Notes From Honduras – May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

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

Notes From Honduras – April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

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

Notes From Honduras – February 2018

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

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

Teachers are introduced to the students at ITSM.

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

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

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

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

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

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

A New Path for a New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Season of Generosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!