El Hogar Graduation (November 2017) – Preparing to Celebrate at El Hogar

Jason Lang is the Manager of Marketing and Communications for El Hogar in North America.

Graduation is a time filled with a flurry of emotions for students. On the one hand, they’re excited about their accomplishments and relieved to have completed their work. On the other, there’s fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what the future could hold. This is the reality for students everywhere, especially in Honduras.

Each year, the graduation ceremonies at El Hogar provide a window into the lives of the students who have been in our care. You see their friends and family members joining together to celebrate this momentous occasion – most likely the first in their family’s history. These moments, although within view of everyone else attending, are deeply personal and are humbling to witness.

Tomorrow, I leave for Honduras and this year’s graduation ceremonies. Though each year is filled with excitement and joy, this year’s will be particularly special as we celebrate the graduation of El Hogar’s first group of high school girls. They will be the first graduates to leave our program and move directly on to university – a major milestone for these girls and our program. It’s been a long road for these young women, but their hard work has certainly paid off. Along with the girls’ graduation, we will also be celebrating the accomplishments of all the students who will be honored during this year’s ceremonies.

I’ll be blogging each day about the graduation ceremonies and my time at El Hogar. My goal is for you to feel like you’re also attending!

I hope you’ll be a part of this journey and will check back each day for updates. Until tomorrow!

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To change the lives of children in Honduras, please donate today!

Notes From Honduras – October 2017

As you may have heard, this year is an election year in Honduras. After a string of military governments in the 1960s and 1970s, a democratic government was voted into office in open elections in 1982. That government founded the National Assembly, which approved the new Honduran constitution that same year. Over the next few decades, the democratic system slowly strengthened, being run by eight civilian governments from the two main political parties; el Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) and el Partido Nacional (National Party). Despite its name, the Partido Liberal is not a left-wing party. From a North American point of view, both are relatively conservative in their policies and beliefs.

The Honduran constitution states that a president can only be in power for one four-year term. In 2009, then President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya wanted to consult the population to see if they would support a change in that particular article in the constitution. The opposition declared this unconstitutional and the military, claiming to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Honduras, ousted Zelaya in a coup d’état. This sparked political unrest in the country and international outrage, a time that many El Hogar supporters may remember, as Service Team trips were suspended during this period. In the end, the constitution did not change and Zelaya, once allowed back into the country, formed the Partido Libre (Free Party) led by him and his wife.

The current President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez. (Photo by Daniel Malpica, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores from Perú – Visita del presidente de Honduras al Palacio de Torre Tagle)

The next presidential term is from 2018-2022, with national elections on November 26th of this year. This should mean that the tenure of current President Juan Orlando Hernandez is coming to an end. However, in a complicated situation where it is difficult to uncover the facts, Hernandez has secured his candidacy for president for another term. Newly appointed Supreme Court Justices declared the no re-election article inapplicable to Hernandez, allowing him to move forward with his plan to continue occupying the Casa Presidencial (Presidential House). National opinion polls are elusive, but public opinion indicates a close contest meaning Hernandez does not have a significant lead, if any, over the other candidates. However, his party does control the congress, making his re-election likely.

Despite everything, things are pretty quiet around here. With about a month until the election, campaign posters line the streets, advertisements are heard on the television and radio, and the presidential candidates are making their rounds. While not everyone is happy about the situation, there does not seem to be an outcry from either national or international bodies. For better or for worse, there seems to be a relative calm throughout the country, which could lead one to believe that this will not be a repeat of the political upheaval in 2009. Either way, the decision will be made on November 26th with the hope of a better Honduras.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Gratitude

The blog post below was written by Liz Kinchen, El Hogar’s North American Executive Director.

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I think it’s fair to say that I have been instilled with a sense of gratitude from my earliest years. It was a value my parents encouraged. As I have gotten older, the scope of how I understand gratitude has broadened, and how I experience it has deepened.

I aspire to be mindful of what is good, not just in my life, but in all of life. I’d go so far as to say that I aspire to live in a state of perpetual gratitude. Of course, my human imperfection prevents this, but I hold it as an aspiration nonetheless.

One of the privileges of working as the Executive Director of El Hogar Ministries over the past 16 years is that I have met many of you – friends, supporters, and enthusiasts for El Hogar. I have had the honor of hearing many of your stories telling how you came to know and love El Hogar. So many of you have welcomed me into your homes, your churches and your lives – as you have welcomed El Hogar. I have witnessed your kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity from a front-row seat. And I need to say, in all honesty, that it fills me with gratitude.

Liz and Cristhofer – an El Hogar graduate – during one of El Hogar’s graduation ceremonies.

I don’t just mean being thankful for a gift that comes in. Of course, I am thankful for that – every gift helps to keep our doors open for the vulnerable children we serve. What I have deep gratitude for is your spirit – that you care about children far from where you are; that you want to see a more just world; and that you act to help achieve these things. This is the spirit that can, does, and will continue to change the world.

So, when you read a letter from me, or hear me speak about El Hogar, and I say the words ‘thank you’, please know that behind those commonplace words is a profound sense of real gratitude. I am speaking on behalf of El Hogar and all its students and staff, but I am also – and perhaps primarily – speaking on my own behalf.

You show me every day what social action, a global sense of responsibility, love, and generosity look like. You lift my spirit, inspire me, and give me hope for humankind.

And for that I have tremendous gratitude! For you, I have tremendous gratitude.

To learn more about El Hogar, please visit our website at www.elhogar.org.

Notes From Honduras – September 2017

Before the Spanish arrived to colonize Honduras, the land was inhabited by a variety of indigenous tribes. Most prominently, the Mayans occupied the western region of Copán. Other indigenous tribes including the Lenca, Miskito, Tawahka, Pech, Tolupan, and Chortis were scattered throughout the country.

After a few “discoveries” in the early 1500s, Honduras was colonized in 1524 and under Spanish rule for the next three centuries.

On September 15, 1821, a declaration of independence was signed in Guatemala City and Honduras, along with the four other Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) were granted independence from Spain.

In Honduras and across Central America, all of September is celebrated as the Mes de la Patria (Month of National Celebration), beginning with Dia de la Bandera (Day of the Flag) on September 1st and Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) on September 15th. Schools, office buildings, and stores are decorated in blue and white representing the colors of the national flag of Honduras, and marching bands can be heard every afternoon around the country as they practice for the Independence Day parades.

All four of El Hogar’s centers participated in activities for Independence Day.

(Clockwise from the left) Fernanda, Patric, Estiven Emmanuel, Rony Estiven, Rony Lara, and other students from El Hogar’s Elementary School march in the 2017 parade celebrating Honduran Independence Day.

From the Agricultural School, some of the boys went into Talanga, the town close by, to watch the local parade. They also decorated their campus with the patriotic blue and white, as well as posters and murals of national symbols and heroes of their past.

Students from the Technical Institute participated in a parade with the elementary school in their town. Starting at the main highway, they marched the roads that lead to the Institute with a marching band, a pelotón (marching platoon), and the honor roll students. The streets were muddy from the rain the night before, but the boys toughed it out!

The elementary students marched in the local parade with the other 24 schools in their district. The marching band set the pace for the rest of the kids, which included the pelotón (marching platoon), palillonas (baton twirlers), and pomponeras (cheerleaders). Accompanied by the high school girls, the children marched in the hot morning sun and their band received an honorable mention from the judges.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – August 2017

On July 26, El Hogar hosted the science fair for all the schools in their area. Ten schools came to showcase their experiments, and the panel of judges, brought in from various universities, were to decide which projects would advance to the science fair for their school district.

In Honduras, there are four levels of competition for the science fair…

  1. All the schools in the zone (geographical area)
  2. The whole school district (which is comprised of various zones)
  3. The department (which is what we would refer to as the
    state or province)
  4. At a national level

The projects were split into two categories; Group 1 (Grades 1-3) and Group 2 (Grades 4-6). Representing Group 1 were Amy Kimberly (Grade 2), Estiven Emmanuel (Grade 3) and Fernanda (Grade 2), with the support of Profe Karen, Profe Karla and Profe Virginia. Their project was called “Tobacco and its Affect
on Health.” With plastic bottles as the lungs, they filled them up with smoke from a cigarette. As the smoke left the bottle, a yellow film was left on the surface, demonstrating the damage that cigarettes do to your lungs.

Amy, Estiven, and Fernanda – representing Group 1 – prepare to present their science fair project.

Representing Group 2 were Rene Gabriel (Grade 6), Yener (Grade 5) and Cristopher (Grade 4) with the support of Profe Heyser, Profe Siloé and Profe Gladys. Instead of the conventional natural science project, they chose to focus on the social sciences. Their project was called “Impact of the absence of parents in the behavior of children and adolescents at Hogar de Amor y Esperanza.” Designing a survey and choosing a random sample of children and parents, they asked questions related to the relationship with their parents, the frequency to which they received visits or phone calls, and their behavior. The conclusion that the students came up with was that not only is the frequency of visits important, but the quality of the visit as well. They also suggested that the parents should build up their skills so they could find employment to improve their situations at home.

The students from Group 1 presented well, but unfortunately didn’t win because they were one of two schools that demonstrated the same concept. Because of the creativity of their experiment, the students from Group 2 received an honorable mention and represented El Hogar at the science fair for the school district.

After advancing to the school district level science fair, the students from Group 2 won first place and for the first time will represent El Hogar and their school district at the science fair for the Department (State) of Francisco Morazan this month.

Yener, Cristofer, and Rene Gabriel with Profe Heyser and their first place trophy.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – July 2017

If you’ve come to El Hogar on a Service Team in the last couple of years, chances are you’ve been to Villa Olimpica. The Autonomous Sports Confederation of Honduras (CONDEPAH) regulates 40 sports disciplines in Honduras, many of which are headquartered at Villa Olimpica. The sports complex was built in the late 1980’s to accommodate the Central American Games and remained a public facility. The Honduran Olympic Committee Headquarters is also located there.

(Left) Julio César practices his pitching, while (Right) Gabriela and Gabriel practice taekwondo.

In 2016, CONDEPAH began a program that supports participation and skill development in sports for students in education centers like El Hogar. Since then, our students have been developing their skills in seven disciplines: taekwondo, judo, kickboxing, lima lama (all martial arts), table tennis, baseball, and of course, soccer. On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, the kids load onto the bus according to their sport and head to Villa Olimpica where their Honduran coaches are waiting for them. They practice martial arts, table tennis, and baseball, while also learning discipline, focus, and fitness. On Saturday mornings, the soccer team, which includes some of the students from the Technical Institute, practices and competes.

Through the collaboration between CONDEPAH and El Hogar, many of the children have had the opportunity to not only develop their skills, but to also develop their confidence by competing in tournaments against other students in Tegucigalpa and other cities, including Comayagua.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

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!

Notes From Honduras – June 2017

The students in fourth grade are curious. They ask a lot of questions. They like to investigate things. So Profesora Karla, the fourth-grade teacher, creates opportunities for them to foster their inquisitiveness.  Every two weeks, the kids do experiments in class. Their only instructions are to come up with an experiment with whatever materials they can find on campus. So…

…Roque and Keydi recreated the idea of the candle snuffer, learning that tapping a piece of plastic stretched over a cut soda bottle will be enough to push the air out and extinguish a candle.

…Ander, Cristian, and Darwin discovered that if you hold a balloon over a flame, it would explode easily. However, if you fill the balloon with water and hold it over a flame, it would not explode, nor would it heat up.

…Cristofer and Sergio mixed soda and salt to demonstrate the eruption of a volcano.

…Antony, Patric, and Genesis mixed soda with milk and discovered that, after time, the chemicals in the soda made the milk curdle, explaining that soda was not a good thing to drink!

The creativity and resourcefulness that the fourth-grade students demonstrate is a testament to the quality education that they receive at El Hogar. As the weeks go on, their experiments will only get more and more impressive!

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Notes From Honduras – May 2017

Reading offers a great many benefits to the development of children; building knowledge and vocabulary, improving concentration, and developing a sense of empathy and imagination.

Jim & Lynda Martin from Toronto, Canada, know this. They have been supporters of El Hogar since their first visit in 1989. They have made it possible for the children at El Hogar to be able to experience these benefits firsthand, with the construction of a new library.

