Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – My Final Day and Reflections (Part 7)

Yesterday was very busy as I prepared to leave Honduras and as I traveled back to Boston, which didn’t leave me with an opportunity to tell you about my final day in Honduras. My last few hours spent in the country yesterday were some of the most thought-provoking that I’ve had during the whole trip. El Hogar’s Executive Director in Honduras, Matthew Engleby, took several of us to one of the homes that an El Hogar student has come from.

As we drove to the location, we could see the vast differences in homes that people have within the country. We passed by large, expensive homes that have walls and electric wire protecting them. Some of these are in communities that have guards and gates. Except for a few differences, these homes would be close to what many of us in North America know. We were not going to one of those.

We drove past those large homes – many of which were under construction – up a dirt road to a small shack. The building was a mixture of found wood and metal, and was surrounded by a fence of barbed wire. We got out of our vehicle, stooped to go under the sharp fence, and were welcomed by a smiling woman and two small children. She greeted us warmly and began to tell us about the difficulties that she’s currently facing, which include being kicked off of the property she’s living on and being threatened.

After hearing her story and speaking with her, she welcomed us into her home. The floor was dirt and there was a small cooking area in one of the corners that was heated using wood. There was a table on the other side and a hutch that contained their pots, pans, dishes, and other belongings. Another room that was no smaller than a single bedroom was attached to the home. It contained two beds, each draped with mosquito cloth to protect them from those dangerous insects. I had never seen a home like this and there were a number of things that really touched me.

First and foremost, it was clean. Everything seemed to have a place and everything was as clean as it can be without running water or electricity. Secondly, the mother proudly displayed cards and other craft projects that had been created by her children. In the starkest of situations, there were signs of family. Finally, there was love. During the whole time we were there, she lovingly held and calmed her children. She was a mother who was caring for them in the most difficult and stressful of situations.

As I got back into the car and we made our way to the airport, I began to get tears in my eyes thinking about this mother’s life and the lives of everyone I’ve met throughout this trip. This has been an amazing experience that’s allowed me to see the terrible situations that the children of El Hogar have come from, but it has also given me hope as I’ve seen the love and care they receive at our four campuses.

I know that I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again. I feel so lucky to be a part of this organization that’s changing lives and breaking the cycle of poverty in Honduras. This trip has shown me how much of a difference it’s possible to make in the lives of these children.

Honduras and its people have stolen my heart and I can’t wait to return. I’m grateful to be a part of the El Hogar story and I encourage you to become a part yourself by participating in one of our sponsorship opportunities. My life has been changed during my time in Honduras and you can change the lives of the children at El Hogar too.

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – Two Worlds (Part 6)

This was my last full day in Honduras – I leave tomorrow to return to the United States and the life and family who are waiting for me. My final full day was spent on the roads that wind their way through the mountains that surround Tegucigalpa. Up until this point I had only visited the Elementary campus and Technical School, but today was going to be my visit to the El Hogar Farm in Talanga, Honduras. It was about an hour-long trip, but it wasn’t spent alone – the service team from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, OH, allowed me to tag along with them.

The first thing that you notice as you make your way out of Tegucigalpa is that the roads are steep and (for inexperienced foreign drivers) dangerous. Cars and trucks pass you by on sharp turns and double-yellow lines, but our driver, Gustavo, is an expert and we were lucky to have him.

Once you get out of the congestion of the city, the scenery is stunning – wide valleys and mountains covered by clouds. It made the trip to the farm go by very quickly and we seemed to arrive in no time.

The school sits on a beautiful piece of property that has breathtaking views of the mountains in the distance and plenty of room for the students to learn everything they need about agriculture. We enjoyed a delicious chicken and rice soup with tortillas for lunch (I have to get the recipe…it was amazing). Afterwards, we took the opportunity to sit down with some of the boys and get to know them better. They were extremely gracious hosts and seemed to enjoy the conversation (even if our Spanish wasn’t perfect). After our meeting, we toured the farm, saw the facilities, and met the other residents…the animals. There are cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese, pigs, and tilapia being raised and cared for by the students and staff. The facility is great and you can really tell that they take pride in the work that they’re doing.

IMG_0272After that, it was back into the van for the trek back to Tegucigalpa. On the drive home I was struck by the two different worlds that passed by the windows of the van during both parts of our journey. On the one hand, you see beautiful vistas that pictures don’t do justice. On the other, extreme poverty of a kind that I have never seen before. I had tears in my eyes during parts of the drive when I saw people picking through trash and houses that used tires for their foundations.

On my last night in this beautiful country, I can’t help but think that I’m going to get on a plane tomorrow and return to a safe home with plenty of food in the refrigerator and all of the other creature comforts that we take for granted…these people don’t have that option. They can’t leave…this is their life.

This is why I’m so proud to be a part of El Hogar – this is what we’re here to change. We exist to give the children born into this poverty a way out so that their lives can be different.

I leave tomorrow, but Honduras is in my heart. I can imagine that there will be tears in my eyes as the plane rises above Tegucigalpa and toward the United States. My final post about this adventure will be tomorrow.

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – Connections (Part 5)

Today was a beautiful day in Honduras, and I had the opportunity to do more work with El Hogar board member Margo Mingay in the donation storage room located at the Elementary campus. The work that I’ve been doing during my time here (along with my usual work in the United States) has enabled me to build a strong personal connection between the organization and the staff and students we work with each day.

Those connections are so valuable for me and they’ll be the best souvenirs that I bring home at the end of my adventure. First and foremost, the staff of El Hogar love these children. No matter their title or job description, they work tirelessly to provide education and stability to children who have not had ready access to either. These children come from situations that are worse than many of us could ever fathom and the teachers stand in the gap to provide whatever guidance or support they need to reach their full potential. And as a new staff member in the US office, they have welcomed me with warm smiles and excellent conversations.

The students at El Hogar are amazing! Even after a day filled with school and chores, they have boundless energy. As the sunlight fades over the mountains that surround Tegucigalpa, you can still see games of futbol (soccer) and tag being played. They’ve been very understanding about my elementary use of the Spanish language and have even taught me a few new words. From the moment you enter the gates of El Hogar, the children welcome you with smiles and shouts of, “Hola!” Now that’s the way to welcome guests.

The children of El Hogar know that they’re safe and that they have not just one person who loves them, but a whole organization working with them and rooting for them to achieve their dreams. That’s something that has become even clearer for me since the day I landed in Honduras.

Tomorrow, I travel to the El Hogar Farm campus as I return to my rural roots and see what farming in Honduras is like.

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – Celebration (Part 4)

Sunday morning in Tegucigalpa started with a beautiful, brilliant sunrise that was only the beginning of a wonderful day. We began by attending morning service at Catedral Episcopal Santa María de los Ángeles in the city. The service was held in Spanish, which was a wonderful experience for me. I’ve only started learning to speak the language and this trip has been a kind of immersion course for me as I’ve interacted with people on a daily basis. Even though I had trouble understanding the words that were said, the service was beautiful and I felt so warmly welcomed by the parishioners in attendance.

Along with myself and El Hogar Executive Director Liz Kinchen, there were also service team members from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, OH, students from the various El Hogar campuses, and a special guest of honor. El Hogar Elementary Director Claudia Castro was honored during the service for her 25 years of work with the organization. El Hogar Honduras Executive Director Matthew Engleby presented Claudia with a plaque and flowers in honor of her years of service. It was a very emotional and touching moment during the service.

Following lunch, we made our way back to El Hogar to prepare for a special event – a surprise party to celebrate Claudia’s years of service. It was wonderful to walk around the campus as all of the preparations were being finalized and to see the children practicing the music and dances they would be performing during the event.

Finally, the moment arrived and Claudia entered the gates of the El Hogar Elementary campus with her husband, Raul Castro. She began to walk through the campus on a walkway lined on each side with students and staff cheering her. We then enjoyed a time to celebrate all that she has done for the children who have come through the gates of the Elementary campus. The children also performed traditional dances and music, which was wonderful to see. Everyone had a great time enjoying the celebration and delicious food.

I felt privileged to be a part of this wonderful event to celebrate someone who has shown infinite love and concern for the children of El Hogar. The lives that she has touched have been transformed and that is a legacy that we should all strive for.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – A Day Filled With Work and Play (Part 3)

I awoke to my first full day in Honduras and I was still amazed by the fact that I am actually here. It’s Saturday, which is usually a day of rest and fun for the children of El Hogar – for me it was a day of both fun and work.

I worked with Margo Mingay – an El Hogar board member who lives in Toronto – for most of the day as we sorted through newly donated items to be placed in the storage area at El Hogar. These items range from shoes to pencils, personal care items to toys. It was hard work, but I was amazed by how generous people continue to be with the donations of items that are brought to El Hogar.

With all of that work, there needed to be some time to play (especially because it’s Saturday), so I joined some of the staff as they took the children to a nearby park. The location was beautiful and very well-kept. It was great to see the children running and playing with other children who were also enjoying the park with their families and friends. I was also amazed by the huge palm trees and the birds who were perching in them. It was a small piece of paradise in the middle of hectic, congested Tegucigalpa.

After returning to the El Hogar campus, we met up with Claudia Castro – Director of the El Hogar Elementary program – who challenged me and some of the children to a game of basketball. She failed to mention that she had played for a number of years while attending school. To make a long story short, she is a great basketball player and she scored a lot of points.

We also bid goodbye to the service team from Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, MA. Their time at El Hogar ended today and they prepared to make the journey home.

For all of the fun that we were having and the work that was being accomplished, I was struck by how much the children of El Hogar are loved by the staff. Each person I’ve spoken to and met with really loves their work with the children. This truly is a special place and I’m so glad that I’m here to see it first-hand.

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – The Adventure Begins (Part 2)

I am not usually a morning person, particularly when it means waking up on 3:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight out of Logan Airport in Boston. But the early day couldn’t dampen my excitement for my first trip to Honduras and El Hogar.

Traveling with Liz Kinchen, El Hogar’s North American Executive Director, we left Logan Airport, had a stopover in Atlanta, and ended our journey at the airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

When you break through the clouds as the plane descends toward the airport, you’re met with a beautiful country filled with green forests and mountains, but also with houses built very close together inside of the “bowl” that is Tegucigalpa. The airport was controlled chaos, but we didn’t linger there for too long – the El Hogar Technical Institute was awaiting us.

We drove for about half an hour outside of the city to the technical school that sits on a beautiful and quiet piece of property. There are a number of buildings that are used by the students for learning regular lessons in subjects like math and science, but there are also shops for metal work, carpentry, and electrical. There is also a large dormitory for the boys, a chapel, as well as other buildings.

Lazaro Juarez, the Director of the Technical Institute, was a gracious host and provided a tour of the campus, as well as lunch. Then it was back into the car to travel back to Tegucigalpa and El Hogar’s elementary campus. We were given a tour by Raul Castro, El Hogar’s Director of Capital Projects and the Service Team Host, and I really got a sense of the large number of students that the campus serves on a daily basis. There was also a service team from Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, MA, who we were able to meet with before they leave to return home tomorrow.

Even though I will be traveling to visit each of the campuses operated by El Hogar, the elementary campus will be my base of operations during my time in Honduras.

This is a beautiful country and the people I’ve met have welcomed me with warm smiles and open hearts. This was a great first day and I can’t wait to see what my second holds.

Traveling to El Hogar in Honduras for the First Time – Getting Ready (Part 1)

Jason Lang (Website)
Jason Lang – Manager of Marketing and Communications for El Hogar

I recently joined El Hogar’s Woburn, MA, office as their new Manager of Marketing and Communications, and I’m excited about the work that’s being done in Honduras and the lives that are being changed. I love my job because it gives me the opportunity to educate people about El Hogar and the students we work with each day.

Immediately after I started my new position, I was told that the Executive Director was interested in taking me to Honduras to visit the four campuses that we operate. I’ve traveled a lot and blogged about my adventures in my spare time, but have never gone to Honduras. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to share my experiences with you during my time there to give you a first-hand look at El Hogar.

For those of you who have traveled to Honduras to volunteer with El Hogar, this will be a trip down memory lane (you may even want to return for another service trip or start a child sponsorship). For others, you may have only started learning about El Hogar and that’s great! This will give you a good introduction to the children we work with, the various campuses we operate, and what it’s like to be a part of El Hogar.

I can’t wait to meet the students and staff, and I’m excited to share this experience with you. My adventure begins tomorrow!