports disciplines in Honduras, many of which are headquartered at Villa Olimpica. The sports complex was built in the late 1980’s to accommodate the Central American Games and remained a public facility. The Honduran Olympic Committee Headquarters is also located there.

(Left) Julio César practices his pitching, while (Right) Gabriela and Gabriel practice taekwondo.

In 2016, CONDEPAH began a program that supports participation and skill development in sports for students in education centers like El Hogar. Since then, our students have been developing their skills in seven disciplines: taekwondo, judo, kickboxing, lima lama (all martial arts), table tennis, baseball, and of course, soccer. On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, the kids load onto the bus according to their sport and head to Villa Olimpica where their Honduran coaches are waiting for them. They practice martial arts, table tennis, and baseball, while also learning discipline, focus, and fitness. On Saturday mornings, the soccer team, which includes some of the students from the Technical Institute, practices and competes.

Through the collaboration between CONDEPAH and El Hogar, many of the children have had the opportunity to not only develop their skills, but to also develop their confidence by competing in tournaments against other students in Tegucigalpa and other cities, including Comayagua.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Making Your Time Away Count

Most of us are very protective of our vacation time and opportunities to step out of our daily routines. It’s usually time set aside to do the things that bring us joy, which can include travel, sports, the arts, and the list goes on. We don’t usually view those few weeks of the year as opportunities to make a difference in the world, but maybe next year you could use a week of your vacation to bring joy to the lives of children. You would also gain a new perspective of what life is really like for families living in very different circumstances than yours.

Each year, El Hogar welcomes Service Teams to Honduras. They come from throughout the United States and Canada, and all with different expectations, hopes, and fears. Some teams are made up of members who know each other and come from one particular church or organization. Others have members who meet for the first time as they prepare to travel, but who end their trips with new and lasting friendships.

These trips do often include some work, which could be painting or carpentry. While teams help important maintenance work to get completed on our campuses, the real purpose behind these trips is to offer each person a new perspective on life in Honduras. By understanding the difficulties and struggles that are everyday realities for people who live there, it becomes even more evident to team members that we are all connected, despite any cultural differences.

It’s easy to watch videos or read articles, but to ride through the streets of Tegucigalpa or to visit the home of an El Hogar parent brings the realities of life in Honduras into sharper focus. The years of struggle these parents and grandparents have gone through can be seen on their faces, but many have tears of joy when they describe the difference El Hogar has made for their children.

Recently, David Dreisbach, the Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, was part of a Service Team. He was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about his time at El Hogar:

“I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I passed through the gate of El Hogar. Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is hot, overcrowded, and loud. People look at you as you pass them on the streets with eyes filled with despair. But inside the walls of El Hogar, there is peace. There is happiness. There is love. And best of all, there is family. 

David smiles with Anna Nicole during his recent Service Team trip to El Hogar. (Photo courtesy of David Dreisbach)

I met dozens of joyful children who all have a story to tell. As I got to know these children and heard their stories, I quickly found a common theme. The theme is that for each one of them, being at El Hogar is a miracle. It’s a chance at life and a chance to make their lives count.

When you leave El Hogar, you have the feeling that you are leaving the real world. A world where contentment is not based on excess but on having what you need. Going back to a society built on excess, greed, and discontentment was very hard. The children at El Hogar are going to be fine whether they met me or not. I, on the other hand, have been forever changed.”

David’s experience is not unique. Each person leaves El Hogar changed and with a perspective that will never be the same as when they first entered our gates.

It’s easy to put a team together or to join a team, and we can help you do that. Planning is already underway for Service Teams who are traveling to El Hogar in 2018. If you’re interested or want more information, please call 781-729-7600 or send an email to info@elhogar.org. We look forward to welcoming you!

Notes From Honduras – June 2017

The students in fourth grade are curious. They ask a lot of questions. They like to investigate things. So Profesora Karla, the fourth-grade teacher, creates opportunities for them to foster their inquisitiveness.  Every two weeks, the kids do experiments in class. Their only instructions are to come up with an experiment with whatever materials they can find on campus. So…

…Roque and Keydi recreated the idea of the candle snuffer, learning that tapping a piece of plastic stretched over a cut soda bottle will be enough to push the air out and extinguish a candle.

