El Hogar: Love, hope and a road out of poverty

A reflection by Olden Warren

Olden Warren, center, plays with children at El Hogar. His daughter, Nia, is in the back, left.

Olden Warren, center, plays with children at El Hogar. His daughter, Nia, is in the back, left.

After a short trip from the airport, darting through the crowded streets of Tegucigalpa, our van stopped in the middle of a busy road. Our driver Raul started to frantically blow his horn. I wondered, “Why have we stopped here?” A few seconds later, my question was answered. A large metal gate slid open and we ducked inside, the gate closing quickly behind us. We had arrived at El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza, “The Home of Love and Hope”.

Although this was my first visit, I was familiar with the place. My daughter, Nia, had participated in both of the previous mission trips our Cathedral sponsored and she was accompanying me on this trip. Shortly after we returned from Honduras Nia would be heading off to start her new life as a college freshman, so I looked at the trip as an opportunity to spend some time with her before she left the nest.

I witnessed love from the moment we stepped out of the van. The children have become accustomed to the arrival of the volunteer vans, so a number of them were waiting for us. Shouts of “Guillermo!” were heard after our mission leader was spotted; “Guillermo” translates to “William” which is the name of our mission leader. Slocomb (as we know him) had been to El Hogar several times and the children remembered him – in fact, they seem to remember everyone who has been there before! Hugs and high-fives were exchanged as the children recognized members of the group who had been there before. Although I was new, I received hugs and handshakes from some of the more outgoing souls and a few holas from the curious ones. Once they found out that Nia was my daughter, I was quickly adopted into the family.

Although we were assigned typical mission tasks (i.e. painting, repairing, etc.) it was clear that our primary task was to give our love and attention to the children. Whenever the children were not in class, we were with them. Predictably, the boys wanted to play football (soccer) every waking moment! Anything was likely to become a soccer ball – a tennis ball, a can or even a small rock. This made our gift of a couple of soccer balls a huge hit. During the week we were able to coax them away from the soccer field to play some baseball and Capture the Flag. The girls tended to do more traditional activities like jumping rope and dancing, but they could also be seen kicking the ball around. I was sure some of them could give the boys a run for their money!

When the teachers arrived on campus, you could see both the love and respect that the children have for them. Teachers were greeted with the same hugs and handholding we experienced when we arrived. When it was time for instruction the children hurried into their classrooms and got down to business. I was able to spend some time in a math class where I was given the title of “Profesor” (teacher) and had the task of helping one of the boys with his assignment. Although I spoke no Spanish and he did not speak English, we figured out how to make it work.

Hope was abundant throughout the place. We read about the backgrounds of all of the children and some of them were brave enough to tell their own stories. Clearly, El Hogar was providing them with the opportunity for lives they could never attain otherwise, given the conditions from which they came. While we spent the majority of the week at the orphanage, we were able to visit the three other El Hogar campuses – a technical school, an agricultural school and a recently opened girls’ house. These campuses extend hope to teenagers after they complete their time at the orphanage, giving them the opportunity to learn a skill and eventually graduate from high school. El Hogar’s goal is to deliver them to college (which is free for Hondurans) to earn a degree which instantly elevates them to middle class.

One of our missioners used his connections with the US government to get us an invitation to visit the embassy in Tegucigalpa. We spent an afternoon talking with the political and economic directors about what we experienced at El Hogar. It was appropriate that we were visiting just as the crisis of thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the US border was making headlines. We offered El Hogar’s model as part of the solution to the poverty that has been driving people to our border. Maybe the love and hope that El Hogar has created for their children can be expanded – all fires start with a spark! Visit the El Hogar website (www.elhogar.org) to learn how you can help.

Olden Warren is a member of Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati.