A New Vision for El Hogar
By the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director in Honduras
It was in the early winter of 2014 that El Hogar took the first official steps to reimagine our future.
Prior to that establishment of a formal strategic planning committee, we had many informal conversations. In these, we wrestled with our aspirations for an improvement in programming, but in a manner that did not simply increase the demand on our donor base. I am quite proud to share our vision for the future of El Hogar with you. This vision, as you will see, was built on the solid foundation of our 37 years of service in Honduras, and takes advantage of our experience and wisdom. It was created in a manner that was wholly collaborative and honest, bringing together all members of our community, directors, teachers, board members, clergy, students, donors, and international advisors. We are enthusiastic to embrace this new future. We can now advance programming for the most vulnerable boys and girls in Honduras so that every graduate from our coed, self-sustaining high school may find full-time employment or enroll immediately into a university. And do so at an operating expense that is twenty percent lower than our present budget.
The journey began with the directors of our centers in Honduras gathering for three days of conversation, brainstorming, and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities, Threats) Analysis (ADOA in Spanish). In early March of 2014, at a quiet retreat hotel in Copan, Honduras, we dreamed big; imagining all that would best serve the children in Honduras. We then immersed ourselves in details, and worked to determine what was inhibiting our implementation of a better offering for our children. We also spent a morning on a zipline to be entertained, but also to contemplate how we might address our fears of change. Out of this weekend came the first and most basic principle of our plan. We knew that we need to provide a complete education for all our children, but in order to do so, we must reorganize our program to be fiscally and operationally efficient.
As you might imagine, this process did not move at light speed. We have many moving parts and recognize that any changes being considered would affect a very vulnerable population. Over the next two years, we had numerous meetings in Honduras and the United States, not to mention countless video conferences. In June of 2014, a subcommittee of El Hogar’s North American board came to Honduras and spent two full days reviewing financial information and projections, academic curriculum, and real estate prices. It was at this meeting that we came to terms with the reality that our future could not sustain the multiple campuses that we were currently operating. The future of El Hogar, if we are to grow and mature, required consolidation.
The idea of consolidation introduced a new set of challenges. Most of the work in 2015 addressed what would become the options under consideration. Should we consolidate all the existing centers into one center? If so, where? One of our existing sites?
Or, should we consider the purchase of a new property and build from scratch? Could we sell our existing properties and how might that finance our transition? We had to consider site location and the impact on our staff, educators, and students. Given the wide offerings of our present middle schools at the Technical Institute (ITSM) and the Agricultural School (EAAYE), what would a complete high school curriculum entail and how would that be staffed?
So, we priced it out. We calculated the personnel required for the scenarios considered. We considered who might not transition to each campus scenario, and what that meant financially and operationally. We diagrammed the space needs for each scenario and engaged architects to provide accurate costs for new construction – based upon accepted norms for occupancy in child care operations like ours. Real estate professionals evaluated our properties and offered estimates. All this was contemplated as our programs in Honduras maintained consistency for the children and staff in Honduras, and as El Hogar’s North American office in Massachusetts worked long hours to support operations and share our story.
By June of 2016, we were incredibly close to signing off on our final plan, when the decision was made to go to Paraguay. Over the course of our deliberations, we had achieved a plan that significantly reduced operational costs and improved programing. And that was exciting. But the plan left in place our total dependence on North America contributions for operational funding, which is not a sustainable plan. Through a contact with one of our board members, we were introduced to Martin Burt, the Director of Fundacion Paraguaya.
This expansive organization in Paraguay supports everything from microloan programs to women’s co-ops. They nurture residential health initiatives, and train educational institutions to become self-sustaining. A small group of board members, advisors, and El Hogar staff from North America and Honduras visited the center in Paraguay. We came away with a new approach to establishing a high school program that isn’t simply self-sustaining, but one that is infused with an entrepreneurial mindset. One whose graduates are well-prepared to enter into the work force or university. I would encourage you to visit the website of Fundacion Paraguaya (www.fundacionparaguaya.org.py) to learn more – the site is in both English and Spanish.
Now, over three years from that first meeting, we will take the first steps toward the establishment of our self-sustaining coed high school. Our plan is that with the opening of the 2020 school year, we will have a new high school program on our current Agricultural School campus in Talanga. This will be a first-rate academic program for boys and girls in grades 7-12. This will result from the combining of our three existing high school programs onto one site. We will continue to offer the current technical programs from ITSM, and will add a more advanced technical track for newly established grades. In combining the three programs into one, we can offer more in-depth education, with better student to teacher ratios, at a considerable operating savings. Our goal will be the 100% placement of our graduates into the university or full-time employment, and for the high school to be self-sustaining by 2025.
This November and December, we will take the first steps to put our theory into practice. At the end of the 2017 academic year at EAAYE, we will close the property for academic purposes and only retain the personnel needed to manage it for income generation. All students will be offered placement at ITSM to complete their education, with continued courses and work in agriculture. In addition, we will begin our offering of a high school program to those 9th grade graduates of ITSM and EAAYE in 2018. In February 2018, we will introduce 10th grade classes for boys, and in 2019 we will offer 10th and 11th to both boys and girls. In 2020, we will move back to Talanga for the full high school program.
During this period, we will bring on new staff who are necessary to the self-sustaining methodology and train them, and others, with the Fundacion Paraguaya model. We will also begin to put our excess properties on the market so that we can fund as much as possible though our internal activities. And we must immediately begin designing a campus that embodies the El Hogar culture and history.
While most of these changes affect our high school programming, we continue to work creatively at our primary school. We will address the recent governmental changes related to child welfare (discussed in our Spring/Summer 2017 newsletter) creatively, and we anticipate expanding our work with primary school children and their families.
There is a passionate vision being lived out within our El Hogar community. That passion extends from the directors in Honduras, who recognize what must be relinquished in order to better serve; to those who labor in North America on a daily basis advocating on behalf of the children in Honduras; to the Board of Directors who anguish over expenses, but aspire for success; to you our donors, who recall the faces and stories of children far away as if they were part of your own household. It is this true community that will lead us toward a new vision, where we can serve these most vulnerable in the best way possible. ■
El Hogar’s 2017 Graduation Ceremonies
November marks a pivotal time each year for us at El Hogar. It’s when we celebrate our graduating students, as well as those who are moving from our elementary program to our secondary programs.
For our Agricultural School and Technical Institute graduates, this year marks an exciting time for them as they leave El Hogar with the skills and knowledge they’ve gained. Many graduates want to help their families, and continue their education, including attending University.
For students transitioning from our Elementary School, they now begin a new phase of their lives at El Hogar. It was a great way to end another school year!
A Graduation Years in the Making
By Jason Lang, Manager of Marketing and Communications
It’s been said before, but bears repeating — education is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, access to education for girls in developing countries is far from guaranteed.
The Global Partnership for Education states the following: “Girls are 1.5 times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school. That’s 15 million girls of primary school age who will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school, compared to about 10 million boys.”
That’s the kind of educational inequality that El Hogar has been working against since 2007.
That year, we expanded our program and welcomed in our first group of girls. Starting in elementary school, these girls grew up to be intelligent and talented young women. They attended a well-respected high school in Tegucigalpa and could regularly be found on the honor roll. This month, four of those girls graduated from high school, and we marked a major milestone for them and our program.
The four girls — Ana Raquel, Elibe Angelli, Iris Aracely, and Lisbeth Celenia — were honored on November 11 during El Hogar’s Elementary Clausura ceremony in Tegucigalpa.
There was a flood of emotions that filled the room as the four girls were called onto the stage to be congratulated. Two of them — Iris Aracely and Lisbeth Celenia — spoke about how much El Hogar and the support they’ve received from their extended family has meant to them. Tears were shed as Claudia Castro, the Elementary Director who had watched and guided these girls as they’ve grown up, hugged each of them with the tenderness of a mother.
Though they are no longer El Hogar students, their education is far from over. Beginning in 2018, all four of them are planning to attend university in Honduras. Ana will work toward becoming a physician; Lisbeth wants to become a psychologist; Iris will be studying business; and Elibe plans to attend a military academy.
These four young women have a world of possibilities in front of them. But no matter the paths their lives may take, one thing is certain. The education they’ve received from El Hogar — made possible by our donors — is a life-changing gift that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. ■