…Ander, Cristian, and Darwin discovered that if you hold a balloon over a flame, it would explode easily. However, if you fill the balloon with water and hold it over a flame, it would not explode, nor would it heat up.

…Cristofer and Sergio mixed soda and salt to demonstrate the eruption of a volcano.

…Antony, Patric, and Genesis mixed soda with milk and discovered that, after time, the chemicals in the soda made the milk curdle, explaining that soda was not a good thing to drink!

The creativity and resourcefulness that the fourth-grade students demonstrate is a testament to the quality education that they receive at El Hogar. As the weeks go on, their experiments will only get more and more impressive!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – May 2017

Reading offers a great many benefits to the development of children; building knowledge and vocabulary, improving concentration, and developing a sense of empathy and imagination.

Jim & Lynda Martin from Toronto, Canada, know this. They have been supporters of El Hogar since their first visit in 1989. They have made it possible for the children at El Hogar to be able to experience these benefits firsthand, with the construction of a new library.

Located in a shared space with Executive Director Matt Engleby’s office, the library has been open for a little over a month. Equipped with comfy couches, cushions, and books, books, books, the children can come enjoy some quiet time by themselves or with their friends. During their free time (and once they’ve finished with their responsibilities!) the children have the opportunity to lose themselves in a classic like Cienicienta (Cinderella) or laugh along with Diario de Greg (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Free to come and go whenever they can, the children themselves organize into groups and swap in and out so that the library is often full of children sprawled out amongst the furniture, books in their laps. On the day everything was set up, Matt brought a few children in to show them the library, and an hour and a half later they were still there; books that they had already read scattered on the floor and searching the shelves for something to read next.

Whether they come to explore the world of Charlotte in La Telaraña de Carlota (Charlotte’s Web), learn about El Mundo de Dinosarios (The World of Dinosaurs), or be entertained by Dr. Seuss, the library is one of the many ways that El Hogar works to foster bright young minds of tomorrow.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Through the Eyes of an El Hogar Graduate

Liz Kinchen is El Hogar’s North American Executive Director. She’s provided the blog post below, which tells about her recent experiences with welcoming an El Hogar graduate, Daniel Benitez, to speak about his life and about the difference El Hogar made.

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This April, we had the privilege of hosting El Hogar graduate Daniel Benitez in the Boston area. Daniel has a fascinating and unique story, and he graciously shared it with our supporters over his ten-day stay with us.

El Hogar graduate, Daniel Benitez, visited the Boston area this past April to talk about the difference El Hogar made in his life.

We were so eager to take full advantage of the rarity of having an El Hogar graduate with us that I’m afraid we worked him to the bone, and scheduled him to speak at no less than six house parties plus a taped interview session. But Daniel was kind, gracious, generous, and humorous with everyone he met.

We heard about his early childhood selling vegetables and tortillas on the street to help his mother feed her six children, and the scarcity of school attendance while he did this work. I don’t imagine it was easy for Daniel to tell this over and over again. His fortune changed when his mother, with poignantly mixed feelings, brought him to El Hogar at age 11. This was the first door that opened for Daniel –  one that changed the course of his life.

Although he worried about how his family was getting along without him to help, Daniel slowly came to view El Hogar as his new, or additional, family. Daniel’s work ethic, positive personality, intelligence, and willingness to step into opportunity led the staff at El Hogar to recognize his potential – and more doors opened for him. An El Hogar teacher made sure Daniel was accepted into a program after leaving El Hogar, which prepared him for University. That program – the Micah Project – found funds for Daniel’s tuition while he attended one of the most prestigious agricultural universities in Latin America, Zamorano University.

