As I write this, I’ve only been back from Honduras for a matter of hours. The sights, smells and stories of the children of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are so fresh in my mind that the developed world I live in seems like the fantasy while the developing world of Honduras seems like the reality.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when flying into the country with the highest murder rate in the world. But there I was, landing in Tegucigalpa with my entire family. The city is in the mountains. From the tiny airplane windows, it looks beautiful. Gorgeous mountain ranges with trees as far as the eye can see. After we land, I realize that it’s hot. It’s overcrowded. It’s loud. There are guards with semi-automatic weapons in front of stores. There are wild dogs with protruding ribs that you can’t pet for fear of rabies. There are shacks comprised of random pieces of wood and corrugated metal with dirt floors that are people’s homes. There are tiny children begging in the streets. There are adults begging. People look at you as you pass them on the streets with eyes filled with despair. And then there’s El Hogar.
For those of you who don’t already know, El Hogar is an Episcopal school and home that has been serving impoverished children in Honduras since 1979. Although they get support from many different funding sources, the people and the congregations of the Diocese of Southern Ohio are among their largest supporters.
El Hogar is completely surrounded by an immense wall. On top of the wall is a chain link fence. On top of the chain link fence is barbed wire. These precautions are not to keep the children in, but to keep strangers out. When you pull up to the gate and beep your horn, a guard looks to see who you are and then opens the gate for you. Once inside the walls of the El Hogar compound, the gates shut behind you and then there is a sense of peace and welcome.
That’s not to say there isn’t chaos and commotion associated with a hundred happy smiling children all wanting your attention, but these happy children’s faces are as close to seeing the face of God that I’ve ever experienced. Erika Skafel, who is on the staff of El Hogar, said to us the first day, “there’s a lot of happiness within these walls.” I’m not sure that any truer words have ever been spoken.
There is happiness and hope everywhere you look at El Hogar. Up to this point, I’ve only been talking about the elementary school, which is in downtown Tegucigalpa. There are three other El Hogar locations with different programs for the children after they graduate from elementary school. There is a girl’s program where they attend high school, and there are two boy’s programs; an agricultural school and a technical school.
Since my return from El Hogar, there are so many stories I keep thinking about. One story that has remained at the top of my mind is Gabriel’s story. René Gabriel came to El Hogar when he was seven. He and his older brother had been living on the streets, collecting plastic to recycle for money and eating whatever they could find. Gabriel’s older brother has severe learning disabilities and other special needs. At age seven, Gabriel was his sole caregiver.
A gang was trying to lure young Gabriel in, promising protection and a home for him and his brother. But Gabriel knew, even at seven years old, that he didn’t want the lifestyle of being in a gang. Thankfully, Gabriel had heard about El Hogar on the streets so he made the decision to try to get himself and his brother in.
He found out where El Hogar was and he and his brother walked for miles to reach it. He knocked on the gate until the guard heard them and let them in. El Hogar took Gabriel and his brother in. If you’d go to El Hogar today, five years later, you’d hardly believe this was a kid who had been living out of dumpsters when he was seven. Today, all you would see was a happy, confident, and capable young man with a broad smile who mentors the younger students and has a knack for sensing whenever anyone needs help with anything. He is the most capable boy I have ever met. You’d see a young man with a bright future who wants to study history and be a mathematician. There is no doubt in my mind that he will accomplish anything he sets out to do.
El Hogar would be an incredible place if it were just for Gabriel’s story alone, but its not just Gabriel’s story. It’s Juan’s story, it’s Anna Nicole’s story, it’s John Carlos’ story, it’s Yener’s story and the stories of thousands of other children who have been passed through El Hogar and been given hope, love and a bright future for nearly 40 years. El Hogar is truly the presence of Christ in Honduras.
See more of David’s photos from El Hogar
David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.