Meet an Amigo ~ Zack Fier (2016-2018 ADJ Volunteer)

  Mr. Zack with the three students in his 9th grade math class. 

Mr. Zack with the three students in his 9th grade math class. 

Mr. Zack has been volunteering with Amigos de Jesús for the past two years. His various passions including space, Spanish, driving, and religion, as well as his general zeal and excitement for life, have impacted the ‘hogar’ in a special way.  Further, Mr. Zack's desire to do whatever is necessary to make our kids happy, coupled with his love of telling jokes and speaking Spanish, have made him a friend and support for all of the children, adults, and fellow volunteers at our home. Whether it’s “his” girls in ‘hogar’ 1 wanting to play or hang out with him, some of the ‘jóvenes’ he spends time tutoring searching him out at all hours for help with their math classes, one of his new ‘colegio’ math students coming up to him asking questions about homework, or a coordinator relaying and exchanging information with him, someone is always yelling Mr. Zack’s name the second he steps outside. 

Read more about Mr. Zack in his interview below:

  1. Age:    24
  2. Hometown: Laguna Niguel, CA
  3. University: The University of Arizona
  4. Degree: BS Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics Minor

5. What is your role at Amigos? (include roles that you currently have and previously had)

I’m in my second year as an Amigos volunteer and my main job title this year is Volunteer Coordinator. I live and work with the other Amigos volunteers in community and serve as a point of contact between our volunteer community and the rest of Amigos.

I feel like one of the things I’ve become most known for around the hogar (home) is being the math tutor. Ever since my first year I’ve been helping out with homework and studying 1-on-1 with the jóvenes (our boys from middle school up to college).

I also have a couple jobs at the school. A few months ago I became the 7th and 9th grade math teacher for our new middle school at Amigos. Additionally, for the last year and a half I’ve been giving an astronomy class roughly once a week to a group of older students as part of our after-school-activities program.

  Mr. Zack and one of the 'jovenes' taking out trash on a Saturday morning.

Mr. Zack and one of the 'jovenes' taking out trash on a Saturday morning.

In the hogar, a new role I’ve picked up in my second year is helping out with driving. With only a few drivers at Amigos for all our kids and staff, getting my Honduran driver license has been very useful for Amigos and has kept me very busy. I’ve also earned the official position on Saturdays of being the Amigos “trash man” where I take one of the trucks with a group of kids around Amigos emptying the trash bins.

6. What were you doing before you came to Amigos?

Before coming to Amigos I was a student at The University of Arizona studying mechanical engineering. I graduated in May 2016 and came down to Amigos a couple weeks after.

7. How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?

About a year before I came to Amigos, I started looking up organizations where I could volunteer abroad. It was hard to find a place to volunteer because almost all international volunteer positions require a 2-year commitment. At the time I could barely imagine being gone for a full year, so I was automatically ruling out all 2-year programs.

While I was searching my mom suggested I looked up places where I could incorporate my Catholic faith into my volunteer experience. That’s when I began researching different volunteer opportunities on the Catholic Volunteer Network. I was specifically looking for 1-year programs and the first option for Central America was Amigos de Jesús. I started researching Amigos, falling in love with their mission and the idea of becoming part of the Amigos family. It’s funny now how one of the reasons I found Amigos de Jesús was because it didn’t require a 2-year time commitment, but after coming here and falling in love, here I am writing a blog in my 2nd year as a volunteer.

8. What made you decide to stay for a second year?

I remember in my first year, just a couple months in as a volunteer, there was the annual Amigos music festival, 'Festival de la Canción,' where the kids get to dress up and perform and sing on a stage in front of everybody. I had an incredible time and after the event ended all I could think of was how this could not have been the first and only time I was going to take part in this event. Something inside me was already saying that maybe I was meant to stay at Amigos longer than a year. The blessing was that this feeling was very natural and I was perfectly at peace with it. My first year continued on with this idea always present in my mind. When the deadline came to extend your term of service I sent in my request to stay a 2nd year. Now that I’m towards the end of my 2nd year (I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone) all I can say is that staying a 2nd year has been the greatest decision of my life.

  Posing for a photo on a birthday walk with two sisters.

Posing for a photo on a birthday walk with two sisters.

9. What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the Volunteer Coordinator role has been being a voice for our volunteer community and being a communicator between the volunteer community and all the other areas of Amigos. Although at times it can be difficult, I like being the person who is responsible for the Amigos volunteers and someone Amigos can depend on. I love how my job requires having meetings with the head people of the different areas of Amigos because through those meetings I’ve been able to see how blessed Amigos is for having such an incredible leadership team down here in Honduras.

10. How have the ‘jóvenes’ (older boys) shaped your time at Amigos? 

The 'jóvenes'  have been a big part of my volunteer experience. I’ve loved being able to spend time with a group of guys who are around my age, especially so when I was the only male volunteer. What I have taken very seriously when I spend time with them is setting a good example.

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I think spending almost 2 years with the 'jóvenes' has deepened my understanding of Amigos and these childrens' lives. You can spend as much time as you want with the younger kids at Amigos but you’re never going to get into a conversation about life with the depth that you can with the 'jóvenes.' Being able to get to know them on a different level than I can with the younger kids and seeing the strength of their bonds with each other have been a couple powerful ways they´ve influenced me as a volunteer.

11. Can you talk about the importance of being a healthy male figure in a girls dorm and how your relationship with the girls in 'hogar' 1 has grown over time?

When a volunteer begins their term of service at Amigos, they are assigned to be the "volunteer" of an 'hogar.' The volunteer eats meals with this 'hogar' and they often form a close relationship with its kids and caretakers. When I came, I was assigned to a girl’s 'hogar' ('Hogar' 1) and have been with them my entire time as a volunteer.

In the girls’ 'hogares' only 'madrinas,' in other words women, can serve as their caretakers. Although I don’t have the responsibilities of their caretakers, being part of a girl’s 'hogar' and being a consistent and healthy male presence in their daily lives over the past 2 years to me has been a reason in and of itself for making all my time down here worth it.

The girls of 'hogar' 1 hold an exceptionally special place in my heart. My time down here as a volunteer wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for them. From the beginning, my relationship with 'hogar' 1 started off really well. My relationships with the girls and their 'madrinas' have been developing during my 2 years and I can’t express the deepness of my love for them all. I never could have imagined before coming to Amigos how much I would come to love these girls. It keeps getting better. They have been the biggest blessing for me at Amigos and although it will be incredibly painful saying goodbye to them when my time as a volunteer ends, the beautiful part is that I will be able to come back to visit them and continue watching them grow up.

  Mr. Zack and one of our 'jovenes' pose for a photo after both of them passed their written and manual driving test in Santa Rosa. The two spent many hours practicing driving, parking, and studying before finally taking the test and getting their Honduran driver's license.

Mr. Zack and one of our 'jovenes' pose for a photo after both of them passed their written and manual driving test in Santa Rosa. The two spent many hours practicing driving, parking, and studying before finally taking the test and getting their Honduran driver's license.

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With several of the girls in his 'hogar' that Mr. Zack is close with.

  Mr. Zack with the girls and 'madrinas' of 'hogar' 1. 

Mr. Zack with the girls and 'madrinas' of 'hogar' 1. 

Meet an Amiguito ~ Alanzo*

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Alanzo* is one of the sweetest children you will come by. His quiet nature makes him a calming presence in any situation, but don’t be mistaken his shy nature! Alanzo is always ready to go on any kind of adventure and will help you with anything you need to get done. He is friendly to everyone, but is especially well known and adored for the close relationship he has with his younger sister who also lives here at the ‘hogar.’ The two are often seen talking and spending time together whenever possible. We are so very happy to have Alanzo as a part of our family.

Read below to learn more about Alanzo:

  1. Age: 12
  2. Birthday: August 15th 
  3. Grade/School: Level 2 of EducaTodos 
  4. What is your favorite part about school? English class with Miss Rachel (2016-17 ADJ Volunteer) because it is fun.  
  5. What is something interesting that you have learned recently in school? In Natural Sciences, we learned about the muscles and were they are in the body. 
  6. What do you like to do in your free time? I liked to play marbles with my friends. I like to play because I'm good at hitting marbles the right way so I can win.
  7. What do you want to do after high school and university? I want to plant things and work with the earth.   
  8. Do you have siblings here at Amigos? How many? I have one sister who is 8 years old.  
  9. What are you grateful for at Amigos de Jesús? I'm thankful for the family love I get here and for the safety. 
  10. What is your favorite part of Amigos de Jesús? The cross because of what it symbolizes. 
  11. What do you like to do with the volunteers/your 'padrinos'? I like to go on walks and look at the animals in 'agro.' 
  12. Who is your favorite person at the 'hogar'? Padrino Elder (one of the 'padrinos' in his dorm) because he is calm.   
  13. How would the world be different in animals could talk? It wouldn't be better.  
  14. What is something your 'padrinos' and 'madrinas' always tell you? To behave well.
  15. What's the best gift you've ever been given? My bike because I can exercise with the bike.
  16. What's the hardest part about being a kid? School and having to study.
  17. Favorite animal: Cats
  18. Favorite song: Happy happy happy
  19. Favorite color: Blue
  20. Favorite food: Chicken
  21. Favorite movie: How to Dragon Your Dragon
  Alanzo and his younger sister during Día del Niño (Children's Day) in September of 2017.

