The children at El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, have lived through tragedies. Some grew up on crime-ridden streets where drugs and gangs are the norm for abandoned youths. Others spent days locked in their homes while both parents worked. Those who did see their parents regularly often found themselves toiling in fields or begging for change.
El Hogar, an orphanage and school for students in grades 1 through 6, has a special bond with schools in British Columbia. For five years now, B.C. kids have raised money for the project in Honduras. The children are all roughly the same age, but fate has dealt the two groups very different hands.
For example, Pizzacalla said, in December, Sentinel raised $5,200 for El Hogar. Instead of simply mailing a cheque, Rose contacted the orphanage and asked them what they needed. A request for 10 bunk beds came back and that’s where the money ended up going. When the Straight visited El Hogar in February, the beds were already in use.
“We’re breaking the poverty cycle,” Pizzacalla said with confidence.
Sentinel is far from the only B.C. school producing tangible results. Last Christmas, West Bay elementary school raised enough money to supply El Hogar’s 100 boarders with milk for an entire year. And in February, Chartwell elementary raised $1,000 for El Hogar that bought the school more bunk beds and food.
Rose claimed that UOF’s administration costs are an impressive zero percent. Volunteers like him work full-time for free. When Rose visits Honduras, he pays for the airline ticket. In Honduras, at El Hogar, nobody is making worldly salaries. Employees at the agricultural school largely live off of what the farm produces.
By the time street kids in Tegucigalpa enter El Hogar’s technical or agricultural school, many are old enough to be gang members. Some would have had to commit murder to pass street gangs’ harsh initiation tests. But as night fell on El Hogar Escuela Agricola, the teenage students played chess with one another and shared tiny amounts of candy with friends.
Sitting on the school’s steps, Kunz admitted that aid is not always effective, particularly in large development projects. But El Hogar is a grassroots organization, he noted. “We are dealing directly with the kids and with the communities.”
Kunz explained that with El Hogar, the focus is at the level of the community. “It’s about getting people on Sachs’s first rung of the ladder,” he said.
Jeffrey Sachs’s 2005 book The End of Poverty received widespread acclaim for its pragmatic arguments in favour of development aid. In the book, Sachs presented extreme poverty as a problem that could be solved by assisting the world’s poorest nations onto the “bottom rung” of the economic-development ladder. At that point, Sachs maintained, a country could enter the global economy and begin to independently take itself the rest of the way up the ladder.
Kunz described El Hogar’s efforts as applying Sachs’s thesis at a micro level. “Our project will not change the overall economic climate in Honduras,” he said, “but it has the potential to change the lives of the families involved forever.”
At the orphanage, Castro told the Straight the story of an 11-year-old girl named Elis. When she arrived at El Hogar, she was only six. Castro said that Elis wouldn’t play with the other children, so she gave the girl a doll. The gift was met with confusion.
“She told me that in her home, she was like a mom,” Castro explained. “Washing floors and cooking for her younger brothers and sisters.” Elis didn’t understand why anybody would want to pretend to raise a child. “She was a little one but she has been old,” Castro said.
At El Hogar, you see kids turn around, Castro continued. “It’s amazing when they go back to their community,” she said. “They look like different children.”
Rose and other UOF volunteers are bringing stories like Elis’s back from Honduras and sharing them with students at Sentinel and throughout B.C. Rose described the resulting enthusiasm as a favourite part of his work for UOF.
“We’re not talking about trivial amounts,” he said. “There’s nothing like watching what these kids can do.”
Travis Lupick was in Honduras as a recipient of the Seeing the World Through New Eyes fellowship, funded by the Jack Webster Foundation and CIDA.
Read more stories from his trip:
Doctored crops stir Latin American debate (April 16, 2009)
Exploring Peru in the shadow of the financial crisis (February 17, 2009)
Discovering "mass food production" in Honduras (February 13, 2009)
A walk through the poverty of Honduras (February 12, 2009)
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.