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!

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Elementary School Clausura and the First High School Girls Graduation

Each graduation event is unique and fits the area where the particular campus is located. The Agricultural School is very understated and simple. The Technical Institute is a mixture of attendees from rural communities and cities, and was a more lively event. Tonight’s – the ceremony for the Elementary School – is the most formal of the three.

The Clausura ceremony celebrates the transition for students from an elementary education to the next level. It was great to see the boys and girls dressed in the nicest clothes as they proudly stood to be honored. Their time at El Hogar is far from finished. Now, they move forward to enter the next phase of their education.

Tonight’s ceremony was also particularly special because of another group of students being honored. In addition to the Clausura ceremony, we also celebrated the graduation of El Hogar’s first group of high school girls.

These four young women entered our program as elementary students. Tonight, we honored their completion of high school and their plans to attend university. As they continue their education, their dreams will come closer and closer to being within reach.

This night was a truly special way to end these past few days in Honduras. My heart is filled with so many emotions as this final day in Honduras draws to a close. As we drove away through the darkened streets of Tegucigalpa, the orange glow of the sodium lamps passed by the windows. This is my last night and tomorrow, we prepare to return home.

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

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Graduation at the Technical Institute

The ever-present traffic from yesterday seemed to be a distant memory this morning. The road leading to the Technical Institute takes you through another part of Tegucigalpa, but one that still climbs the mountains that surround the city. You feel as though you’re climbing the winding road forever. The mountains seem endless. Suddenly, the view opens up to the Amarateca Valley – home of the Technical Institute.

As we arrived, the campus was lush with green vegetation that had thrived during the rainy season. One of my favorite things about this campus are the various metal sculptures that seem to be everywhere. They’ve been created by students – past and present – to highlight the skills they’ve learned during their three years of technical education. They’re works of art!

Friends, family, and visitors gathered together as the nervous graduates waited. Each of the proud boys greeted each person with handshakes, hugs, and smiles. These welcomes are wonderful, but it’s the more private family moments that really speak to me. The times when a grandma gives a hug while whispering words of wisdom into a graduate’s ear, or dad puts his arm around his son’s shoulder and the hint of tears can be seen in his eyes. These families each have their own stories filled with struggles, hopes, heartaches, and triumphs. This graduation is a moment of triumph for each of these families.

Mixed into the speeches of the ceremony was a performance by El Hogar’s marimba band. The boys are talented and always leave me with my feet tapping.

The ceremonies are special, but one story stuck with me today. My wife and another visitor were sitting in the audience and noticed a father of one of the graduates. During the entire program, this man was beaming with pride, wiping away tears, and couldn’t seem to contain the joy he felt at watching his son graduate. This moment in time seemed to be the culmination of a lifetime of worry and work to ensure that his son had access to a future filled with promise. This is what El Hogar is all about!

With the day’s celebration (and lunch) finished, we made our way down the road and back to Tegucigalpa. During this trip, I noticed some of the graduates and their families making their way home. This day wasn’t the end of their journeys. On the contrary, this was only the beginning. Will the road be straight and smooth? Of course not. That’s not how life works for any of us. But a solid education – like the one they’ve received during their time at El Hogar – is the best preparation to handle any of the ups and downs that life can bring. Their hard work has paid off.

Tomorrow is the final ceremony of this trip. We will celebrate the Elementary School’s Clausura and the graduation of El Hogar’s first group of high school girls. It promises to be a wonderful day!

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

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Graduation at the Agricultural School

As we set out from Tegucigalpa to travel to the Agricultural School – the first of the graduations – the sky was clear, but the same couldn’t be said for the roads. When you arrive in Honduras, you quickly learn that heavy traffic is the norm and the rules of the road are simply suggestions. As Margo Mingay, a former Executive Director in Honduras, is fond of saying: “Honduras is not a just country. You don’t just drive to the farm. You don’t just send a fax…”

As we sat in the long line that was climbing the road leading out of the city, I took the opportunity to watch the people who were walking or riding in the opposite direction. Each of them has their own distinct story and history, which I’ll never know. Many of their faces showed the difficulty of life in Honduras, which made me think about the difference an education – like the one our students receive – can make.

Eventually, the traffic eased and we made our way through the countryside toward Talanga and the Agricultural School.

I never cease to be amazed by the area where the Agricultural School sits. The fields seem to go on for miles, with mountains looming in the distance. The noises of the city give way to the sounds of cows, goats, and chickens.

We gathered together with the friends and family members of the graduates under the open-air pavilion. The rainy season has just come to an end and sawdust covered the ground in an effort to minimize mud.

The graduates – dressed in their vibrant blue graduation gowns – sat at the front of the audience. As their names were called, they each stood up to be recognized and honored for the hard work that had brought them to this pivotal moment. It was their time to shine and be applauded.