Located in a shared space with Executive Director Matt Engleby’s office, the library has been open for a little over a month. Equipped with comfy couches, cushions, and books, books, books, the children can come enjoy some quiet time by themselves or with their friends. During their free time (and once they’ve finished with their responsibilities!) the children have the opportunity to lose themselves in a classic like Cienicienta (Cinderella) or laugh along with Diario de Greg (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Free to come and go whenever they can, the children themselves organize into groups and swap in and out so that the library is often full of children sprawled out amongst the furniture, books in their laps. On the day everything was set up, Matt brought a few children in to show them the library, and an hour and a half later they were still there; books that they had already read scattered on the floor and searching the shelves for something to read next.

Whether they come to explore the world of Charlotte in La Telaraña de Carlota (Charlotte’s Web), learn about El Mundo de Dinosarios (The World of Dinosaurs), or be entertained by Dr. Seuss, the library is one of the many ways that El Hogar works to foster bright young minds of tomorrow.

– Erika Skafel, Coordinator of North American Relations

Through the Eyes of an El Hogar Graduate

Liz Kinchen is El Hogar’s North American Executive Director. She’s provided the blog post below, which tells about her recent experiences with welcoming an El Hogar graduate, Daniel Benitez, to speak about his life and about the difference El Hogar made.

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This April, we had the privilege of hosting El Hogar graduate Daniel Benitez in the Boston area. Daniel has a fascinating and unique story, and he graciously shared it with our supporters over his ten-day stay with us.

El Hogar graduate, Daniel Benitez, visited the Boston area this past April to talk about the difference El Hogar made in his life.

We were so eager to take full advantage of the rarity of having an El Hogar graduate with us that I’m afraid we worked him to the bone, and scheduled him to speak at no less than six house parties plus a taped interview session. But Daniel was kind, gracious, generous, and humorous with everyone he met.

We heard about his early childhood selling vegetables and tortillas on the street to help his mother feed her six children, and the scarcity of school attendance while he did this work. I don’t imagine it was easy for Daniel to tell this over and over again. His fortune changed when his mother, with poignantly mixed feelings, brought him to El Hogar at age 11. This was the first door that opened for Daniel –  one that changed the course of his life.

Although he worried about how his family was getting along without him to help, Daniel slowly came to view El Hogar as his new, or additional, family. Daniel’s work ethic, positive personality, intelligence, and willingness to step into opportunity led the staff at El Hogar to recognize his potential – and more doors opened for him. An El Hogar teacher made sure Daniel was accepted into a program after leaving El Hogar, which prepared him for University. That program – the Micah Project – found funds for Daniel’s tuition while he attended one of the most prestigious agricultural universities in Latin America, Zamorano University.

A university degree in Agricultural Engineering led Daniel to internships in Honduras, England, and the United States. Which is what led Daniel to us. He had just finished a year-long internship in Iowa and was on his way back to Honduras to prepare for entrance exams to Purdue University, or another graduate program in the U.S. Daniel has been assured by professors at Purdue that there is a fully funded place for him there. More doors…

Clearly, Daniel is a success story. But he shared with many of us the darker story of his brother, Charlie. Charlie, another beloved El Hogar graduate with promise, was pursuing a university education in Honduras. Last year, Charlie’s doors were closed abruptly when a gang member’s bullet ended his life. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a city where violence so often goes unchecked.

Life is complicated and precarious in Honduras. This is exactly why Daniel’s long-term goal is to return to Honduras after graduate school in the U.S. He wants to help his country. He wants to teach and to start his own farm, and employ people. He wants to pass along the values he learned along his way, starting with his years at El Hogar. He wants to open doors for others. He wants to give back.

I have no doubt in Daniel’s ability to continue to walk through open doors, nor in his ability to open doors for others. His eagerness to help us help El Hogar was palpable. It was not just a delight, but a privilege to spend significant time with Daniel. He reminds me why I feel it is an honor to work with El Hogar. Daniel strengthens my hope and belief – belief in positive change, belief that effort expended does make a difference, and belief that what each one of us can do is made much greater with each other.

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Hear Daniel’s story in his own words by watching the video below:

To change the lives of children in Honduras, please donate today!