I sat with a small group of students recently, scanning through pictures to pass the time before dinner. Such reminiscing is a fulfilling experience, regardless of culture or background. Few of us truly enjoy the slide shows of others, their trips to foreign lands or nephew’s wedding, but those shared with our own families or friends seem to awaken in us an important recognition of relationships bound through history. I see the same dynamic in place when I travel to parishes that have served in Honduras. Teams often present their slide shows to the church to share with them the experience of life at El Hogar. I can always see in the eyes of the team members a radiance that binds them to each other, and a spirit that, while it can be shared, can never be fully translated in the viewing.
And so, as we clicked through the folder of pictures, I was embraced by the deep sense of relationships that came alive with each new photo. Clicking back through time, the small group rattled off the names of each child and squealed short biographical clips. Group pictures brought longer narratives as each pictured child was acknowledged with a fingerprint on my computer screen. Every so often, a photo would flash before us of a child no longer in our school. I looked at each face with regret and fear, maybe even embarrassment of failure or incompetence. But each child sitting with me moved through them with the same enthusiasm as any other picture, as if reminding me of that basic principle of all our relationships – that our separation does not diminish our responsibility.
I do look back with concern as I see some of the faces that have sunk below the horizon of our El Hogar world. Antony was a real spark of a boy, whose parents were both arrested and he found his way to us. He was a 6-year-old with a 15-year-old’s vocabulary. His gang infused expressions had us suppressing giggles as we gently guided him to more appropriate expressions of his feelings. Upon his mother’s release, he left us for a different future. Stephanie was the most loving and affectionate of children, with a real affinity for reading. As a first grader, she would pick up any book and sound out the story, word for word. It was a powerful image of hope to see her working her way through each word and easy to imagine her powering her way through the obstacles in Honduras. Her mother seemed to have found a job in another town and took Stephanie with her. And there is Angie, with us only a year after being rescued from an abusive house on the North Coast. A bright and thoughtful young girl, but with challenges beyond our abilities to adequately serve.
It is always hard to have children leave our program, even those who do so of their own accord or as a result of serious offenses against their community. (You can’t imagine the challenges that Lazaro, our Technical Institute Director, faces each year as the older boys feel the lure to leave behind the structure of school for the freedom of the street.) We know that what we offer them is almost always a better future than they may encounter elsewhere. And we grieve these losses. But we never really lose them. All of those who pass though the embrace of El Hogar remain a part of our family and part of our responsibility. A boy recently dismissed because of serious violations of school rules, is still expected to bring in his report cards from his new public school, so that we may monitor him and care for him; so that he may know that he has not been abandoned in a world where such is too common. That is how we are defined, not by how we care for the greatest, but how we care for the least – and El Hogar holds fast to her family, even those that we may not see.
About The Reverend Matthew Engleby
The Reverend Matt Engleby is the Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras. Prior to joining El Hogar in the spring of 2011, he served as a parish priest in New Jersey. Matt has had a long relationship with Central America, beginning with his years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. During his time as a parish priest, Matt worked with young people and led several mission teams to El Salvador. As Executive Director in Honduras, Matt spends half of his time in Honduras supporting the four centers, and half of his time traveling in the US and Canada speaking on behalf of El Hogar.