After the speeches had been given and the diplomas were handed out, everyone in attendance joined together for a delicious plato tipico meal – grilled meats, fresh corn tortillas, queso fresco, refried beans, and all of the other wonder accompaniments – and tres leches cake for dessert. Needless to say, I think each person was quite full by the end of the day’s events.

As I walked back to the van to prepare for the return trip to Tegucigalpa, I passed by the graduates and their families. There were smiles, hugs, and tears in great abundance. This was a celebration that lifted my heart, and it was only the first of three ceremonies that would make up this trip.

Tomorrow, we travel to the Technical Institute to celebrate the accomplishments of another amazing group of graduates.

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

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Arriving in Honduras

I apologize for the delay in this blog post from yesterday. As anyone who has made the trip can tell you, the trip to Honduras can be very long and I was unable to post it before the end of the evening.

The morning began early…very early. In the predawn hours, I walked through the doors of Logan Airport in Boston and began my journey to El Hogar. From this starting point, I traveled the nearly 2,200 miles to celebrate this year’s graduation ceremonies.

To fly into Honduras is to have a birds-eye view of the extremes that make up the country. On the one hand, you see the coastline with its long, white beaches, and the mountains lush with vegetation and coffee plantations. On the other, you see the shacks stacked on top of each other, covering the hillsides that surround the capital of Tegucigalpa. These are the homes of the poor and neglected of Honduras. These are the places where the children of El Hogar begin their lives.

Emerging from Tegucigalpa’s airport, you’re greeted by a sea of people and vehicles. The world seems to be a jumbled chaos, but everyone seems to know exactly where they’re going and how close their car can actually be to yours without them actually touching.

Traveling through the maze of streets, we eventually reached the gates of El Hogar. With a quick tap of the horn, our arrival was announced and the gate was quickly slid open. Immediately, we entered the calm and peace that is El Hogar’s elementary campus. Anyone who’s ever visited will agree that it is a truly special place. One filled with the laughs of children and the hope that comes from having access to education.

This year’s visit to El Hogar is personally special for me because my wife, Heather, is joining me during this visit. This is her first time visiting El Hogar and she’s excited to actually see the places she’s read about or seen in pictures. It was wonderful showing her around the elementary campus and introducing her to the students and staff.

The day of travel is a long one. It’s something that leaves you exhausted, but that feeling doesn’t last long. Tomorrow is the first of the graduation ceremonies and I’m looking forward to the drive from Tegucigalpa to our agricultural school in Talanga.

The celebrations start tomorrow!

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

El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Preparing to Celebrate at El Hogar

Jason Lang is the Manager of Marketing and Communications for El Hogar in North America.

Graduation is a time filled with a flurry of emotions for students. On the one hand, they’re excited about their accomplishments and relieved to have completed their work. On the other, there’s fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what the future could hold. This is the reality for students everywhere, especially in Honduras.

Each year, the graduation ceremonies at El Hogar provide a window into the lives of the students who have been in our care. You see their friends and family members joining together to celebrate this momentous occasion – most likely the first in their family’s history. These moments, although within view of everyone else attending, are deeply personal and are humbling to witness.

Tomorrow, I leave for Honduras and this year’s graduation ceremonies. Though each year is filled with excitement and joy, this year’s will be particularly special as we celebrate the graduation of El Hogar’s first group of high school girls. They will be the first graduates to leave our program and move directly on to university – a major milestone for these girls and our program. It’s been a long road for these young women, but their hard work has certainly paid off. Along with the girls’ graduation, we will also be celebrating the accomplishments of all the students who will be honored during this year’s ceremonies.

I’ll be blogging each day about the graduation ceremonies and my time at El Hogar. My goal is for you to feel like you’re also attending!

I hope you’ll be a part of this journey and will check back each day for updates. Until tomorrow!

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

Notes From Honduras – October 2017

As you may have heard, this year is an election year in Honduras. After a string of military governments in the 1960s and 1970s, a democratic government was voted into office in open elections in 1982. That government founded the National Assembly, which approved the new Honduran constitution that same year. Over the next few decades, the democratic system slowly strengthened, being run by eight civilian governments from the two main political parties; el Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) and el Partido Nacional (National Party). Despite its name, the Partido Liberal is not a left-wing party. From a North American point of view, both are relatively conservative in their policies and beliefs.

The Honduran constitution states that a president can only be in power for one four-year term. In 2009, then President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya wanted to consult the population to see if they would support a change in that particular article in the constitution. The opposition declared this unconstitutional and the military, claiming to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Honduras, ousted Zelaya in a coup d’état. This sparked political unrest in the country and international outrage, a time that many El Hogar supporters may remember, as Service Team trips were suspended during this period. In the end, the constitution did not change and Zelaya, once allowed back into the country, formed the Partido Libre (Free Party) led by him and his wife.

The current President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez. (Photo by Daniel Malpica, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores from Perú – Visita del presidente de Honduras al Palacio de Torre Tagle)

The next presidential term is from 2018-2022, with national elections on November 26th of this year. This should mean that the tenure of current President Juan Orlando Hernandez is coming to an end. However, in a complicated situation where it is difficult to uncover the facts, Hernandez has secured his candidacy for president for another term. Newly appointed Supreme Court Justices declared the no re-election article inapplicable to Hernandez, allowing him to move forward with his plan to continue occupying the Casa Presidencial (Presidential House). National opinion polls are elusive, but public opinion indicates a close contest meaning Hernandez does not have a significant lead, if any, over the other candidates. However, his party does control the congress, making his re-election likely.

Despite everything, things are pretty quiet around here. With about a month until the election, campaign posters line the streets, advertisements are heard on the television and radio, and the presidential candidates are making their rounds. While not everyone is happy about the situation, there does not seem to be an outcry from either national or international bodies. For better or for worse, there seems to be a relative calm throughout the country, which could lead one to believe that this will not be a repeat of the political upheaval in 2009. Either way, the decision will be made on November 26th with the hope of a better Honduras.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Gratitude

The blog post below was written by Liz Kinchen, El Hogar’s North American Executive Director.

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I think it’s fair to say that I have been instilled with a sense of gratitude from my earliest years. It was a value my parents encouraged. As I have gotten older, the scope of how I understand gratitude has broadened, and how I experience it has deepened.

I aspire to be mindful of what is good, not just in my life, but in all of life. I’d go so far as to say that I aspire to live in a state of perpetual gratitude. Of course, my human imperfection prevents this, but I hold it as an aspiration nonetheless.

One of the privileges of working as the Executive Director of El Hogar Ministries over the past 16 years is that I have met many of you – friends, supporters, and enthusiasts for El Hogar. I have had the honor of hearing many of your stories telling how you came to know and love El Hogar. So many of you have welcomed me into your homes, your churches and your lives – as you have welcomed El Hogar. I have witnessed your kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity from a front-row seat. And I need to say, in all honesty, that it fills me with gratitude.

Liz and Cristhofer – an El Hogar graduate – during one of El Hogar’s graduation ceremonies.

I don’t just mean being thankful for a gift that comes in. Of course, I am thankful for that – every gift helps to keep our doors open for the vulnerable children we serve. What I have deep gratitude for is your spirit – that you care about children far from where you are; that you want to see a more just world; and that you act to help achieve these things. This is the spirit that can, does, and will continue to change the world.

So, when you read a letter from me, or hear me speak about El Hogar, and I say the words ‘thank you’, please know that behind those commonplace words is a profound sense of real gratitude. I am speaking on behalf of El Hogar and all its students and staff, but I am also – and perhaps primarily – speaking on my own behalf.

You show me every day what social action, a global sense of responsibility, love, and generosity look like. You lift my spirit, inspire me, and give me hope for humankind.

And for that I have tremendous gratitude! For you, I have tremendous gratitude.

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

Notes From Honduras – September 2017

Before the Spanish arrived to colonize Honduras, the land was inhabited by a variety of indigenous tribes. Most prominently, the Mayans occupied the western region of Copán. Other indigenous tribes including the Lenca, Miskito, Tawahka, Pech, Tolupan, and Chortis were scattered throughout the country.

After a few “discoveries” in the early 1500s, Honduras was colonized in 1524 and under Spanish rule for the next three centuries.

On September 15, 1821, a declaration of independence was signed in Guatemala City and Honduras, along with the four other Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) were granted independence from Spain.

In Honduras and across Central America, all of September is celebrated as the Mes de la Patria (Month of National Celebration), beginning with Dia de la Bandera (Day of the Flag) on September 1st and Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) on September 15th. Schools, office buildings, and stores are decorated in blue and white representing the colors of the national flag of Honduras, and marching bands can be heard every afternoon around the country as they practice for the Independence Day parades.

All four of El Hogar’s centers participated in activities for Independence Day.

(Clockwise from the left) Fernanda, Patric, Estiven Emmanuel, Rony Estiven, Rony Lara, and other students from El Hogar’s Elementary School march in the 2017 parade celebrating Honduran Independence Day.

From the Agricultural School, some of the boys went into Talanga, the town close by, to watch the local parade. They also decorated their campus with the patriotic blue and white, as well as posters and murals of national symbols and heroes of their past.

Students from the Technical Institute participated in a parade with the elementary school in their town. Starting at the main highway, they marched the roads that lead to the Institute with a marching band, a pelotón (marching platoon), and the honor roll students. The streets were muddy from the rain the night before, but the boys toughed it out!

The elementary students marched in the local parade with the other 24 schools in their district. The marching band set the pace for the rest of the kids, which included the pelotón (marching platoon), palillonas (baton twirlers), and pomponeras (cheerleaders). Accompanied by the high school girls, the children marched in the hot morning sun and their band received an honorable mention from the judges.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations