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: www.elhogar.org/get-involved/service-teams/.

Some helpful resources Betsy suggested are also mentioned below (just remember to purchase them on Amazon via our website to support El Hogar – www.elhogar.org/amazon):

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

One thought on “A New Way of Thinking About Service Teams

  1. Thank you for this. I would add that the friendships that are made with the children and the staff are also important for both those visiting and those at El Hogar. Later this month I will be going down for the third year in a row. I know that encouraging new people to go is important, but the children really do appreciate some familiar faces as well.


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