Alanzo and his younger sister during Día del Niño (Children's Day) in September of 2017.

  Always ready for an adventure, Alanzo shows off some of the fish he recently caught in the stream.

Always ready for an adventure, Alanzo shows off some of the fish he recently caught in the stream.

  During Three King's Day, or Epiphany, this year, Alanzo and his younger sister played the part of Mary and Joseph. Here they pose with a friend.

During Three King's Day, or Epiphany, this year, Alanzo and his younger sister played the part of Mary and Joseph. Here they pose with a friend.

  The Nativity Scene acted out by several of our children during Three King's Day this January. 

The Nativity Scene acted out by several of our children during Three King's Day this January. 

  Alanzo, lifted up by Padre Patricio and one of the older boys he chose to be his godfather, following his baptism this year during 'Semana Santa' (Holy Week). 

Alanzo, lifted up by Padre Patricio and one of the older boys he chose to be his godfather, following his baptism this year during 'Semana Santa' (Holy Week). 

  Playing soccer with one of the boys in his dorm.

Playing soccer with one of the boys in his dorm.

Meet the Amigos ~ The University Boys

At Amigos, we currently have 10 young men attending four different universities in two different cities. 'Los universitarios,' or the university boys, as we affectionately refer to them, are a unique and important part of our family. After growing up at Amigos, these 10 young men have decided to continue their education and challenge themselves daily as they work to build a future for themselves. Studying during the week and returning several weekends a month to help around the ‘hogar’ and simply be with our family, these ‘big brothers’ are a wonderful example to all of our younger children on how to overcome the challenges live gives you and to always aspire to be the best person you can be. We are continually proud of their achievements, their personal and academic growth, and the love they shower on our family. ¡Los queremos!

Adonis

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  1. Age: 20 
  2. University: Universidad Católica de Honduras
  3. Degree: Medicine and Surgery
  4. Why are you studying medicine?: I am studying medicine because I want to be able to help other people that need help, like I will need help one day, without hoping to receive anything in exchange.

Cristian

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  1. Age: 19
  2. University: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras 
  3. Degree: Systems Engineering 
  4. Why did you choose to study engineering?: To help here at Amigos with what I learn. I like engineering a lot and I could help here at the ‘hogar’ once I finish studying. 

David Sosa

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  1. Age: 24
  2. University: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras  
  3. Degree: Mechanical Engineering 
  4. Why did you choose to study that?: I like how machines work and I want to learn more about that and work in that area in the future. I would also like to teach engineering classes.

Eduardo

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  1. Age: 21
  2. University: Pedagógica Francisco Morazan   
  3. Degree: Natural Sciences
  4. Why do you want to be a teacher?: I would like to be a teacher so that I can educate and share what I have learned with other children and teenagers 

Elvis

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  1. Age: 22
  2. University: Universidad Pedagógica de Honduras  
  3. Degree: Hotel and Tourism Studies  
  4. Why did you choose to study that?: I would like to be able to get to know the world, history, culture, to go to other places, to be able to meet and connect with other people, and maybe even be a volunteer somewhere. After my first year of university, I would also like to study English. Let’s say, in the future, I go to another country. Knowing English, I could tell others about the life I’ve had and all that. I could tell about Honduras, my story, and how I came to be where I am today.

Joan

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  1. Age: 19
  2. University: Universidad Católica de Honduras  
  3. Degree: Architecture  
  4. Why did you choose to study archituecture?: As a child, I loved to draw and I liked looking at the designs of houses. When I was younger, I always spent time watching what Jeffery, who was an architect and volunteer here for a while, did and I tried to help. Watching him inspired me.

Jose Luis

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  1. Age: 25
  2. University: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras
  3. Degree: Computer Science  
  4. Why did you choose to study computer sciences?: I would like to work in a high school and teach computer classes. I'd especially like to be able to do that because I hear that eventually there is going to be a high school at Amigos and I could help teach at the 'hogar.' Outside of Amigos, I would like to work at a company in business management. 

Josue Yair

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  1. Age: 21
  2. University: Universidad Católica de Honduras  
  3. Degree: Medicine and Surgery  
  4. Why are you studying medicine?: I am studying medicine because I want the knowledge and wisdom necessary  to know how to cure people who are sick, especially to be able to help cure the illnesses of those people that most need help. I want to travel around the world helping other people who need it with the skills I have in medicine and through that, I'd also have the privilege to know other cultures and people. Above all, however, I want to help Honduras.

Medardo

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  1. Age: 27
  2. University: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras
  3. Degree: Public Accounting and Finances 
  4. Why did you choose to study that?: I would like to teach other people what I know and people able to help them.

