Notes From Honduras – January 2017

We’re beginning the new year with a new monthly series called Notes From Honduras. These short updates are coming right from the ground in Honduras and will make you feel like you’re standing in the middle of El Hogar. We hope you enjoy this new look at El Hogar.


A cool breeze blows over the property as the children play hide-and-seek among the school buildings. The classrooms have been empty since the middle of November and the campus is quiet. The teachers, who spend 10 months of the year teaching, counseling, and caring for the children, take turns alternating their vacations – half take vacation, while the other half stay to work with the children – for a well-deserved holiday. Some children have spent a part of the school vacation at home with their families. Other children spent the school vacation with their El Hogar family. Outings to Tegucigalpa’s Christmas activities and the Children’s Museum, karaoke, and a feast of nacatamles (a traditional Honduran food) were their way of celebrating.

There are some new faces mixed in with the familiar ones, and with each passing day the campus is becoming more lively. With more free time, some children are scattered around the field doing puzzles and playing with cars. Others weave around them with a soccer ball. The final days of vacation are coming and the children are soaking up every spare moment they have before classes begin in February for another school year.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

New Year, New Possibilities

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

– Melody Beattie

The first few weeks of a new year are usually spent getting everything prepared to run smoothly as you move forward. For some people, a new year brings feelings of joy and anticipation. For others, they enter with feelings of worry or dread. Like the quote above, I look at the new year like a book – many chapters that tell a story filled with the good and bad that life inevitably brings, as well as the hope and promise that carries us through.

Your support puts their hopes and dreams within reach.
Your support puts their dreams within reach.

Two years ago, my wife gave me a daily diary for Christmas that’s good for five years. Each night you answer a question and, once the year is over, you start back at the beginning. It lets you see how you’ve changed over the years since your previous answers, while also showing you how you’ve overcome the struggles of the previous year. For me, this is how I look at the start of a new year at El Hogar.

Each year our students enter our campuses during the month of January to prepare to begin their new school year. For those returning to El Hogar, they’ve made it through the struggles of the previous year’s studies. They can look back with pride. Now, they’re entering a new grade – or maybe even a new center – with all the hopes and fears that the unknown inevitably brings.

For those who are new to El Hogar, the emotions they enter with are powerful. They’re coming to a new place fresh from situations of neglect, violence, abuse, poverty, and hunger. They’re surrounded by the new faces of other students and staff members. It’s a new world for them and they quickly learn that there are opportunities available at El Hogar that they never could have dreamed of in the past.

Each of these students enter the new year at El Hogar in very different places, but they all have many things in common as they view the year ahead. They have hope for a brighter future. They have determination to get the most they can out of their education. They have peace within the safety of El Hogar’s walls. They have comfort in the love and care they receive from staff members. They have lives that are being transformed through the help and support of El Hogar – only made possible each year by our generous donors.

The new year brings the promise of new possibilities for each of our students – ones that were out of reach for them previously because of the poverty they were born into. With your support, our students can continue to break free from the cycle of poverty in their families and see their lives turn around. With your support this year, 2017 can be the turning point that changes the direction of their lives forever.

The Greatest Gift

The holiday season is a special time at El Hogar.

Is it just me or has the holiday season just become far too commercial? My favorite memories of the season come from time spent with family and friends, delicious meals featuring long-held “secret” recipes, and strolling through the neighborhood looking at the decorations adorning each home.

Sadly, most people seem to focus more on the gifts that they’re giving than the intent behind the gifts. By the time the clock strikes midnight and 2017 begins, many Christmas gifts will have already taken up residence in their permanent new closet or basement homes. I find this troubling because it’s not what the holiday season is supposed to be about.

This special time of the year should be about bringing back fond memories, rekindling joy that may have been stifled because of a difficult year, and giving us an opportunity to look at how we can make the season better for those in need. It’s that last point that’s particularly timely for me.

The students at El Hogar are wonderful teachers. They teach us lessons each day with the things they say and their actions. One thing that has struck me each time I’ve visited – as it has for many service team members who have gone to Honduras over the years – is how giving the students are toward each other.

One story that’s stuck with me was told by a service team member not long after I started at El Hogar. They told me that during a trip to Honduras, they had taken some of the students out for lunch following a church service. The children enjoyed their lunches, but several of them only ate half of their hamburgers and kept the rest wrapped up. One volunteer noticed this, but thought they were taking it back to enjoy at El Hogar. On the contrary, when they returned to the school, these students gave their remaining hamburgers to their brothers or sisters. They were sacrificing a treat to make sure their family didn’t feel left out. It’s a giving spirit that rings true for us during this time of year, but one that we should also try to have all year long.

For me, it’s a gift to see the lives of our students impacted for good each day. It’s a gift to see the hope and promise in their eyes. It’s a gift to see smiles on their faces. These are the gifts that truly matter and they’re made possible because of the generosity of people just like you. People who give whatever they can to make the lives of our students – children they may never have a chance to meet – better. That’s the greatest gift you can give no matter what season it is.

For those of you who have given to El Hogar this year, thank you for your support. You’ve shown us the true spirit of the holiday season throughout 2016. For those of you who may be new to El Hogar or who haven’t given a gift to us yet, please consider giving your gift today by clicking the button below. It’s a great way to do something truly meaningful and selfless during this season. When you do, let me be the first to say thank you!

On behalf of everyone at El Hogar, I hope you have a wonderful, joyous, and peaceful holiday season.

 

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – A Farewell and Final Thoughts

I wanted to share some final thoughts as I wrap up this exciting week of graduation (and clausura) activities in Honduras.

Over the three ceremonies, the students of El Hogar have further reinforced my pride in the organization I work for. Many of them had tears in their eyes when they would talk about their experiences and how much El Hogar means to them. They are well aware of the opportunities they’ve been given in our care, but they are by no means complacent.

They work hard each day and utilize the resources at their fingertips to learn all they can and to make their dreams reality – a fact that our supporters should be very proud of. They also thrive on the love and support they get from our amazing Honduran staff members who work tirelessly each day to ensure that each and every one of our students knows – really knows – that they are special.

The students who graduated this week are taking the skills they’ve learned back into their communities. Some of them come from places that are almost completely cut off from the outside world, while others come from the overflowing streets of Tegucigalpa. Each of their stories may be different, but they all now have one important thing in common – they are all El Hogar graduates. As I said before, their roads will be filled with twists and turns, but they now have the skills and values to handle them.

For our elementary students, their clausura marked an important point in their lives. They’re moving onto their next phase at El Hogar to continue their education and to begin to gain the practical skills they will need to find success after they graduate in the years to come.

We celebrated the hard work of our students this week as the academic year at El Hogar came to a close, but that doesn’t mean our work takes a break. Many of our students will spend the holidays at our Elementary School in Tegucigalpa, because they either have no family to return home to or their homes are too unsafe. They will spend time resting and celebrating with their El Hogar brothers and sisters, and with the staff who think of them as extended members of their own families.

I’m proud to be a small part of that extended family. It breaks my heart to say goodbye to the amazing students I see in photos and write about to share their stories. It’s hard to 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.

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. The investment you make in them – no matter the amount – is an investment that will pay dividends for years and generations to come.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – Clausura at El Hogar’s Elementary School

During almost each day of this trip, we’ve been traveling outside the city of Tegucigalpa to celebrate graduation ceremonies at El Hogar’s Agricultural School and Technical Institute. Today, we didn’t have to travel far for the last of the week’s celebrations – the Elementary School’s clausura. The clausura is a celebration for the students completing their time at the Elementary School as they prepare to enter one of El Hogar’s secondary education programs.

For those of you who have traveled to El Hogar, you know how the elementary campus is an island of calm and peace in the chaos of Tegucigalpa. This becomes immediately evident as you enter the gates from the streets. Once they close, you’re surrounded by greenery and children playing. It’s a stark contrast to the busy streets just over the walls.

We arrived and I immediately got to work taking the official graduation photos of the students. Each of them was dressed to impress – the boys in crisp white shirts with black ties and the girls in white shirts and plaid skirts. They were so excited and they asked me more than once to take silly photos of them and their friends. I had a job to do, but this day is about them and I was glad to oblige.

This year, the clausura was held inside the campus cafeteria. The walls were decorated with flowers and banners, while there was a large wooden bridge for each student to stand on as they were honored during the ceremony. The room was full of chairs and they quickly filled up with the honorees’ fellow students, family, friends, and other honored guests.

Speakers included Claudia Castro, Director of the Elementary School, the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras, Liz Kinchen, Executive Director of El Hogar in North America, a representative from DINAF, which is a government agency in Honduras that looks after vulnerable children, and a former student. As with each of the speeches at the earlier graduation ceremonies, the speakers reflected on the hard work of each student and the promise they each have as they begin this next phase of their education at El Hogar.

The pride on each student’s face (along with some blushing as they had to stand in front of everyone) showed how much this day really meant to each of them. During the presentations, some of the students’ dreams were shared and they’re amazing. They want to be doctors, lawyers, and other respected professionals. They’re so proud of their accomplishments and it warms my heart to see each of them not just trying to squeak by, but reaching for the stars. But for all of their excitement, there was also a feeling of a changing dynamic among them.

Up until this point, they’ve all been on the same campus. That won’t be the case when the next school year begins. The boys will either go to the Agricultural School or the Technical Institute, while the girls enter the Virginia Sapp high school program and move to their new home in Santa Lucia. They’ll see each other at school-wide functions and campus visits, but it won’t be the same. Like those students before them and most families, they’ll still have strong connections to each other over the distance that will separate them. They’re one big El Hogar family.

I can’t believe I’m already saying this, but tomorrow I leave to return to my home in Boston. I’ll share some final thoughts about this year’s graduation tomorrow.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – Graduation at El Hogar’s Technical Institute

The morning saw us once again traveling out of Tegucigalpa. This time, we traveled north of Tegucigalpa to the Amarateca Valley to El Hogar’s Technical Institute (ITSM). Driving along the CA5 – congested as it weaves its way out of the city – you look along the hillsides that line the road with their slopes filled with ramshackle houses of every color stacked on top of each other.

The further you go north, the hillsides become less congested and greener. Eventually, you turn off the highway and travel down a winding dirt road (sometimes being met by a herd of cattle) to enter the walls of ITSM.

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The time when the official graduation photos are taken – something that always happens before the ceremony – is very special. Each graduate poses for their photo and the pride they have is evident in their smiles on each face. These photos mark a moment in time that none of them will ever forget. It’s also a time filled with a lot of behind the scenes joking between the graduates as they each try to make the others laugh while photos are taken.

The photos are a more private moment caught in time, but the graduation ceremony is the complete opposite. Following a Eucharist service – something held before each El Hogar graduation – the graduates’ friends and family gathered in the ITSM auditorium for the ceremony.

Each graduate donned the bright blue gowns and caps, and sat on the stage as a variety of speakers lauded their hard work, gave sage advice, and expressed how the students would be missed. Lazaro Juarez, Director of ITSM, the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras, and Liz Kinchen, Executive Director of El Hogar in North America, all spoke passionately – the care they have for each student evident on their faces and in their words. As each graduate received their diploma, their fellow honorees joined with their friends and family to applaud their accomplishment.

After the last diploma was handed out, it was time to celebrate with delicious food and conversation before the graduates left with their family members and friends.

In Honduras, there are small, three-wheeled vehicles called moto-taxis (also known as tuk-tuks) that serve as small transports through the cities or down very long side roads. As we turned out of the road to ITSM to travel back to Tegucigalpa, several students were waiting with their families next to the moto-taxis they’d taken to the road. Their faces were filled with emotions, but their smiles gave away their anticipation for beginning this next chapter in their lives.

Each one of them has a story filled with difficult beginnings, but they each also found hope at El Hogar. They take that hope and their potential with them as they enter the world as graduates.

Tomorrow, the El Hogar clausura at the Elementary School will celebrate the students who will be moving up to begin their next El Hogar journey.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – Graduation at El Hogar’s Agricultural School

The differences between Tegucigalpa and Talanga couldn’t be greater. Tegucigalpa is thick with smog, choked with traffic, and full of people. On the other hand, Talanga is a sea of green with exotic birds singing, farm animals grazing, and vistas that show the natural beauty of Honduras. El Hogar’s Agricultural School, which is in Talanga, provided an unforgettable backdrop for the first of this week’s graduation ceremonies.

Pulling into the school after the long drive, we could immediately see the preparations that had been made. Streamers and graduation signs were hung throughout the open-air pavilion as chairs sat on the sawdust floor awaiting the friends, family members, and sponsors of the students who were being honored.

After official graduation photos were taken, it was time for the ceremony to begin. The graduates – dressed up with ties and wearing their blue gowns and caps – made their way up the aisle to their seats of honor at the front. Yony Aguilera, Director of the Agricultural School, and the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras, both spoke and honored the graduates for their hard work over the years to reach this day.

For these students, this marks a turning point in their lives. This is when they have the chance to use the skills they’ve gained in animal care and crop production outside of El Hogar. As with each graduation, you could see an array of emotions on the faces of the graduates as they came to the realization that their lives were about to enter a new phase. But as the ceremony ended and the diplomas were distributed, all of their expressions turned to those of joy and excitement.

As the last of the graduates filed down the aisle, the ceremony came to an end and everyone in the audience rushed to congratulate their special honoree. This is one of the parts of the entire day that brings tears to my eyes. Families and friends were hugging the graduates with smiles on their faces and tears falling down their cheeks.

For many of these families, these graduates represent the first family members to graduate from school. As I watched each of them leave with their families, I thought about the hope and promise that they carried with them. Their lives – like each of us – will be filled with twists and turns, but they’ve received skills and values to help them handle them. They now can teach the skills they’ve learned to their families and communities. That’s how they bring positive change and break the cycle of poverty.

Tomorrow, we celebrate graduation at El Hogar’s Technical Institute in the Amarateca Valley.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – A Great Welcome to Honduras

There’s nothing more exciting than getting on a plane to go and celebrate. This is especially true when it comes to graduation at El Hogar. Flying to Honduras is not an easy task – connecting flights are (mostly) required. However, the early morning alarm and long security lines are all worth it to see each of the students being honored on their special day.

After flying from Boston to Miami, then over Cuba and the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, we finally touched down in Tegucigalpa. After meeting with the other sponsors attending graduation and Matthew Engleby, El Hogar’s Executive Director in Honduras, we made our way to our home away from home for the next few days. After a short break to catch our breaths, we rode through the old colonial streets of Tegucigalpa to the Teatro Nacional Manuel Bonilla – an architectural treasure that first opened it’s doors on September 15, 1915. We had a special invitation to attend a cultural event that would feature students from various schools dancing traditional Honduran dances and playing some very catchy marimba music. Our El Hogar students were very prominently featured in the program and we couldn’t have been prouder.

As we entered the theater, some of the elementary students were selling delicious baked goods they had made earlier – the pan queso is not to be missed and will never be forgotten.

The students did a fantastic job as they performed and the audience responded with roaring applause and cheers. The boys and girls who performed from El Hogar did a great job, and it was a special opportunity to enjoy the other performers and to experience Honduran culture in a beautiful space.

It was an amazing evening, but this is just the arrival day! Tomorrow we travel just over an hour outside of Tegucigalpa to Talanga. It’s there at our Agricultural School where we’ll celebrate with each of our graduating students from that campus.

The first graduation of 2016 at El Hogar is tomorrow and I can’t wait to celebrate the accomplishments of those amazing students.

El Hogar Graduation (November 2016) – Preparing to Celebrate at El Hogar

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

Graduation is such a special time for students and their families. No matter where you are in the world, the moment when that diploma is handed to the honored student marks the completion of years filled with hard work and studying. It’s the moment when the importance of the sacrifices made by families and friends to provide the support and help needed by the graduate can really be seen. Depending on the situation and location, some of those sacrifices can be greater than anyone can imagine.

Our students in Honduras come to El Hogar from situations that range from extreme poverty to abuse, unending hunger to neglect. Some of our students’ parents truly care about them and turn to us as a way for their children to break out of the cycle of poverty. Other students don’t know or have a relationship with their parents for a number of different reasons. No matter the situation, we provide all of the love and support they need to learn all they can and to eventually reach graduation.

I’m excited to be traveling back to Honduras tomorrow to be a part of the graduation festivities at three of our campuses. For the students at our Agricultural School and Technical Institute, it’s the moment they step into the world to use the skills they’ve gained to make better lives for themselves and their families. For our sixth graders, this is the moment they leave our Elementary school to take their next steps toward growing up and moving into one of our secondary education programs. This year’s graduation will also be the last before the first of our high school girls graduate and take their next steps toward adulthood.

I’ll be blogging daily about each of the graduation ceremonies and my time at El Hogar. It’s an amazing and humbling experience to be a part of each of these special days, and I want you to feel like you’re also there being a part of these turning points.

I hope you’ll take this journey with me and check back each day for updates. We fly out tomorrow!

School Supplies Aren’t Just Good to Have…They’re Essential

Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.
Gladys Jiménez is a third grade teacher at our campus in Tegucigalpa.

My wife is a teacher and I think she’s the best – no impartiality here. I’m sure each teacher’s spouse, significant other, family members, or friends feel the same way, and we each have a lot to be proud of. Teachers work tireless hours to ensure that their students get the fundamentals they need to finish the year ready to move forward toward success in school and life. Teachers are also a very creative group of people who find amazing ways to use everyday items to get their lessons across to students.

I recently came home to a pile of boxes in our dining room. My first thought was that we were preparing to open some kind of home-based business, but my wife informed me that all of those boxes were going to be used to create a bear cave for her students. It’s a creative use of ordinary items for her classroom, but there have also been times when she has had to take steps to provide the essentials for her students.

Most school districts in the United States are unable to provide some of the supplies needed by students in classrooms, which leaves teachers to often purchase those items with their own money. We’ve had moments when my wife has walked into a store and purchased hats, gloves, and scarves for each child in her classroom because their families didn’t have those items for winter. She has also purchased unknown numbers of pencils, crayons, notebooks, and other items that are essential for students to get the most out of school. That’s in the United States, but imagine what it’s like in Honduras.

Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.
Virginia Maradiaga teaches first grade students at our Tegucigalpa campus.

In a country where many students often don’t even have the ability to regularly attend school, the students at El Hogar have a wonderful opportunity. They have teachers who truly care for them and who work hard to teach them everything they can to ensure they have chances to succeed in life. And just like students in the United States, El Hogar’s students need supplies to get the most out of their education.

Though they receive school supplies thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters, there is always a need for more help. That’s where our Academic Essentials program comes in.

For as low as $25 per month, Academic Essentials offers people of any age or income level the opportunity to help us purchase needed supplies for our four campuses. These supplies range from textbooks to animal feed, computers to teacher salaries. For the price of one meal out, you can ensure that our students – children who come from some of the most impoverished and dangerous circumstances in Honduras – are getting the most out of their education.

A solid education offers the best opportunity for our students to break the cycle of poverty within their families and to make their hopes and dreams reality. With your support for Academic Essentials, our amazing teachers can ensure that their students get the best education we can provide.

For information about Academic Essentials, please click on the link below or contact the El Hogar offices via email at info@elhogar.org or by phone at 781-729-7600.

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