Notes from Honduras – May ’22

May 30, 2022

More than a School

by Erika Skafel

When someone asks what El Hogar is, it’s hard to give a concise answer.  In short, we are an educational, residential and vocational program for students from 1st to 12th grade, with a dental program and a farm.  However, when you ask staff or students what El Hogar is, they answer ‘a home’ or ‘a family’.  However one defines El Hogar, it is clear that we are much more than a school.

El Hogar in itself is a family, and while some of the children live with us away from their homes, our dedicated team works to re-establish and strengthen our students’ relationships with their biological families, whenever possible.  Every student has a family, every family has a story.  Each story is unique and moving and underlines the importance of our work outside the classroom.

A few years ago, DINAF (Honduras’ child protection agency) brought a child to El Hogar whose mother faced some serious challenges that affected her ability to care for her children.  A few years after the child arrived at El Hogar, the mother passed away.  With that vital link to the child’s history gone, we had to fill in the gap.  The child was able to share vague memories, and we were able to find clues from neighbours, community members, DINAF, even social media. Using these bits of information, our social worker was able to find and contact the child’s paternal family.  This work of re-connection can be very delicate and must be approached carefully. Years had passed since the family last saw the child and there is no way of knowing what kind of trauma had occurred or what kind of interest the family had in a reunion.  Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending.

One Friday in late April the director and support staff got into the van and drove the three plus hours down the highway to the south of Honduras.  Winding down the mountains, the temperature kept rising until arriving in one of the hottest parts of the country.  With temperatures soaring over 37oC (99oF), a dry heat hits you like a brick wall once you step out of the cool air-conditioned van.  Using Google maps, making a few phone calls to the family on the way and still stopping to ask for directions, the director found the house and for the first time, she met the paternal aunt and grandmother of the child.  They welcomed the director into their home and began to show her pictures of the child from six years ago – the last time they saw her before their mother moved them away.  The grandmother shared that as soon as she received a call that her granddaughter was in Tegucigalpa, she immediately started saving money for the bus fare to the capital city.

A few weeks later, the aunt and grandmother used their bus fare and travelled to Tegucigalpa to have their first visit with the child.  They travelled the day before and stayed with a family member overnight so they could arrive early in the morning on the day of the visit.  They were bundled up as they waited at the entrance of El Hogar in the cool (28oC/82oF!) temperatures of the capital city.  Under the watchful eye of the director, they reunited with the child that they hadn’t seen in six years.  They sat together at a round table in the office and the grandmother showed her the same pictures she had shown the director.  The child asked ‘who was who’ in each picture, and her face lit up when she saw a picture of herself as a little child.  With tears in her eyes, the grandmother watched the look on the child’s face as she slowly remembered her family, her past.

The director and the social worker worked out a reunification plan with the grandmother and set up a schedule for phone calls, video calls and the next visit.  The child has spent many formative years at El Hogar, and will likely spend many more, but now she knows that while she has her family inside El Hogar, she also has the support and comfort of a strong family connection outside of El Hogar.  There are many facets to what we do, and we continue to strive to strengthen our children’s relationship with their families because nothing is as critical to a child’s sense of identity and sense of belonging than family.  We are much more than a school.

Thank you for your continued support of El Hogar!

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