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

Notes From Honduras – January 2017

We’re beginning the new year with a new monthly series called Notes From Honduras. These short updates are coming right from the ground in Honduras and will make you feel like you’re standing in the middle of El Hogar. We hope you enjoy this new look at El Hogar.


A cool breeze blows over the property as the children play hide-and-seek among the school buildings. The classrooms have been empty since the middle of November and the campus is quiet. The teachers, who spend 10 months of the year teaching, counseling, and caring for the children, take turns alternating their vacations – half take vacation, while the other half stay to work with the children – for a well-deserved holiday. Some children have spent a part of the school vacation at home with their families. Other children spent the school vacation with their El Hogar family. Outings to Tegucigalpa’s Christmas activities and the Children’s Museum, karaoke, and a feast of nacatamles (a traditional Honduran food) were their way of celebrating.

There are some new faces mixed in with the familiar ones, and with each passing day the campus is becoming more lively. With more free time, some children are scattered around the field doing puzzles and playing with cars. Others weave around them with a soccer ball. The final days of vacation are coming and the children are soaking up every spare moment they have before classes begin in February for another school year.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

New Year, New Possibilities

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

– Melody Beattie

The first few weeks of a new year are usually spent getting everything prepared to run smoothly as you move forward. For some people, a new year brings feelings of joy and anticipation. For others, they enter with feelings of worry or dread. Like the quote above, I look at the new year like a book – many chapters that tell a story filled with the good and bad that life inevitably brings, as well as the hope and promise that carries us through.

Your support puts their hopes and dreams within reach.
Your support puts their dreams within reach.

Two years ago, my wife gave me a daily diary for Christmas that’s good for five years. Each night you answer a question and, once the year is over, you start back at the beginning. It lets you see how you’ve changed over the years since your previous answers, while also showing you how you’ve overcome the struggles of the previous year. For me, this is how I look at the start of a new year at El Hogar.

Each year our students enter our campuses during the month of January to prepare to begin their new school year. For those returning to El Hogar, they’ve made it through the struggles of the previous year’s studies. They can look back with pride. Now, they’re entering a new grade – or maybe even a new center – with all the hopes and fears that the unknown inevitably brings.

For those who are new to El Hogar, the emotions they enter with are powerful. They’re coming to a new place fresh from situations of neglect, violence, abuse, poverty, and hunger. They’re surrounded by the new faces of other students and staff members. It’s a new world for them and they quickly learn that there are opportunities available at El Hogar that they never could have dreamed of in the past.

Each of these students enter the new year at El Hogar in very different places, but they all have many things in common as they view the year ahead. They have hope for a brighter future. They have determination to get the most they can out of their education. They have peace within the safety of El Hogar’s walls. They have comfort in the love and care they receive from staff members. They have lives that are being transformed through the help and support of El Hogar – only made possible each year by our generous donors.

The new year brings the promise of new possibilities for each of our students – ones that were out of reach for them previously because of the poverty they were born into. With your support, our students can continue to break free from the cycle of poverty in their families and see their lives turn around. With your support this year, 2017 can be the turning point that changes the direction of their lives forever.

The Greatest Gift

The holiday season is a special time at El Hogar.

Is it just me or has the holiday season just become far too commercial? My favorite memories of the season come from time spent with family and friends, delicious meals featuring long-held “secret” recipes, and strolling through the neighborhood looking at the decorations adorning each home.

Sadly, most people seem to focus more on the gifts that they’re giving than the intent behind the gifts. By the time the clock strikes midnight and 2017 begins, many Christmas gifts will have already taken up residence in their permanent new closet or basement homes. I find this troubling because it’s not what the holiday season is supposed to be about.

This special time of the year should be about bringing back fond memories, rekindling joy that may have been stifled because of a difficult year, and giving us an opportunity to look at how we can make the season better for those in need. It’s that last point that’s particularly timely for me.

The students at El Hogar are wonderful teachers. They teach us lessons each day with the things they say and their actions. One thing that has struck me each time I’ve visited – as it has for many service team members who have gone to Honduras over the years – is how giving the students are toward each other.

One story that’s stuck with me was told by a service team member not long after I started at El Hogar. They told me that during a trip to Honduras, they had taken some of the students out for lunch following a church service. The children enjoyed their lunches, but several of them only ate half of their hamburgers and kept the rest wrapped up. One volunteer noticed this, but thought they were taking it back to enjoy at El Hogar. On the contrary, when they returned to the school, these students gave their remaining hamburgers to their brothers or sisters. They were sacrificing a treat to make sure their family didn’t feel left out. It’s a giving spirit that rings true for us during this time of year, but one that we should also try to have all year long.

For me, it’s a gift to see the lives of our students impacted for good each day. It’s a gift to see the hope and promise in their eyes. It’s a gift to see smiles on their faces. These are the gifts that truly matter and they’re made possible because of the generosity of people just like you. People who give whatever they can to make the lives of our students – children they may never have a chance to meet – better. That’s the greatest gift you can give no matter what season it is.

For those of you who have given to El Hogar this year, thank you for your support. You’ve shown us the true spirit of the holiday season throughout 2016. For those of you who may be new to El Hogar or who haven’t given a gift to us yet, please consider giving your gift today by clicking the button below. It’s a great way to do something truly meaningful and selfless during this season. When you do, let me be the first to say thank you!

On behalf of everyone at El Hogar, I hope you have a wonderful, joyous, and peaceful holiday season.

 

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – A Farewell and Final Thoughts

I wanted to share some final thoughts as I wrap up this exciting week of graduation (and clausura) activities in Honduras.

Over the three ceremonies, the students of El Hogar have further reinforced my pride in the organization I work for. Many of them had tears in their eyes when they would talk about their experiences and how much El Hogar means to them. They are well aware of the opportunities they’ve been given in our care, but they are by no means complacent.

They work hard each day and utilize the resources at their fingertips to learn all they can and to make their dreams reality – a fact that our supporters should be very proud of. They also thrive on the love and support they get from our amazing Honduran staff members who work tirelessly each day to ensure that each and every one of our students knows – really knows – that they are special.

The students who graduated this week are taking the skills they’ve learned back into their communities. Some of them come from places that are almost completely cut off from the outside world, while others come from the overflowing streets of Tegucigalpa. Each of their stories may be different, but they all now have one important thing in common – they are all El Hogar graduates. As I said before, their roads will be filled with twists and turns, but they now have the skills and values to handle them.

For our elementary students, their clausura marked an important point in their lives. They’re moving onto their next phase at El Hogar to continue their education and to begin to gain the practical skills they will need to find success after they graduate in the years to come.

We celebrated the hard work of our students this week as the academic year at El Hogar came to a close, but that doesn’t mean our work takes a break. Many of our students will spend the holidays at our Elementary School in Tegucigalpa, because they either have no family to return home to or their homes are too unsafe. They will spend time resting and celebrating with their El Hogar brothers and sisters, and with the staff who think of them as extended members of their own families.

I’m proud to be a small part of that extended family. It breaks my heart to say goodbye to the amazing students I see in photos and write about to share their stories. It’s hard to 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.

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. The investment you make in them – no matter the amount – is an investment that will pay dividends for years and generations to come.