Harnessing the Hope of New Beginnings

February 13, 2020

By Denise Vargas, Executive Director of El Hogar in Honduras

“Why not live each day as if it were the first — all raw astonishment.”
– Linda Pastan

It’s a brisk February morning in Tegucigalpa, and suddenly, each campus is bursting with the sound of children greeting each other, laughing, filling the air with a sense of renewal. The beginning of a new school year in so many ways represents the rekindling of hope. This hope means something different to each member of the El Hogar family: the hope of a better future, of creating new opportunities, of achieving personal growth; the hope that our lives matter and that we belong somewhere. To me, hope is the ultimate freedom. As long as we can remain hopeful, our lives lean forward, as if propelled by a wind, ready to take a step ahead regardless of the terrain or the burdens that slow us down. Well beyond its name, hope is what El Hogar represents to so many–students, parents, relatives, teachers, staff, board members, and supporters. 

Elementary students wait during class on the elementary campus in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Hopelessness, in contrast, can lead to inaction through apathy or paralysis. These past few years, Honduras has faced alarming levels of poverty, corruption, and inequality, as evidenced by massive migration attempts both within the country and outside its borders. Witnessing these events, I would often find myself and so many of my peers burdened by a sense of helplessness, and the feeling that the problems are so complex and systemic that anything we do will have little impact. El Hogar proves that well-managed initiatives can truly improve countless lives, and that strategic actions can effectively rescue individuals out of poverty and loneliness. Therefore, in addition to improving the lives of so many children, El Hogar is a healing, positive source for our society by opening a path toward hope and service. Personally, El Hogar strengthens my hope that through this organization, by joining forces with an amazing array of partners and staff, together we can make a difference to benefit those in need, despite the challenges. 

And the challenges are many. 

During these past two months, I have devoted my time to learning about the organization´s history, as well as its current operations. No two days have been the same. I have visited students´ homes, attended community meetings with parents, observed classroom activities, and talked to children about their wishes and struggles. I am meeting regularly with campus directors to coordinate priorities, analyzing the budgeting and capital development needs, and identifying opportunities for incorporating technology in various areas of the organization. The challenge for any leader is tackling the everyday hurdles while looking ahead and asking the right questions. Along with a great team of devoted staff members, I will be working on two fronts at once: improving the efficiency of the current operations through managerial systems and organizational development, as well as envisioning a path toward an exciting future that remains loyal to the organization´s mission and values. It’s a vision that board members and previous Executive Directors, like Matt Engleby, and his predecessors have been nurturing throughout these past four decades. One critical element to the continued success of the El Hogar programs is the thorough integration of an entrepreneurial mindset as part of the 21st century skills to prepare students and the organization for a changing world. 

Denise visiting with some of El Hogar’s students on the elementary campus in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo courtesy of Denise Vargas)

A good portion of my time will be invested in strengthening connections and forming new alliances. I hope to have in-depth conversations with our generous supporters in North America who have contributed to the success of El Hogar for so many years, as well as to reach out to local allies in Honduras and Central America. My goal is to discover new ways that we can magnify our impact by joining efforts for the sake of the children.

As the first Honduran Executive Director, I hope to represent the will and potential of my fellow Hondurans to work in collaboration with local and foreign visionaries with a shared mission. I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead this organization. I cherish the resilience and dedication of all those involved, and hope to measure El Hogar’s success one positive story at a time. Every day, when I leave the office, I am reminded of the following quote: “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence,” by Lu Xun. I am looking forward to walking alongside so many wonderful people as we create new roads.

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