A university degree in Agricultural Engineering led Daniel to internships in Honduras, England, and the United States. Which is what led Daniel to us. He had just finished a year-long internship in Iowa and was on his way back to Honduras to prepare for entrance exams to Purdue University, or another graduate program in the U.S. Daniel has been assured by professors at Purdue that there is a fully funded place for him there. More doors…

Clearly, Daniel is a success story. But he shared with many of us the darker story of his brother, Charlie. Charlie, another beloved El Hogar graduate with promise, was pursuing a university education in Honduras. Last year, Charlie’s doors were closed abruptly when a gang member’s bullet ended his life. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a city where violence so often goes unchecked.

Life is complicated and precarious in Honduras. This is exactly why Daniel’s long-term goal is to return to Honduras after graduate school in the U.S. He wants to help his country. He wants to teach and to start his own farm, and employ people. He wants to pass along the values he learned along his way, starting with his years at El Hogar. He wants to open doors for others. He wants to give back.

I have no doubt in Daniel’s ability to continue to walk through open doors, nor in his ability to open doors for others. His eagerness to help us help El Hogar was palpable. It was not just a delight, but a privilege to spend significant time with Daniel. He reminds me why I feel it is an honor to work with El Hogar. Daniel strengthens my hope and belief – belief in positive change, belief that effort expended does make a difference, and belief that what each one of us can do is made much greater with each other.

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Hear Daniel’s story in his own words by watching the video below:

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

Notes From Honduras – April 2017

Every year, the eight Episcopal schools in Honduras gather to compete in volleyball and soccer. This year, the 18th Annual Episcopal games were hosted by Holy Trinity School in La Ceiba, on the north coast of Honduras.

In the early hours of Thursday, March 30, the bus departed from the Technical Institute with their volleyball team, soccer team, and the soccer team from the Agricultural School. They arrived in La Ceiba about seven hours later and the volleyball team jumped right into their first game. Their volleyball coach, Gerardo, is the son of the Sub-Director at the Institute, Lazaro Juarez. He trains with the Honduran National team, and is a great asset to the boys. They were against tough competition and, despite playing hard, they did not place in the finals.

Joel (Left) and Kevin (Center Right) faced tough competition as part of the volleyball team during the games.

After a long day of travel and competition, Lazaro took all the boys to the beach. They went about 20 km east to Sambo Creek and enjoyed an afternoon of swimming, beach volleyball, soccer, and dancing “Punta” (a dance done by the local indigenous Garifuna tribe). A few more tourist stops and they were back in La Ceiba for dinner and bedtime.

The boys had an opportunity to relax with some time on the beach and some games of soccer in the sand.

The first soccer game was scheduled for 8 a.m. on Friday morning and each team had three games to play. The boys from the Technical Institute tied their first two games and won their third, advancing to the finals. The boys from the Agricultural School won their first two games and lost their third, advancing to the consolation final.

The Agricultural School boys, while outplaying their competition, lost 1-0. The goal was scored on a penalty; a foul by one of their defenders inside the goalie’s box. They placed fourth overall.

The Technical Institute boys scored first, but the other team quickly came back with a goal. They finished regular time tied 1-1, so they went on to penalties. Lazaro told the boys that they had played well and to try their hardest, but that they needed to accept whatever outcome they got. Josué Isaís, El Hogar alum and goalkeeper for the Institute, set up on the goal line for the first penalty. The other team made three good shots on net and scored each time. When it was the Institute’s turn, they made two good shots, but missed the third. A tough way to lose, but the Institute boys placed second overall.

The soccer teams from the Agricultural School (Top) and the Technical
Institute (Bottom) played hard during their times on the fields.

You could say that the boys from the Technical Institute and the Agricultural School are at a slight disadvantage because every year the games come only two months after they have started classes, while the other schools start their school year in September. However, this doesn’t show on the field. In many cases, the boys match or outplay their opponents despite having less practice time.

The Episcopal Games offer a great opportunity for the boys to compete, meet other students from across the country, see a new place, and enjoy a new type of camaraderie that comes with traveling. Arriving back at home late on Friday night, the boys had a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to for next year!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Service Learning As Professional Development

Betsy Walsh is an El Hogar board member and a member of the Service Team Task Force. She has taken numerous teams to Honduras and is one of the leaders of the Friends of El Hogar group in the Boston area. She kindly provided us with the blog post below, which tells about impacts a recent service team trip had on her and the colleagues she traveled with.

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What role does unconditional love play in working with vulnerable children?

What is the difference between a job, a vocation, and a calling?

What learnings will we take back to our jobs and lives in Boston?

How do you continue to have passion for your work in the hardest of times or situations?

How do the choices that we make in our lives impact those who live in Honduras?

What can we do?

These are just a few of the many questions that arose on my most recent trip to El Hogar; questions we continue to grapple with and questions for which we may never have complete answers. Last month, I had the great joy of introducing El Hogar to my colleagues. We all work for St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, an organization that both provides academic after school and summer programming for low income young people AND works to improve their communities through organizing for better schools, youth jobs, and safer neighborhoods. In so many ways, our work is not unlike the work being done at El Hogar. So, it seemed like a natural fit for us to spend our February break visiting and learning about El Hogar, extreme poverty, and how education can break that cycle of poverty. What I hadn’t expected were the ways in which our trip would truly impact our development as youth workers.

10 of us prepared for our trip, both by learning as much as we could about Honduras – about cultural humility, about extreme poverty and the lack of safety nets, about the impact the US has had on Honduras – and about what El Hogar is and does and why it exists. Solid team preparation over several months is essential because it gives us a context and foundation in which to frame our experiences on the ground, and it opens our hearts and minds to the understanding that there is much for us to learn and much for us to gain.

El Hogar’s Service Team Taskforce has spent the last two years reimaging our service team program, so I was eager to get to Honduras and experience some of the improvements. We were greeted by Erika Skafel, El Hogar’s Coordinator of North American Relations and team host, at the airport and we quickly found Erika to be a great resource, an excellent guide (and driver), and a good friend. She and Matt Engleby (Executive Director in Honduras) had designed a diverse, impactful, and fast paced itinerary for us. Our week included three home visits, an overnight stay at the Technical Institute, a visit to a Women’s rights organization, time with street kids in the downtown square, painting the art room, visits to all four of our centers, three speakers, and lots of time to play soccer and UNO, color and draw, make airplanes, and race cars with the 250 children who call El Hogar home.

Each night we gathered as a team to engage in reflection. Some nights we discussed our highlights or lowlights of the day, other nights we talked about a particular activity and how we felt about it, how it moved or challenged us, and one night two team members led a reflection about questions. Each team member wrote three questions, each on a separate piece of paper. The questions were gathered by the facilitators and then divided into piles by similar topic. Some were topical in the moment, “will there be water tomorrow?” and some were fact seeking, “what safety nets are available to the poor in Honduras?” But the largest pile, and the one we spent the most time with, was the pile filled with questions about love and passion, the love and passion we saw displayed in every moment of every day at El Hogar.

Team meeting with Heyser – math teacher, and music and dance instructor.

As youth workers ourselves, we wanted to learn from the longtime teachers, mentors, and caregivers we witnessed each day. I mentioned our conversation to one of the teachers the next day and he unexpectedly offered to come to the volunteer house and talk with us after his charges were in bed that night. I can honestly say this was a highlight, if not the highlight, of our trip. Heyser, a math, music, and dance teacher, spent more than an hour with us telling his story of how he came to El Hogar, why he has stayed for 15 years, what keeps him passionate, and how challenging, how beautiful, and how meaningful his work is. He explained how important it is to be a caring role model, particularly for the older boys with whom he plays the marimba and to whom he teaches the traditional dances of their Honduran culture. He talked about his passion for teaching math and about being the good kind of tired every night. With tears in their eyes, the younger members of our team, who are just beginning a career in youth work or searching for what gives them passion, shared their admiration for Heyser and their hope that someday they might embody the same passion for their own work.

