School Supplies Aren’t Just Good to Have…They’re Essential

Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.
Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.

My wife is a teacher and I think she’s the best – no impartiality here. I’m sure each teacher’s spouse, significant other, family members, or friends feel the same way, and we each have a lot to be proud of. Teachers work tireless hours to ensure that their students get the fundamentals they need to finish the year ready to move forward toward success in school and life. Teachers are also a very creative group of people who find amazing ways to use everyday items to get their lessons across to students.

I recently came home to a pile of boxes in our dining room. My first thought was that we were preparing to open some kind of home-based business, but my wife informed me that all of those boxes were going to be used to create a bear cave for her students. It’s a creative use of ordinary items for her classroom, but there have also been times when she has had to take steps to provide the essentials for her students.

Most school districts in the United States are unable to provide some of the supplies needed by students in classrooms, which leaves teachers to often purchase those items with their own money. We’ve had moments when my wife has walked into a store and purchased hats, gloves, and scarves for each child in her classroom because their families didn’t have those items for winter. She has also purchased unknown numbers of pencils, crayons, notebooks, and other items that are essential for students to get the most out of school. That’s in the United States, but imagine what it’s like in Honduras.

Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.
Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.

In a country where many students often don’t even have the ability to regularly attend school, the students at El Hogar have a wonderful opportunity. They have teachers who truly care for them and who work hard to teach them everything they can to ensure they have chances to succeed in life. And just like students in the United States, El Hogar’s students need supplies to get the most out of their education.

Though they receive school supplies thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters, there is always a need for more help. That’s where our Academic Essentials program comes in.

For as low as $25 per month, Academic Essentials offers people of any age or income level the opportunity to help us purchase needed supplies for our four campuses. These supplies range from textbooks to animal feed, computers to teacher salaries. For the price of one meal out, you can ensure that our students – children who come from some of the most impoverished and dangerous circumstances in Honduras – are getting the most out of their education.

A solid education offers the best opportunity for our students to break the cycle of poverty within their families and to make their hopes and dreams reality. With your support for Academic Essentials, our amazing teachers can ensure that their students get the best education we can provide.

For information about Academic Essentials, please click on the link below or contact the El Hogar offices via email at or by phone at 781-729-7600.


A New Way of Thinking About Service Teams

El Hogar has been welcoming service teams, in one form or another, since the program in Honduras started in 1979. Over the years, we’ve revised the Service Team Program to better help us accomplish the goals we have for it.

Beginning in 2015, a task force was set up to work on revising the program and the materials that go with it. We launched the updated program this past winter for the 2016 Service Team season. We wanted to give you an idea of why we made the changes and what we hope to achieve.

Betsy Walsh is an El Hogar board member and was part of the Service Team Task Force. She also 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:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

 – Albert Einstein

For the past year, a committee of the El Hogar board has been engaged in reimagining and improving our Service Team Program. Past experience has pushed us to ask things like:

“What is the goal?”

“Is a work project the focus or even necessary?”

“What is the impact of service teams on the organization in Honduras?”

“How do we prepare teams for success in Honduras?”

We have researched the topic, have absorbed the current thinking about short-term missions and are more and more aware of the possible negative impact that can result if we are not careful.

Today, as a result of this work, I believe that our service team program is better than ever and the response has been great!

Most notably, we have shifted our focus away from “doing for” and away from work projects, knowing that locals have the knowledge and skill needed to do the work as well as the need for the job. We are moving toward “walking with” those that we come to know, to unpacking the context in which they live, to learning of the impact of politics, history, US involvement, and international aid. Through home visits and conversation, we learn of the daily trials of existing in conditions of extreme poverty and violence.

“Thanks for the cultural learning piece that we experienced on this most recent trip. We left with a greater appreciation for what is happening in Honduras…”

– Becky Taylor, Team Leader, Brookline, MA

When you visit, you will hear from several local Hondurans who may include: mothers who are doing the best they can to raise their families in the violence that surrounds them; young men who, in their desperation, run for the US border in hopes of a better life; young adults who talk about the pain of abandonment and the horror of glue addiction; or government officials and local police who discuss their work and their hope for Honduras. By hearing and listening, we learn and we see the world in a new way. Their plight becomes ours.

 “The biggest takeaway is the reality that all these issues of poverty and development are far more complicated than we often assume. I believe that my kids will go home and continue to look at these issues much more critically. On previous trips we only talked about poverty in pretty simple terms at a surface level.”           

