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.


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

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