Ping-Pong, Who Woulda’ Thought?
By the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras
Spoiler Alert: This is a feel good story, but without an ending.
I am reluctant to offer unbridled optimism to our donor community about our efforts in Honduras without some recognition of the realities of daily existence in this, and other parts of the developing world. I cannot simply tell you of the one child that is fed, clothed, and loved at our school without the reminder that there are twenty times as many that are hungry; that for every piece of metal soldered at the Technical Institute (ITSM), there are dozens of idle, unskilled, adolescent hands in Honduras unable to contemplate what lies ahead. As we are reminded of the great accomplishments taking place through El Hogar, we should be prodded continuously to serve more aggressively, engage in deeper learning, to contemplate more effective means of education, and to love as authentically as possible.
Like any other organization with which you may be involved, the pursuit of advancement is always dependent on funding. Advancement for us can come through efficiencies, but most often it comes by way of more funding. Specialized attention and programming is at a premium in countries like Honduras. Whether it is giving educational support for those with different learning styles or finding the means of supporting obvious talents, such requires capital that governments and NGOs simply don’t have. We always have to economize. I wish it were not so; I wish our children in Honduras could test into advanced math or place into AP history. But not any time soon. That makes the small successes of recognition and placement even more gratifying, and more motivating. An example that I cite on occasion is that of one of our high school boys who studies at the music conservatory and plays the trumpet – a trumpet borrowed from Lazaro Juarez, our Sub-Executive Director in Honduras and Director of ITSM. This student loves Arturo Sandoval and Dizzy Gillespie. A nice success, so far.
You may know that our primary age children have regular opportunities to receive sports training at the community center in Tegucigalpa. It just so happens that some are learning to play ping-pong and a few of them seem to have real potential. The girls barely see over the net, but demonstrate intense concentration, coordination, and rhythm. In my recent visit, we had eight girls in practice that morning, in an unventilated gym, being coached by some of the best ping-pong players in Honduras. Honestly, who would have thought? I spoke with the instructors, and later in the week watched these same instructors compete alongside our girls in a large tournament in Siguatepeque. The coaches spoke with admiration and optimism for the future of the grade school girls: scholarship, prodigy, Central American games. Those kind of thoughts come easier for us in North America, as we are familiar with the avenues for success for each of our uniquely talented children. But such optimistic dreaming doesn’t come easy for the poor in Honduras. There is no imaginable context in which Katherine Elizabeth (pictured) could ever have considered playing ping-pong, much less succeeding in it. Her only family is her grandmother, who lives in Danli, a couple hours outside of Tegucigalpa, and her options outside of El Hogar are the ones we don’t want to imagine.
Our experiences with visitors at El Hogar often involve the phrase: “why don’t you just…” Our visitors are used to navigating the channels of success in North America and see obvious pathways, but those are not at all obvious or easy in Honduras. So what struck me as being most powerful in my introduction to Honduran ping-pong was that the ones advocating for an optimistic future were the savvy, experienced Honduran coaches who have struggled themselves in the journey. A most powerful message of our success in Honduras is that of Hondurans working, walking, educating, mentoring, with Hondurans.
Coincidentally, upon our return from the sports arena, there was a large dental brigade – one not familiar with El Hogar – that happened upon our center to give gifts and toothbrushes. It was a whirlwind of selfies and handouts. I had only a couple of minutes with them before they boarded their bus with a police escort. In that short time I introduced them to Nora, a Honduran woman who serves as the full-time dentist to our children, who herself comes from what we might label a difficult background, but for most Hondurans is normalcy. In introducing Nora and highlighting our own clinic, my point wasn’t to be ungrateful, but to help the team visiting us for such a brief time to realize that what is most valuable to the growth of children at El Hogar is that they see themselves as the means of opportunity and life.
It is through the varied and colorful world of professionals that educate them, care for them, love them, and inspire them, that they will become professionals in their own right. And maybe even Olympic ping-pong players for Honduras. ■
Your Estate Planning and El Hogar
Estate planning can be looked at in the same way as gardening; you plant a seed that eventually grows larger and provides benefits at harvest. At El Hogar, we recognize how important it is to leave a lasting legacy, particularly one that makes the lives of others better. Remembering El Hogar in your estate plans helps to ensure that our work in Honduras will continue to shape the lives of extremely impoverished children and young people.
This year, we will be introducing our new planned giving program – The Legacy for Hope Society. Many of our donors have indicated that they intend to remember El Hogar in their estate planning, and we know how important it is to formalize these plans. As a member of the Society, you will be a part of something important and lasting – a program working to break the cycle of poverty within the lives of young people, as well as within their communities and the country of Honduras.
Please watch for information later this year and take steps toward becoming a part of The Legacy for Hope Society. ■
Maraton 2017 in Honduras
El Hogar’s students recently had the opportunity to get out into the surrounding community for some fun and exercise as part of their annual Maraton event.
This is a fundraiser, which is planned by staff members from the Elementary School, that’s held in Tegucigalpa. It gives businesses and community members an opportunity to support the work that El Hogar is doing in their own backyard. And of course, the kids — and staff members — have a great time walking or running with their friends as they compete to see who is the fastest.
El Hogar and DINAF: Working Together for Children in Honduras
By the Rev. Matthew Engleby, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras
Direccion de Ninez Adolescencia y Familia (DINAF) is the Ministry responsible for the well-being of children and families in Honduras. Until recently, the agency has struggled for credibility and funding to provide oversight of the vulnerable populations in Honduras. Changes in the organization have taken place gradually over the past couple of years, culminating in a cabinet level organization within the Honduran government. This elevation of stature has allowed for the implementation of new policies and clearer guidelines in the care of children. The most significant policy change that affects El Hogar is the adoption of new regulations for residential facilities caring for vulnerable children, passed by congress in December of 2016.
The new policy effectively mirrors that of other developing countries and is almost completely based on the model advocated by UNICEF. Issues regarding children have been extensively studied by UNICEF, which has published guidelines for child protection, care and advocacy, and these guidelines may be found online.
The primary motivating principal for the emerging policy is a “family first” policy. It is a guiding principal of UNICEF and, by extension, DINAF that young children should be with their family, if at all possible. The considerable research is clear that it is better for the long-term development of a child to live with their family rather than in a residential facility. While many children in our lower school have no families to return to, the majority of children in our center have at least one parent living in country. It is now the law that a child cannot be admitted into our center without that child being registered through DINAF and without DINAF supporting that placement. So DINAF will authorize the placement of children who cannot stay with their families. Poverty alone is not considered a reason to place a child in a program like El Hogar. DINAF will monitor the home situations of all children it places with us. As soon as conditions have improved sufficiently, that child will go home to live with their family.
Our primary school has had a positive and long-standing relationship with DINAF, and we are working closely with them in the transitional process. El Hogar is now one of DINAF’s Alternative Care facilities. DINAF has begun placing children who come through its agency with El Hogar, although we can refuse children who may prove disruptive or inappropriate for our school. This is a change for us. For many years children came into our care through our national reputation and our network of legal and religious organizations. Now, all our students are registered with DINAF and DINAF has greater control over how long they stay with us.
We are still adjusting to this new dynamic and are trying to determine the degree to which our center may be affected, but we are seeing a higher turnover of students in the Elementary School at El Hogar, as DINAF works to reunite our students with their families. El Hogar certainly wants to do what is best in the lives of children and we will work cooperatively with DINAF. For those children who need a safe place to live and learn, El Hogar will continue to have open doors, no matter how long or short a child is with us.
In the end, we are in accord with the “family first” policy but we await clarity on the actual day to day implementation. While this may present some difficulties for us in the short term, we see even greater opportunities for El Hogar in broadening our outreach to support mothers/families in their transition out of poverty. ■
A Lifetime of Service: A Memory That Still Inspires
By David Winsor, former Co-Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras
The news of John Rohde’s death on April 13th evoked both enormous sadness and palpable gratitude. He and his wife, Jocie, served as Co-Executive Directors of El Hogar in Honduras from 1987-1996. Our sadness was inescapable because John embodied a significant number of values and virtues that are worthy of imitation. Now, that living presence is no longer with us. Our gratitude is immense because we see all around us at El Hogar today evidence of his wise decisions, and boys (now men) whose lives were nurtured and redirected toward fulfillment.
Having spent considerable time in John’s company over the years when I visited El Hogar and on the occasions he came to preach in parishes I served, some striking features stand out. There was the depth of his passion to love and serve practically and concretely that was fashioned by his deep faith. To follow John around the El Hogar properties and experience how he treated the children with respect, you felt blessed to witness how meaningful that was for them. For some, it was their first experiences of interacting with a truly caring and compassionate adult male. What a wonderful example!
Listening to John speak, it quickly became evident he was whole-heartedly devoted to making El Hogar a loving community that would affirm the uniqueness and potential of every child, step up to challenges that may prevent that being realized, rise to the demands of a changing society rather than to accept the status quo, and be guided by a greater purpose.
When meeting him, you could sometimes be struck by John’s stoic demeanour. Once you truly got to know him, you would learn that this came from a discipline that established dignity, a deep, firm love that was restless for humanity to reach their potential, and an unending desire to foster a loving community.
As it was written about John the Baptist, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Like his namesake, our John’s legacy still serves and his memory continues to inspire. ■