– Alex Martin, Youth Team Leader, Cincinnati, OH

It is our desire that team members will better understand the context in which El Hogar exists and become better equipped to walk with the staff, children and families of El Hogar in breaking the cycle of poverty. In this, there is hope for tomorrow.

Other improvements include the hiring of Erika Skafel as our Coordinator of North American Relations, which includes hosting service teams. Teams find her to be welcoming, helpful and accessible and her presence as a real gift. New applications and timelines are now in place to help manage the administrative details and a Participant Agreement is now required, allowing us to address some of the cross-cultural and behavioral expectations we deem critical for positive impact on the ground.

At first glance, these improvements may challenge us because they ask us to question our motives, our goals, and ourselves and maybe they even push us to grow and to think differently. We invite you to come experience this deeper understanding of the world we share.

As Einstein encourages us, let’s learn from yesterday, live into today, have hope for tomorrow and never, ever stop asking questions. We, and the world, may just be better for it.

– Betsy Walsh, El Hogar Service Team Task Force

If you’re interest in taking a team to El Hogar, please visit this link:

Some helpful resources Betsy suggested are also mentioned below (just remember to purchase them on Amazon via our website to support El Hogar –

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Toxic Charity, How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help by Robert D. Lupton

Doing Good, Says Who? Stories from Volunteers, Nonprofits, Donors, and Those They Want to Help by Connie Newton and Fran Early

Foreign to Familiar, A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Climate Cultures by Sarah A Lanier

Every Little Bit Really Does Count

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou

Home visit 2016-0075
A photo of a family during a recent home visit by our Elementary Director.

Giving is an important aspect of life. Growing up, I was taught that lesson by my mother. We didn’t have very much money – she was raising me by herself after my father died – and she worked long, hard days to provide for me. But no matter how little we had, she always taught me the importance of giving. That last dollar in your pocket might mean a meal or a safe place to sleep for someone, instead of that cup of coffee you were planning to buy or that pack of bubble gum you have your eye on.

Working for El Hogar and traveling to Honduras, I’ve been exposed to the poverty that’s so intrinsically woven into that country’s society. There are very distinct class differences there – much more than in the United States or many other countries. The value of a dollar there takes on a bit more meaning when you consider the fact that $1 = about L22.   *L stands for lempira, which is the currency in Honduras. 

I don’t know if it’s because of growing up with very little money, but I have a habit of always picking up coins from the ground. It’s something that I’ve done since I was a young child and my friends have never understood it. Most of the time, the coins that I find are pennies – it’s a great day when you find a quarter or some other “big” money. Most people just throw away pennies as an unnecessary part of our currency here in the US, but not me. I’ve always had a coin jar around that those found pennies and other coins make their way into. As the jar fills, I look forward to the day when I can’t fit any more in and I roll the coins up to deposit at the bank. It’s at those moments when the real value of a humble penny can be seen and also when the laughs of my friends turn into looks of amazement.

I’m from the Mid-Atlantic and I knew about a well-beloved sculpture called “Penny Ben” in Philadelphia. This sculpture had been unveiled in 1971 and was covered in about 80,000 pennies – about $800 worth – collected by students in the city. It deteriorated over the years and was replaced in 2007 by a sculpture that incorporated keys and 1.8 million pennies – about $18,000 worth – from students. It’s another example of how powerful the humble penny can be!

Now, I’m not penny crazy, but I’m just trying to show how powerful small amounts can be when combined together. That’s the same way we work here at El Hogar. We have people from all backgrounds who give donations in a wide variety of amounts, both large and small. Those varying amounts combine to make our work in Honduras possible. Just like all of those students gave their pennies to make “Penny Ben” and his replacement possible.

I know that the summer is usually thought of as a time to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. Here in Massachusetts, that usually means time at the beach or in the mountains. But I encourage you to make your summer count for more and to make it have truly lasting effects that will cross borders and oceans.

We recently launched a new monthly giving program at El Hogar called Partners for the Future, which gives people the opportunity to give a recurring gift each month to El Hogar in any amount that they’re comfortable with – $5, $25, $50… Those monthly gifts, like all of the other donations we receive throughout the year, add up to pay the necessary expenses each month to keep El Hogar going. Please take a few moments to make your monthly commitment to the children of El Hogar by clicking here.

Some people look for a way to make the summer last all year and this is one way that you can make that happen in a very good way!

