El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – Final Thoughts

I had hoped to publish this final post yesterday, but it was a long day of travel. I was on planes for most of the day and didn’t walk through my door until the early hours of this morning – not the time to be posting to a blog.

 

The past days in Honduras were uplifting and meaningful for me. I work each day to ensure that people hear the story of El Hogar, our amazing students, and the work that we do. This trip gave me the chance to see these students at important points of their lives. Even at their young ages, they’ve taught me so much about not letting life’s circumstances dictate how I approach each day of my future.

This trip was also a time of learning. It never ceases to amaze me how each moment of our lives – even time at the airport – can teach us valuable lessons. While standing in the check-in line yesterday in Tegucigalpa, I saw a young boy who must have only been about seven or eight years old. His face was dirty, his clothes were ragged, and he wore stress on his face that was beyond his years. He was approaching various people to ask them for money and was being turned away by each person as they focused on their imminent flights.

The boy seemed to be making his way through the entire airport and it broke my heart. This young child – someone who should be playing and going to school – was struggling to simply survive. I wondered about the circumstances of his life and where he had come from. Would I see him again the next time I visited Tegucigalpa? What will his situation be like next year, five years from now, and beyond? I don’t have the answers to these questions and all that I can do is hope that he gets the help he needs.

This drove home the importance of the work we do at El Hogar. The children in our care have come from situations that run the gamut, but they’re safe now. They have the love they need, the education they require, and the food that nourishes them. They’ve been lifted out of their difficult situations and given new leases on life thanks to El Hogar and our fantastic supporters.

The past days have been uplifting as I’ve seen young men and women taking their next steps toward (or into) independence. But our work isn’t done.

There are still far too many children living in poverty and dealing with unimaginable hardships in Honduras. We’re here for them. Our mission doesn’t end until each of their lives are changed and the cycle of poverty in this beautiful country is broken.

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. It’s a sad time when I 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.

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El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Elementary School (El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza)

Today was my final full day in Honduras for the various graduation events that have been occurring at each of the El Hogar campuses. Today’s event wasn’t a graduation, but was a clausura – an event marking the students’ transition from the Elementary school to one of the other specialized programs established by El Hogar. This also marks the end of their time with Claudia Castro.

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Yesterday, I spoke about Lazaro Juarez and his love for the boys in his care. Claudia sees the children of El Hogar when they first enter our program. She sees the difficult situations they come from and watches them grow beyond their hardships. She is a mother to each of the boys and girls in our care and you see it with how each of the students interacts with her and speaks of her.

The ceremony was beautiful and included honors for the teachers who work with the students, presentations made by the children for the various special classes that they take part in (baking, sewing, art, etc.), plenty of wonderful music, and emotional moments that left most people wiping a tear from their eyes.

This was a special time that honored the hard work that these students have put in and the special people who got them there. These types of ceremonies are not short, but the fact that the children were well-behaved during the entire process shows how wonderful and amazing they are.

After attending the three ceremonies over the past few days, it’s become even more evident how important the teachers and administrators are to the lives and success of the students in El Hogar’s care. The staff members at El Hogar work hard to give these children the education they need to succeed in life. They don’t sugarcoat their message by saying life is easy, but they prepare them well to deal with many of the obstacles they may encounter. They celebrate the triumphs and lend support during difficulties. They are educators who give their all to ensure that these students have every ounce of support they need.

I leave Honduras tomorrow and I have to admit that I’m sad to go. Like in August, I continue to fall in love with this wonderful country and its people. I’m the luckiest person in the world to work with an organization that’s changing lives in Honduras. Though returning home is always nice when you’ve been away, tomorrow’s blog post – my last for this trip – will be hard to write.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnico Santa Maria)

I woke up this morning excited to be going to the graduation ceremony at the Technical Institute. This place is very special for me because it was the first El Hogar campus that I visited during my visit in August. To get to the Amarateca campus you drive through mountains with vistas that seem to stretch for miles, passing a coffee plant that perfumes the air with the scent of roasting beans. I was also reminded when looking at the houses lining the road of the extreme poverty that seems to be the norm for many who call this country home.

Many of the boys who come to the Technical Institute come from a wide variety of difficult and challenging backgrounds that have led them all to El Hogar. These boys come to the school in need of a role model to look up to – a father figure who can give them the guidance that they need to make their way in life. Lazaro Juarez, their Director and Sub-Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras, is that person for these boys.

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From the moment we entered the campus, Lazaro had a wide smile on his face and showed the pride of a father. Each of these boys is a son to him and he cares deeply about them, gives guidance when they need it, and ensures that they are prepared for life outside of El Hogar after they graduate.

The ceremony was similar to the one held yesterday at the farm, but with elements that made it special for this group of graduates. The boys were excited and had smiles on their faces as the ceremony wound its way through the early afternoon. They celebrated with family, friends, and their role model – Lazaro.

Lazaro has been with El Hogar since the very beginning, working with the first five young boys who were taken off of the streets of Tegucigalpa in 1979. He has done so much to make El Hogar what it is today, but he is also a very humble man who would never bring focus onto himself. The boys who graduated today from the Technical Institute have had their lives changed thanks to him, his teachings, and his guidance. Lazaro has a lot to be proud of.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – El Hogar’s Agricultural School (Escuela Agricola de Amor y Esperanza)

The day began with the mountains that surround Tegucigalpa being shrouded by clouds. We made our way along the winding road that leaves the hectic pace of the city and slowly fades into a slower way of life. About an hour north of Tegucigalpa is the quite village of Talanga, which is home to El Hogar’s Agricultural School (Escuela Agricola de Amor y Esperanza).

I was excited to be returning to this beautiful part of the country – with its rolling hills, tilapia ponds, and farm animals. I grew up in a rural community, so I feel right at home here.

I could tell from the moment we stepped onto the campus that the graduates were excited. This was their day and they had worked hard to get here. All of the final preparations were made before the ceremony began – photos were taken, ties were straightened, and the boys seemed to give each other final words of encouragement.

The graduation began with a Eucharist service led by the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras. Following that, the graduates quickly put on their robes and caps before walking down the aisle in front of family and friends.

It was easy to see that the graduates were dealing with mixed emotions during this very special day. This was the day when they would leave the care of El Hogar to use the skills that they had worked so hard to acquire. This was the day when they started the next chapter in their lives. They were excited, but you could also see that they were nervous. There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear that comes with graduating – I know that I speak for each person reading this blog (including myself) when I say this. But this is the time when these boys will shine!

Following the ceremony, there was a delicious lunch that let everyone take some time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the achievements of these wonderful young men. They have so much to be proud of and have bright futures ahead of them.

This was my first graduation ceremony as an El Hogar employee and I am honored to have been a part of it. These boys represent the future of Honduras. They will be a part of breaking the cycle of poverty that has gripped many families in this country for so long. They have hopes and futures that were only dreams when they started at El Hogar. That’s the best graduation gift that anyone could ever receive.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – Getting To Honduras and El Hogar

The sky was still dark with a light rain falling as I got out of my car at the airport in Boston. It was 4 a.m. and people were already backed up in lines as they were waiting to go through security. This is a minor inconvenience that I’m happy to deal with, knowing that I’ll end my day in Honduras at El Hogar – a place that stole my heart during my trip this past August.

The flights were easy with very little turbulence and the sunshine above the clouds seemed to put everyone into a much more cheerful mood. The trip to Honduras from Boston always includes two plane rides – there are no direct flights. It’s a long day of travel, but I’m rewarded at the end of my journey by passing through the gates of the El Hogar Elementary campus in Tegucigalpa.

The children, busy with their chores and school work, meet you with smiles and exclamations of “Hola!” as they seem to run from every direction. This is a special place – a fact that I eluded to in my previous blog posts. One of the first things I saw when we arrived was one of the students walking around with a tray of freshly baked bread. Being a fanatic for anything related to food, I took some time to investigate.

Some of the students were hard at work making cookies and bread that smelled delicious. They all smiled and greeted me as I walked through the door – some even remembered me and said, “Hola, Jason!” Even as a light afternoon rain fell, it didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the children during this very special week.

I’m here to experience one of the highlights of the year – graduation. As I mentioned yesterday, for sixth grade students, this means taking their next steps toward breaking the cycle of poverty and gaining the skills they need to achieve their goals. For the ninth grade students, this is a turning point in their lives. They’ll graduate from El Hogar, leave our program, and begin to use the skills they’ve gained to make lives for themselves.

Tomorrow is the first of these ceremonies. The Agricultural campus sits about an hour away from Tegucigalpa in Talanga. The farm is situated in a beautiful area and is such a peaceful place.

I’m looking forward to my first El Hogar graduation! All of the hard work that these students have put in is about to pay off.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2015) – A New Journey

Jason Lang (Website)
Jason Lang, El Hogar’s Manager of Marketing and Communications.

I count it as a privilege to work for El Hogar as their Manager of Marketing and Communications. My job gives me the opportunity to tell the world about the work being done by El Hogar in Honduras and about our amazing students. I had the chance to visit Honduras for the first time this past August in an effort to see the centers that we operate in the country, and to meet the staff and students who are so central to the work that I do.

Tomorrow, I’m leaving to travel back to that amazing country to be a part of a very special time for our community – graduation. The school year in Honduras runs from February to November, which is a bit different from what we know here in North America. Each November marks a time of change and the beginning of new chapters for many of our students. Those who have called our Elementary campus home through their sixth grade year prepare to move onto the next campuses. For the boys, this means choosing between the Agricultural School or the Technical Institute. For the girls, they can move onto our Home for High School Girls, where they can continue their education at a private high school called Virginia Sapp.

For those students who have called the Agricultural School or Technical Institute home through their ninth grade years, this is when they leave our care to begin the next chapter of their lives. Since our program for girls only began in 2007, none of our high school girls are graduating yet.

As I did in August, I’m going to be blogging daily about my experiences at these events to give you an idea of what it’s like to be a part of them. I’m excited to witness this special time in the lives of these students. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this journey with me. It begins tomorrow!