The emergence of hope is an awesome spectacle
As the cooler weather settles in during the month of January here in Tegucigalpa, sometimes reaching lows around 50 degrees, the children of El Hogar will bundle up in sweaters and knit caps as they assemble for breakfast. While some of you in North America may not see temperatures reach highs of 50 until mid-June, this colder weather is a jolt for many of our children and runny noses seem to abound around the El Hogar campus.
During January and early February, as formal education remains in recess, a great deal of time is devoted to preparing for the next year’s arrivals. Many of you may be aware that the process for admission into the high school programs at the Technical Institute and the Agricultural School begins with an official application. The students that complete sixth grade at the elementary school campus only make up about one-third of the total enrollment for the freshmen classes at the Technical Institute and the Agricultural School. The rest come from around the country, from urban centers on the north coast and remote rural areas with one-room schoolhouses. Wonderful and surprising stories abound of how a child or parent heard of our school. It is often through the Episcopal network, but also through a less formal sharing that occurs when mothers meet on buses or at public markets. The reputation of El Hogar provides its own momentum, reaching lost or hopeless children where no other means of communication has access.
There is really only one vital criteria for admission into El Hogar projects as a student, and that is that they come from an environment of deep poverty. While students entering the high school programs will be evaluated for their academic ability, and at the farm school, for their ability to work in the fields, that evaluation doesn’t begin until we are aware of their need and desperation. So in the cold days of January, the directors devote their days to traveling to the homes of the children and interviewing the families and applicants. Not only is this an important verification process, but it initiates a new relationship between the family of El Hogar and the new student. Claudia, Lazaro, Yony, Norma, and Lydio visit homes throughout the country sharing our story and infusing it with new ones.
For the elementary school campus of Hogar de Amor y Esperanza, no official application process is ever initiated. Can you imagine the line that might extend through our gates if we had open application day? Ours is a network of concern and community that is the genesis of hope. A simple illustration may suffice, as Claudia’s scheduled appointment with the mother of two children turned into a full day of traversing the dusty hillsides around Tegucigalpa (yes, in high heels) and resulted in the admission of seven new children into the first grade.
The official home visit is kind of an inspection. We need some information, like the children’s ID numbers, any ID that a parent might have, any documentation of previous education, etc. The children will often be asked to do some basic level writing or math, to get a sense of ability, as well. Then we engage in the more subtle aspects of our work, the conversations about parenting and care, about desires and responsibility; about birth control, drug or alcohol use, employment and nutrition. It can seem invasive from an outsider’s perspective, yet often we are not only involved in the formation of a child, but also the restructuring of a family.
As we concluded our visit with this first family, and as the two boys were gleefully gathering a few possessions to take back to El Hogar, the mother asked if we could meet with her neighbor. Her neighbor, she said, was really poor, implying poorer than she was. We then met with a kind and passionate woman whose desperation was obvious in the slump of her shoulders. As she spoke, and, as it became clear that this was an opportunity that might rescue her children from similar desperation, the air lightened and her eyes lifted to meet ours. The emergence of hope is an awesome spectacle.
We engaged in the same process of information gathering with her and agreed to accept her children into El Hogar, even though her youngest, a daughter, wasn’t as gleeful as the boys before her. As we began to end our conversation, she suggested that we visit with her other neighbor, who was really poor. You can guess how that went. Three more children, ages 6 – 11, who had never been to school, would now be enrolled into first grade.
The day had to end then, as we had no more room in the vehicle. But it could have gone on much longer. Now, a month into the school year, we can see these children emerge from their reticence and engage. The eleven year old boy in first grade is wrestling with this embarrassment by engaging in an accelerated course of study to complete two academic years each year, maybe catching up with those of his own age. The emergence of hope is indeed an awesome spectacle.
El Hogar Projects, Honduras