Partners for the Future (Blog Button) - June 2016

Breaking Free from the Cycle of Poverty

Poverty is a problem that knows no borders and it doesn’t target a particular group of people. It’s a societal problem that plagues people around the world and that traps them – many for generations – in a continuous cycle that can seem nearly impossible to break out of. This cycle becomes worse in developing countries that have no network of support programs for the poor and where unemployment is rampant, which is particularly true in Honduras. It’s this cycle of poverty that is one of the main focuses of El Hogar’s efforts.

By working each year with the children at our four campuses, we’re providing them with the education and knowledge they need to break out of this cycle of poverty. Our students come from backgrounds that have included homelessness, hunger, abuse, illiteracy, and many other factors that would otherwise work to trap them in this cycle that their families have suffered in. Education is a driving force behind them breaking free.

When a child gains an education, they have a necessary foothold to climb out of poverty. They finally have paths to choose from in life, which can include attending university or finding a good job. They’re no longer hindered by their past, but are empowered for the future.

I’m quickly approaching the completion of my first year of working at El Hogar and throughout this past year, I’ve been struck by the stories of success that have been shared with me about our past students. Though it’s very difficult in a developing country like Honduras to keep in close contact with all of our graduates, we’re excited about the stories that are shared by them when they check-in with us. These stories are evidence of how life-changing El Hogar’s work is for our students.

Mario with Elementary School program Director Claudia Castro
Mario with Elementary School program Director Claudia Castro

I’m reminded of graduates like Mario Mejia Sanchez, who came to El Hogar in 1998 from a home with a hardworking single mother and five siblings. His mother worked long days that began at 5 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. when she would arrive back at the family’s rented room to begin her housework. At El Hogar, Mario was able to get an education and to prepare himself for a bright future. According to him, “Graduation left us with a great sense of accomplishment and a certainty about our preparedness for life in Honduras.”

Mario now holds an administrative role in the Honduran military. His success has enabled him to financially support his mother and to purchase a home for her to live in. It’s success stories like Mario’s that show the difference that El Hogar is making in the lives of the most vulnerable children in Honduras.

I’m excited to share stories about our graduates – something I look forward to doing much more in the future. Their stories of success and of breaking out of the cycle of poverty make me proud to be a part of the El Hogar family.

I encourage you to also become a part of our family by providing support to our students and giving them a future full of hope and optimism. It’s not difficult and only takes a few moments of your time, plus maybe one less takeout meal per month.

When you do, let me be the first person to welcome you to the El Hogar family and to thank you for working with us to break the cycle of poverty.

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A Season of Hope

Ever since I was a young child, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day has always been my favorite time of the year. While my friends would dream about spending warm days on the beach, I was looking forward to putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house. Some might say that it was because I was looking forward to the idea of presents under the tree, but they would be wrong.

This time of the year has always been and continues to be my favorite because of one thing: the feeling. It’s hard to explain, but the world just feels right during this time of year. Attitudes seem calmer, people seem more giving, and there’s an air of hope that permeates the atmosphere. It’s that hope that inspired me when I sat down at my computer to write this post.

I firmly believe that each person on the planet is born with hope. I also believe that we can lose sight of it due to the circumstances that happen in life – illness, death, financial difficulties, and the list goes on. But losing sight doesn’t mean hope is lost.

When you look into the eyes of a child you see hope that is without end. They look at each day with new wonder and with excitement that many of us could learn from when we approach a Monday morning. While it would be wonderful for all children to have all of the opportunities and benefits they need from the very beginning, this isn’t always the case – particularly in developing countries, like Honduras.

The children who come into our care at El Hogar are coming from situations that would be deemed by most as hopeless – they’re poor, they’re orphans, they’ve been abused. They’ve gone through so much in their young lives and hope is often the only thing they have left.

During their time with us, we do all that we can to build on whatever hope they come to us with – some with just a small flicker because of the circumstances they’ve come from. This lets them dream about their futures – the families they’ll have, the jobs they’ll work in, and much more.

Hope is a precious commodity that many people seem to lack in today’s world. During this season of hope, I encourage you to take a few moments to learn this valuable lesson from the children of El Hogar – there is always hope. No matter what circumstances occur around us, there is always a glimmer of hope for the future.

Like the students of El Hogar, we must never lose hope. It’s the light that can brighten a difficult day or the peace that can lift you up at the right moment. In the words of Norman Cousins:

“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.”

– Norman Cousins

For more information about El Hogar or to make a donation, please visit our website at

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – Final Thoughts

I had hoped to publish this final post yesterday, but it was a long day of travel. I was on planes for most of the day and didn’t walk through my door until the early hours of this morning – not the time to be posting to a blog.