Now home, we continue to grapple with some of the big questions raised by our varied experiences in Honduras. However, one answer we know for sure. At El Hogar, love and passion are at the core of everything that happens there. It is seen in everyday encounters, in challenging and joyful situations alike, and on all faces in all activities. Witnessing, feeling, being open to and understanding the importance of unconditional love for all young people and passion for one’s vocation already has influenced how we go about our work here in Boston. Professional development at its best.

To hear more about our trip, read our blog.

To learn more about Service Teams…

We are happy to assist you with team preparation, designing your experience in Honduras, facilitating reflection, and planning post-trip debrief meetings and continued engagement.

For more information, please call the El Hogar offices at 781-729-7600 or email info@elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – March 2017

Since the Middle Ages, Father’s Day has been celebrated on March 19th in many parts of Europe. This custom was brought by the Spanish to Latin America and is observed as the feast day of St. Joseph, who was the father figure to Jesus.

Father’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the father figures at El Hogar. With many children lacking knowledge of and a relationship with their own fathers, the male teachers and staff have a great deal of influence over the growth and maturation of these students. Profe Heyser, a long-time teacher, feels a great deal of responsibility and pride in the work that he does, not only as a teacher, but as a father figure for the students at El Hogar. He was surprised and inspired by the recognition that the students expressed on Father’s Day.

The boys and girls who call El Hogar home have many father figures to look up to. These teachers and staff members strive each day to guide the students in their care through life’s highs and lows.

Rene Gabriel, a sixth grade student at El Hogar, spends a lot of time with Profe Heyser. To him, Profe Heyser is someone he can trust, who counsels him when he is wrong and celebrates with him during his successes.

The staff and children wanted to do something special for the teachers on Father’s Day! The invitations were sent out a week in advance for a special celebratory dinner on Friday evening. The dining room was playfully decorated with moustaches, ties, and photos. Some of the children took turns sharing words of gratitude. Music was playing and everyone enjoyed a “plato typico,” a traditional Honduran dinner with grilled beef, refried beans, salsa, fried plantain and cheese. Dessert was a chocolate cake made from scratch by the students in the baking class.

While there is no replacement for a father, the staff at El Hogar do their best as father figures. They’re positive male role models who demonstrate the caring, love, and toughness that the children need. They help make days like Father’s Day a celebration.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – February 2017

Ana Nicole is five years old and is from Montaña de la Flor, an isolated community in central Honduras. She is a happy girl and loves skipping and playing tag. She is also the smallest girl at El Hogar and the other girls enjoy looking after her.

Every experience Ana Nicole has at El Hogar is new and overwhelming. Her first visit to the doctor was no exception. The process started in the dining room, where they were taking measurements. She opened the door and entered reluctantly, unsure of what to expect.

(Top) Ana Nicole (left) laughs with her friend. (Bottom) Ana Nicole (middle) is reassured by her sister, Heydi (left), during her medical check-up.
(Top) Ana Nicole (left) laughs with her friend. (Bottom) Ana Nicole (middle) is reassured by her sister, Heydi (left), during her medical check-up.

They took her height and weight with no problem; the growth chart started at 100 cm and she just barely reached the bottom! The vision test was a little more intimidating. For the younger kids who haven’t learned their letters, they test vision with pictures. The chart on the wall has images that match cards on the floor in front of the child. They cover one eye with a patch and the child uses their foot to point to the matching picture indicated by the tester. Ana Nicole didn’t want to do it. It was complicated and she was with strangers, so they brought in her older sister; her protector and her comforter. With Heydi’s presence and gentle encouragement, Ana Nicole correctly matched all of the images. She has 20/20 vision! Lead by her sister, Ana Nicole continued to the clinic for her check-up.

Doctor Susan greeted her warmly and gently lifted her up on the bed. As the doctor checked her ears, eyes, and mouth and listened to her heart, Heydi was holding Ana Nicole’s hands, reassuring her that although overwhelmed, she wasn’t alone. With her sister’s support, Ana Nicole made it through her first medical check-up. Rewarded with a Twizzler candy, both girls left the clinic and went back to playing with their friends.

With school back in session and medical check-ups complete on all the students at all four centers, the year is off to a great start!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations