Making Your Time Away Count

Most of us are very protective of our vacation time and opportunities to step out of our daily routines. It’s usually time set aside to do the things that bring us joy, which can include travel, sports, the arts, and the list goes on. We don’t usually view those few weeks of the year as opportunities to make a difference in the world, but maybe next year you could use a week of your vacation to bring joy to the lives of children. You would also gain a new perspective of what life is really like for families living in very different circumstances than yours.

Each year, El Hogar welcomes Service Teams to Honduras. They come from throughout the United States and Canada, and all with different expectations, hopes, and fears. Some teams are made up of members who know each other and come from one particular church or organization. Others have members who meet for the first time as they prepare to travel, but who end their trips with new and lasting friendships.

These trips do often include some work, which could be painting or carpentry. While teams help important maintenance work to get completed on our campuses, the real purpose behind these trips is to offer each person a new perspective on life in Honduras. By understanding the difficulties and struggles that are everyday realities for people who live there, it becomes even more evident to team members that we are all connected, despite any cultural differences.

It’s easy to watch videos or read articles, but to ride through the streets of Tegucigalpa or to visit the home of an El Hogar parent brings the realities of life in Honduras into sharper focus. The years of struggle these parents and grandparents have gone through can be seen on their faces, but many have tears of joy when they describe the difference El Hogar has made for their children.

Recently, David Dreisbach, the Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, was part of a Service Team. He was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about his time at El Hogar:

“I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I passed through the gate of El Hogar. Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is hot, overcrowded, and loud. People look at you as you pass them on the streets with eyes filled with despair. But inside the walls of El Hogar, there is peace. There is happiness. There is love. And best of all, there is family. 

David smiles with Anna Nicole during his recent Service Team trip to El Hogar. (Photo courtesy of David Dreisbach)

I met dozens of joyful children who all have a story to tell. As I got to know these children and heard their stories, I quickly found a common theme. The theme is that for each one of them, being at El Hogar is a miracle. It’s a chance at life and a chance to make their lives count.

When you leave El Hogar, you have the feeling that you are leaving the real world. A world where contentment is not based on excess but on having what you need. Going back to a society built on excess, greed, and discontentment was very hard. The children at El Hogar are going to be fine whether they met me or not. I, on the other hand, have been forever changed.”

David’s experience is not unique. Each person leaves El Hogar changed and with a perspective that will never be the same as when they first entered our gates.

It’s easy to put a team together or to join a team, and we can help you do that. Planning is already underway for Service Teams who are traveling to El Hogar in 2018. If you’re interested or want more information, please call 781-729-7600 or send an email to info@elhogar.org. We look forward to welcoming you!

Advertisements

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 info@elhogar.org.

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