The past days in Honduras were uplifting and meaningful for me. I work each day to ensure that people hear the story of El Hogar, our amazing students, and the work that we do. This trip gave me the chance to see these students at important points of their lives. Even at their young ages, they’ve taught me so much about not letting life’s circumstances dictate how I approach each day of my future.

This trip was also a time of learning. It never ceases to amaze me how each moment of our lives – even time at the airport – can teach us valuable lessons. While standing in the check-in line yesterday in Tegucigalpa, I saw a young boy who must have only been about seven or eight years old. His face was dirty, his clothes were ragged, and he wore stress on his face that was beyond his years. He was approaching various people to ask them for money and was being turned away by each person as they focused on their imminent flights.

The boy seemed to be making his way through the entire airport and it broke my heart. This young child – someone who should be playing and going to school – was struggling to simply survive. I wondered about the circumstances of his life and where he had come from. Would I see him again the next time I visited Tegucigalpa? What will his situation be like next year, five years from now, and beyond? I don’t have the answers to these questions and all that I can do is hope that he gets the help he needs.

This drove home the importance of the work we do at El Hogar. The children in our care have come from situations that run the gamut, but they’re safe now. They have the love they need, the education they require, and the food that nourishes them. They’ve been lifted out of their difficult situations and given new leases on life thanks to El Hogar and our fantastic supporters.

The past days have been uplifting as I’ve seen young men and women taking their next steps toward (or into) independence. But our work isn’t done.

There are still far too many children living in poverty and dealing with unimaginable hardships in Honduras. We’re here for them. Our mission doesn’t end until each of their lives are changed and the cycle of poverty in this beautiful country is broken.

To those who support us and our work, thank you. For those of you who haven’t yet, we invite you to click here to begin changing the lives of these children today. It’s a sad time when I leave Honduras, but I look forward to returning and seeing (or hearing) more stories of change in the lives of the children of El Hogar.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Elementary School (El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza)

Today was my final full day in Honduras for the various graduation events that have been occurring at each of the El Hogar campuses. Today’s event wasn’t a graduation, but was a clausura – an event marking the students’ transition from the Elementary school to one of the other specialized programs established by El Hogar. This also marks the end of their time with Claudia Castro.


Yesterday, I spoke about Lazaro Juarez and his love for the boys in his care. Claudia sees the children of El Hogar when they first enter our program. She sees the difficult situations they come from and watches them grow beyond their hardships. She is a mother to each of the boys and girls in our care and you see it with how each of the students interacts with her and speaks of her.

The ceremony was beautiful and included honors for the teachers who work with the students, presentations made by the children for the various special classes that they take part in (baking, sewing, art, etc.), plenty of wonderful music, and emotional moments that left most people wiping a tear from their eyes.

This was a special time that honored the hard work that these students have put in and the special people who got them there. These types of ceremonies are not short, but the fact that the children were well-behaved during the entire process shows how wonderful and amazing they are.

After attending the three ceremonies over the past few days, it’s become even more evident how important the teachers and administrators are to the lives and success of the students in El Hogar’s care. The staff members at El Hogar work hard to give these children the education they need to succeed in life. They don’t sugarcoat their message by saying life is easy, but they prepare them well to deal with many of the obstacles they may encounter. They celebrate the triumphs and lend support during difficulties. They are educators who give their all to ensure that these students have every ounce of support they need.

I leave Honduras tomorrow and I have to admit that I’m sad to go. Like in August, I continue to fall in love with this wonderful country and its people. I’m the luckiest person in the world to work with an organization that’s changing lives in Honduras. Though returning home is always nice when you’ve been away, tomorrow’s blog post – my last for this trip – will be hard to write.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnico Santa Maria)

I woke up this morning excited to be going to the graduation ceremony at the Technical Institute. This place is very special for me because it was the first El Hogar campus that I visited during my visit in August. To get to the Amarateca campus you drive through mountains with vistas that seem to stretch for miles, passing a coffee plant that perfumes the air with the scent of roasting beans. I was also reminded when looking at the houses lining the road of the extreme poverty that seems to be the norm for many who call this country home.

Many of the boys who come to the Technical Institute come from a wide variety of difficult and challenging backgrounds that have led them all to El Hogar. These boys come to the school in need of a role model to look up to – a father figure who can give them the guidance that they need to make their way in life. Lazaro Juarez, their Director and Sub-Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras, is that person for these boys.


From the moment we entered the campus, Lazaro had a wide smile on his face and showed the pride of a father. Each of these boys is a son to him and he cares deeply about them, gives guidance when they need it, and ensures that they are prepared for life outside of El Hogar after they graduate.

The ceremony was similar to the one held yesterday at the farm, but with elements that made it special for this group of graduates. The boys were excited and had smiles on their faces as the ceremony wound its way through the early afternoon. They celebrated with family, friends, and their role model – Lazaro.

Lazaro has been with El Hogar since the very beginning, working with the first five young boys who were taken off of the streets of Tegucigalpa in 1979. He has done so much to make El Hogar what it is today, but he is also a very humble man who would never bring focus onto himself. The boys who graduated today from the Technical Institute have had their lives changed thanks to him, his teachings, and his guidance. Lazaro has a lot to be proud of.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Agricultural School (Escuela Agricola de Amor y Esperanza)

The day began with the mountains that surround Tegucigalpa being shrouded by clouds. We made our way along the winding road that leaves the hectic pace of the city and slowly fades into a slower way of life. About an hour north of Tegucigalpa is the quite village of Talanga, which is home to El Hogar’s Agricultural School (Escuela Agricola de Amor y Esperanza).

I was excited to be returning to this beautiful part of the country – with its rolling hills, tilapia ponds, and farm animals. I grew up in a rural community, so I feel right at home here.

I could tell from the moment we stepped onto the campus that the graduates were excited. This was their day and they had worked hard to get here. All of the final preparations were made before the ceremony began – photos were taken, ties were straightened, and the boys seemed to give each other final words of encouragement.

The graduation began with a Eucharist service led by the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras. Following that, the graduates quickly put on their robes and caps before walking down the aisle in front of family and friends.

It was easy to see that the graduates were dealing with mixed emotions during this very special day. This was the day when they would leave the care of El Hogar to use the skills that they had worked so hard to acquire. This was the day when they started the next chapter in their lives. They were excited, but you could also see that they were nervous. There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear that comes with graduating – I know that I speak for each person reading this blog (including myself) when I say this. But this is the time when these boys will shine!

Following the ceremony, there was a delicious lunch that let everyone take some time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the achievements of these wonderful young men. They have so much to be proud of and have bright futures ahead of them.

This was my first graduation ceremony as an El Hogar employee and I am honored to have been a part of it. These boys represent the future of Honduras. They will be a part of breaking the cycle of poverty that has gripped many families in this country for so long. They have hopes and futures that were only dreams when they started at El Hogar. That’s the best graduation gift that anyone could ever receive.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – Getting To Honduras and El Hogar

The sky was still dark with a light rain falling as I got out of my car at the airport in Boston. It was 4 a.m. and people were already backed up in lines as they were waiting to go through security. This is a minor inconvenience that I’m happy to deal with, knowing that I’ll end my day in Honduras at El Hogar – a place that stole my heart during my trip this past August.

The flights were easy with very little turbulence and the sunshine above the clouds seemed to put everyone into a much more cheerful mood. The trip to Honduras from Boston always includes two plane rides – there are no direct flights. It’s a long day of travel, but I’m rewarded at the end of my journey by passing through the gates of the El Hogar Elementary campus in Tegucigalpa.

The children, busy with their chores and school work, meet you with smiles and exclamations of “Hola!” as they seem to run from every direction. This is a special place – a fact that I eluded to in my previous blog posts. One of the first things I saw when we arrived was one of the students walking around with a tray of freshly baked bread. Being a fanatic for anything related to food, I took some time to investigate.

Some of the students were hard at work making cookies and bread that smelled delicious. They all smiled and greeted me as I walked through the door – some even remembered me and said, “Hola, Jason!” Even as a light afternoon rain fell, it didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the children during this very special week.

I’m here to experience one of the highlights of the year – graduation. As I mentioned yesterday, for sixth grade students, this means taking their next steps toward breaking the cycle of poverty and gaining the skills they need to achieve their goals. For the ninth grade students, this is a turning point in their lives. They’ll graduate from El Hogar, leave our program, and begin to use the skills they’ve gained to make lives for themselves.

Tomorrow is the first of these ceremonies. The Agricultural campus sits about an hour away from Tegucigalpa in Talanga. The farm is situated in a beautiful area and is such a peaceful place.

I’m looking forward to my first El Hogar graduation! All of the hard work that these students have put in is about to pay off.