 

Miguel

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  1. Age: 26
  2. University: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras
  3. Degree: Law
  4. Why did you choose to study law?: When I started studying law, it wasn’t actually the degree that I wanted to graduate with. As I started taking the clases, however, I began to like law, and even more so now that Suyapa asks me for help with little things and I am able to help her. She is very smart and able to accomplish everything that needs to get done. Now, I love law; it’s a career that can be used to help people in anything. Suyapa is a great model to have to learn how to be a great lawyer from.

 

*All of the individuals featured in this article are over 18 years old and provided permission for their real names to be disclosed online.

Semana Santa at Amigos de Jesús

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Being 'Friends of Jesus,' as our name indicates, means it is safe to say that 'Semana Santa' (Holy Week), and 'Paschua' (Easter) are very important for us. In Honduras, it is normal that most places are closed for the whole duration of Semana Santa, and here at Amigos it is no different. While we are not "closed," all the kids have the week off from school which they use to celebrate the Paschal Triduum and participate in several Semana Santa traditions we have at Amigos: our excursions and the one-night camp-out.

Starting the Friday the kids get off of school, groups go camping at a nearby site. The groups are broken up based on age and gender and are accompanied by 'padrinos,' 'madrinas,' and us volunteers. As we all know, typical camping activities include lots of good food, a ton of snacks, and always a campfire. Each group only goes for one night, but the kids can explore, enjoy some time relaxing, and of course drink plenty of 'fresco' (soda).

The next tradition is that each 'hogar' (house) goes on an excursion to either San Pedro Sula or Santa Rosa. We leave around 8 in the morning and return around dinner time the same day. The kids who go to San Pedro typically arrive, eat lunch, and then go straight to the theater. Accompanying the movie, of course, are plenty of snacks. The kids who go to Santa Rosa can do a variety of things. There is always lunch at a nice restaurant, but after that it is up to the group. The older boys typically want to play soccer while the girls might walk around and see the stores. A visit to the central park where there is a nice cafe is also typical. For my group, we ate a delicious lunch and then went to the cafe in the park to enjoy coffee and granitas (a Honduran frozen coffee). Then we walked around the central park and finished by getting snacks for the ride home.

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Even though all of this was very fun, the Masses were the highlight of the week. This year was special because we had both Father Den and Padre Patricio. Padre Patricio was ordained last June so this was his first Semana Santa as a priest. Not only a beautiful week for him, but also beautiful for us because we had two priests here at the same time! To begin, we had the Holy Thursday Mass where Padre Patricio gave a homily on how we as an Amigos family need to serve each other just as Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet. Following the Mass, Padre Patricio processed with the Blessed Sacrament around the chapel, and after allowed time for the kids to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament in silence. The chapel was open until the last kid left. It was incredible to see so many kids fervently praying and reluctant to leave the chapel - even when it was several hours after their bedtime.

Next was the Good Friday Service and the Easter Vigil. On Friday, we had a Living Stations of the Cross, where all of Amigos met and walked around the 'hogar' while several kids acted out the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion. Padre Patricio and Father Den offered confession all day until the service. The highlight, though, was the Easter Vigil. We began the night with the lighting of the Easter Candle, and a procession into the chapel while we all sang. We all had candles and entered the chapel in silence as the night began. We read the readings with only one light on, but then came the time to turn all the lights on and sing the Gloria as a song of Christ’s victory over death! The chapel had been decorated all day by several of our kids and our lawyer Suyapa, so when we finally turned the lights on and uncovered everything, it was truly a sight fit for the splendor of the Resurrection! The best part was seeing the handful of kids who were dressed completely in white and were either baptized or received their First Communion. Seeing those baptisms and the resounding applause afterward was truly a moment bordering on miraculous.      

Easter Sunday, while not as grand of a celebration, was certainly filled with beauty. Amigos has a tradition that all the men who turn 18 in a single calendar year get a Mass and 'fiesta' (party) dedicated to their transition into manhood. We had nine men dressed up in slacks and ties, and they all sat up front in the chapel. Father Den gave an incredible homily about how it is spiritual blindness that prevents us from maturing and growing closer to God. His homily was directed to the men to always be humble and willing to admit your faults - even though it can be painful. We concluded the night with each young man crossing the bridge with his 'padrino' and 'madrina,' and then we all ate dinner outside the 'comedor' together before ending the night with a dance party and cake.

As Father Den once put it, "the resurrection is all around us." While Semana Santa and the Easter Season in general is an obvious reminder of that, Amigos in whole is a daily reminder of the Resurrection. Seeing all the kids enter into the great mystery of Christ's resurrection was incredible, but even more incredible is the fact that every day at Amigos the breath of the Resurrection is breathed out upon each one of these kids. No matter what a kid has gone through, we accept them and love them, and to me, that is the glory of the Easter season fulfilled. 

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- Clay Mathews, 2018-19 ADJ Volunteer

Welcome Home

Amigos de Jesús shouldn’t have to exist. Every child should grow up in a home with the parents who brought them into the world. Every child should have their basic needs met within their own household. Every child should have a right to love, safety, and encouragement. Sadly, the world that we live in is not a just or fair one, and these rights are not always validated. For this reason, we are extremely blessed that Amigos de Jesús DOES exist.

I am happy to say that Amigos has helped 135 children find the love and safety they deserve. There are a multitude of adults from both Honduras and the United States, as well as all of the children already living here, who are ready to love and embrace any new child who walks through our front gate to call Amigos “home.”

Although each child who arrives at Amigos has a different experience, there are a few basic steps that are almost always followed on the first day:

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First, everyone gathers around the front ‘portón’ (gate) in anticipation and excitement.

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Next, the kids are welcomed with cheers and clapping as they walk into their new home.

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Lastly, the kids are walked to their new homes and shown around.

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There’s usually a crowd of people surrounding the new kids following their entrance, because everyone is so excited to get to know their new family members!

Moving forward from this first day, the adjustment process varies. However, watching the children grow throughout their first few weeks and months never fails to be a beautiful process. I’d like to tell you a bit about what I observe from a volunteer’s perspective throughout this time.

First, as you can see in the pictures above, the kids usually come in a bit hesitant and shy. There is a lot of newness upon walking through that front gate. A new place to live, a new system to follow, lots of new faces and names to learn, and a new way of life that all lies ahead of them. For this reason, the kids often come in a bit overwhelmed and quiet. Luckily, all of the children here know exactly what they are feeling, and they are experts at welcoming in new children and showing them around their new home.

It’s heart-warming to see the excitement from children when they hear that a new child will be moving into their ‘hogar.’ Recently, I was able to witness and partake in this joy. I happened to be in a home for dinner when they announced that two new children would be moving in the following week. Shouts of delight and cheering rang throughout the house. The kids were hollering and clapping with smiles that radiated glee. And I was right there with them, clapping and smiling by their sides. After dinner, the home began shifting around beds and furniture and cleaning the house in order to get ready for the new children. We cranked up the music, and everyone helped clean with joy and anticipation.

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This is the environment new kids walk into—one of genuine excitement for their arrival. Once they are through the gate, they are swept off to their new home and introduced to their personal bed and space. From here, each transition is different. Some come to Amigos on their own, while others come in with siblings, or are reunited with siblings. Some are ready for school, and others need a little more time to adjust. Some are ready to run around outside and play right away, while others keep to themselves a bit longer as they get to know people. Sometimes new children don’t want to talk at all upon arrival, and others are ready to let their personalities shine. Whatever the differences, we accept them all exactly where they’re at.

  Suyapa welcoming some of our newest family members home on their first day at Amigos.

Suyapa welcoming some of our newest family members home on their first day at Amigos.

One commonality that I’ve seen repeatedly is the change that happens in the child once it sinks in that he or she is loved and safe here at Amigos de Jesús. Suddenly, you see their personalities and quirks come out. The other day, a new child came over to me and said, “And my hug, Miss?” with his arms outstretched and a look as if to say, “How could you forget?” even though we’d never hugged before. Another has begun hugging each volunteer and adult that she sees and having short conversations with each. A week ago, she wouldn’t say anything to anyone, but now she’s dancing Zumba with the rest of us and even cracking jokes! And that’s where the beauty lies. When these children feel loved here, their response is to give it right back…and to everyone that they see! This is a great phase in a child’s transition. They seem to hug, talk to, and love everyone in their sight. Eventually, they begin to form healthy and deeper relationships with specific people, and this sporadic hugging and loving on everyone will slowly come to a stop. But this is not a bad thing, it’s only a transformation of the beauty. The children attach to their ‘madrinas’ and ‘padrinos’, their other housemates, and their teachers. These relationships continue to supply the children with care and attention, while also giving them the space they need to heal and grow.

I believe that the words of one new sibling to the other sums up Amigos and its welcoming environment perfectly: “You don’t have to worry here, they really do take care of you.”

Please continue to pray for all of our kids, especially the children transitioning into their new lives here at Amigos de Jesús. We invite you to walk with us in prayer as we follow the cross to find hope.

  That smile says it all.

That smile says it all.

 

-Rachel Youngberg, 2017-18 ADJ Volunteer

Meet an Amiga ~ Laura Montes (2016-2018 BECA Volunteer)

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Laura Montes, or Miss Laura, is in her second year teaching at the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School. In her two years as a BECA volunteer, Miss Laura has served as both the 1st and now 4th grade teacher, connecting with, investing in, teaching, and loving both children who live at the ‘hogar’ as well as those who live in the surrounding communities. Miss Laura has an incredible ability to focus on individual students and their needs while also creating lesson plans and developing activities that keep her entire class engaged in the learning process. Her honest and reflective demeanor, coupled with her ability to laugh at herself and learn from each experience she passing through also make her a great support for the volunteers around her. Her intentional presence to our children outside of the classroom in the ‘hogar,’ effort into forming relationships with school families, and investment in the positive growth and development of all the children at our school make Miss Laura a well-loved and valued part of our family. 

Read more about Laura in her interview below:

  1. Age: 23
  2. Hometown: Rochester, Michigan 
  3. University: The University of Michigan 
  4. Majors/Minors: Bachelors of Business Administration with a Minor in Social Justice

What is your role at Amigos this year?

During my first year here, I was the first grade teacher and in my second year, I work as the fourth grade teacher and as a resource teacher. 

How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?

I first heard about Amigos when I applied to BECA. When I signed on with BECA, I was given the choice to elect one of the three schools that BECA works with and I thought that Amigos seemed like the best fit for me. To be honest, though, before coming to Amigos I didn’t really know much about it aside from the fact that it was an 'hogar' (home) for children. After my first visit, it was so clear that I made the right choice and I could not be happier with my decision. My time at Amigos has been life changing and more than I could have ever imagined.

What made you decide to stay for a second year?

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My decision to stay for a second year was a little bit unconventional. Most BECA volunteers have to decide if they want to stay for a second year by early April. At that time last year, I would have never even considered staying - I was in the middle of a 'low' (a term often used by individuals adapting to living long term in a new country and culture to describe a difficult period in the adjustment process) and ready to go home. However, by the time May rolled around, I had emerged from my (very long) low and started to panic about having to leave. Throughout the months of May and June, I was barely sleeping as I stressed over the idea of leaving. Finally, through a conversation with Amy, I came to the conclusion that staying for a second year might still be a real possibility. She gave me really great advice to reflect on why I wanted to stay; to make sure that I wasn’t just avoiding the sadness of having to leave.

As I reflected, I realized that I wanted to stay a second year because there were so many things that I would do differently (and hopefully better) in a second year. It took me so long to become accustomed to life down here and I wanted a chance to re-do my first year, but with the growth and experience that I had undergone and experienced in the first year. I knew that I would be such a better teacher, community member, and person this time around. I joked with people that this would be my “redemption year,” but there is definitely truth in that. While I have not been perfect this year, I think I have been a much more patient and compassionate person and I am so glad that I stayed.

What is your favorite part about your job?

When I signed up to be a teacher in Honduras, I do not think I fully understood the ramifications of what I was getting myself into. The fact that I would be an actual elementary school teacher somehow escaped me. As I settled into the job, I realized this experience would be more challenging, but also more fulfilling, than I could have ever anticipated. At times it can be frustrating, but there are so many things that I love about teaching and working at Amigos specifically.

Being at Amigos is so unique, because we get a chance to live so close to our students. Because of this, I have developed some very close relationships with my students and truly love them. I love the fact that I am able to spend so much time with them outside of the classroom. Whether it is having a dance party with them in their 'hogar,' going on their birthday walks, playing soccer, or getting a hug after a long day, I love that I get to goof around with my students and be their friend, rather than solely an authority figure.

Even with my 'vecino' (neighbor; students who live in the surrounding communities but attend our school) students that don’t live at the hogar, I have formed a special relationship with them that I think is unique to the culture here. So many of the families are so kind and I have been lucky enough to go on vacation with them, spend the weekend at their homes, attend family parties, and learn how to cook from my students families. Overall, the relationships that I have formed, with ALL of my students, are hands down my favorite part of the job.

What are some of the differences you've noticed or experienced in teaching two different grade levels during your time?

It’s funny because on one hand, there are so many differences between first and fourth grade, yet on the other hand, kids are kids regardless of their age. The biggest difference is the level of English and the fact that the students in fourth grade can read and write. When I was teaching first grade it was a lot of gesturing, pictures, introducing letters, and songs. I was shocked when I started teaching fourth grade and my students could understand when I wrote things on the board. It certainly makes my job a little bit easier.

 On the flip side, I have noticed that many of the behavioral issues, such as name calling, hitting, not wanting to work, etc. are the same among all grades. They may have matured a lot academically, but I know that I still have work to do in helping my fourth-grade students emotionally in order to help them to be kind, loving, and respectful adults.

What's your dream for your students?

  Miss Laura and one of her 1st grade students celebrating Día de la Identidad Nacional (National Identity Day) last June.

Miss Laura and one of her 1st grade students celebrating Día de la Identidad Nacional (National Identity Day) last June.

My dream for my students is they will be able to accomplish whatever they want in life. I have talked to some of them and they want to be doctors, lawyers, architects, professional soccer players, presidents, you name it. My job is to inspire them to get there and to let them know that there is no bar that is too high for them. I truly believe each and every one of them is so capable and will change the world.

Some of them talk about wanting to move to the United States, and knowing English will help them if they do, but I really hope that my students will give back to Honduras and help to elevate the country through their education. I have grown to love this country so much and really believe these amazing children, and 'jovenes,' at Amigos can be positive spark to change this country. 

What's something you hope your students take away from your classroom?

I hope each and every one of my students leaves knowing they are loved, important, special, and that they can accomplish anything that they want. There are definitely specific curriculum related goals that I have, like learning long division or being able to write an informative essay, but at the end of the day, my main goal is to have my students feel safe, supported, and confident in my classroom. No matter what the rest of their life looks like, I hope they know that for the four or five hours that they are with me everyday, they have a home.

I hate to be cliche, but the Maya Angelou quote, “people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” perfectly summarizes how I feel about my classroom. I definitely fall short, but keeping these words in mind help me remember why I am here and I hope that my students feel loved.

  Miss Laura and her 4th grade students at the Christmas concert this past December. The fourth grade students performed to the song, "Frosty the Snowman," by dancing and singing along in English.

Miss Laura and her 4th grade students at the Christmas concert this past December. The fourth grade students performed to the song, "Frosty the Snowman," by dancing and singing along in English.

  Laughing and enjoying ice cream with one of her students...doesn't get much better than that!

Laughing and enjoying ice cream with one of her students...doesn't get much better than that!

Meet an Amiguito ~ Domingo*

  Domingo and his close friend and classmate, Nina.*

Domingo and his close friend and classmate, Nina.*

If I had to guess, I’d say there are few people who leave Amigos without taking with them a funny memory of, or strong fondness for, Domingo.* Standing at just under 5 feet tall, Domingo is a thin child, with more legs than he can yet figure out how to coordinate and a huge personality that more than makes up for what he lacks in weight. My first interaction with Domingo resembled what I assume many others experience when first meeting him: a conversation, often about markers or the police, that begins sans any semblance of introductions; an attempt to use your phone or watch that is quickly followed by another adult reminding Domingo that he has to return said object; and the feeling that there’s something you definitely won’t forget about this kid.  

Domingo is something of a star here at the ‘hogar’ and it seems like there isn’t a single child or adult who doesn’t have a soft spot for him. Maybe it’s the way his thin eyebrows shoot up as his eyes widen on his big head when he’s shocked or processing something new; his empty threats to steal every marker- in particular permanent Sharpies- that he sees; his big smile that often stretches so wide his eyes look (or maybe actually are?) closed; his high pitched voice that, coupled with his tendency to elongate the vowel sounds in words, makes for frequent impersonations; or his protective and entertaining friendship with his best friend and classmate in his special education classroom, Nina.*

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Whatever it is, Domingo is certainly one of 135 of our favorite people! He is energetic, curious, intelligent, and caring. Recently at school, one of his classmates got upset before lunch and refused to leave the classroom. Although Domingo had already been dismissed to go eat, he wandered back into the classroom, asking, “¿Qué le pasó a Kasandra*? ¿Por qué está triste?” (What happened to Kasandra? Why is she sad?) Domingo insisted on staying in the classroom until Kasandra was ready to go, alternating between approaching her and saying, “Vamos Kasandra” (Let’s go Kasandra) and drawing “caritas tristes” (sad faces) on the board to the many parties he deemed guilty for making Kasandra sad.

  Domingo and one of the older boys he lives with.

Domingo and one of the older boys he lives with.

There are many incredible things about Domingo – the indiscriminate and unassuming way he brings joy to the people around him, his ability to make people laugh, the way he makes any new volunteer, visitor, ‘padrino,’ ‘madrina,’ teacher, or employee feel immediately welcomed – but the way he is growing is easily one of the most noteworthy things about him. When Domingo first got to Amigos, he tired easily at the shortest of walks but now can be seen moving all around the ‘hogar,’ walking around with his ‘padrinos,’ helping a volunteer pass out medicine, or even chasing cats and other children as he shouts and laughs. Additionally, Domingo learned how to write his name earlier this year. Now, whenever there is a marker or pen and paper around, Domingo starts writing. He writes out his name and then scribbles out a random assortment of other letters in the alphabet that he is learning. He has even begun asking people around him to spell out names and words for him so that he can practice more.

Whatever Domingo does, he is sure to be doing it with energy and life, not just laughing himself, but making all those around him laugh as well.  Thank you Domingo for the light and joy that you bring to our family!

  Domingo enjoying 'merienda' (snack) at Visitor's Day in March of 2016.

Domingo enjoying 'merienda' (snack) at Visitor's Day in March of 2016.

  Domingo showing off his writing skills! 

Domingo showing off his writing skills! 

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  Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Amigos de Jesús!

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Amigos de Jesús!

  Domingo, in the blue striped shirt in the front, with several of his classmates and teachers at Día del Niño (Children's Day) in 2016.

Domingo, in the blue striped shirt in the front, with several of his classmates and teachers at Día del Niño (Children's Day) in 2016.

In September of 2016, Domingo visited the U.S. during the yearly trip that Wilson (Co-Director of Operations), Suyapa (Director of Human Resources and our on-site lawyer), and several of our children make. Check out this video of Domingo rocking out on stage during the Broadway Sings event! 

*Names changed to protect privacy. 

 

- Lindsey Kuitse, 2016-2018 Volunteer

Providing and Receiving an Education

  Miss Amelia with Profe Ana and the 'Prepa' (Kindergarten) class following their presentation at the school Christmas concert.

Miss Amelia with Profe Ana and the 'Prepa' (Kindergarten) class following their presentation at the school Christmas concert.

Morgan, with the exercise band still wrapped around her legs, side-stepped as fast as she could onto our porch as the escaped cow charged her in our front lawn in the middle of her leg workout. The kids in the truck passing through our yard cackled as Miss Morgan screamed and shuffled into our house, the cow finally taking a sharp turn back towards Agro. A typical Saturday for us - an escaped farm animal eating our grass or drinking out of our pila, all the while our students’ laughs and greetings carry through the wind to our front door.

When thinking of how my educational experiences growing up differ from the experience myself and the BECA team of teachers provide, that’s probably the biggest contrast - we not only teach our kids from 7:10am-2:15pm, but we spend weekend afternoons, holidays, two meals a week, and much more with half of our student population. WE LIVE IN A HOUSE IN THEIR YARD RIGHT NEXT TO THEIR FARM! When we walk to school at 6:40 in the morning, we hear choruses of “GOOD MORNING!!” through our headphones and feel tiny arms wrapped around our legs with toothy grins full of breakfast beaming up at us.

Even outside of our closeness to the children at Amigos, the families of our students who live in the community are equally as welcoming. They frequently drop baked goods or ‘elote’ (corn) off in the teachers lounge for us, or will even buy us a coffee when passing us in town. The community parents put in so much effort into inviting us into their homes, at times even for the entire weekend, and treating us to days on the river with an array of grilled meats and vegetables.  A lot of times there’s this idea that only teachers teach, but, in reflection, I’ve realized that as much as we as teachers try to SHOW and TEACH how to learn, how to be empathetic and how to be supportive members of a community, the community culture this school and these neighborhoods have established has actually taught US how to be better, more productive, and more supportive members of society.

  Miss Amelia and her students helping each other get ready to present at the Christmas concert this past December.

Miss Amelia and her students helping each other get ready to present at the Christmas concert this past December.

One aspect in the classroom itself that differs from the education I received is the focus on socio-emotional learning. Our teachers put in SO much effort to create and foster safe, loving, open environments for learning. Between the school staff, the Honduran volunteers, the BECA volunteers, and the ADJ volunteers, our students have a slew of adults in the school who not only spend their time teaching, but truly seek out ways to LEARN how to better support and empower each individual student. Many lessons in the classroom are constructed with purposeful attention to not only classroom needs but also individual student needs, and teachers work hard to be eye level with the students and remain calm, rational, and vessels of love even in moments of pure craziness. A quote from a recent training we had on working with students with trauma that really struck me was, “It’s not you against the child. It’s you AND the child against their BEHAVIOR.” I mean, wow….that’s powerful. When you think about an entire school of adults trying to live and teach with that mindset, you can imagine the love that flows through every moment of the school day.  It’s truly astounding to be a part of. That aspect, the consistent focus on socio-emotional learning- both for teachers and students- is one part of the education we provide here that differs from the education I received.

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Another part of the education here that is different, yet not so heart-warming, is our printer situation. For the entire year we’ve fluctuated between a semi-functioning printer to no printer at all. I remember a LOT of worksheets growing up. In fact, it was mostly copying from the board, completing worksheets or reading packets, filling out test packets or reading through class set books. Here, we can’t do that. We have an unreliable printer, we emphasis not wasting computer paper, and we have little to no class sets of books.  This means it takes a lot for the teachers to make individual resources for all of their students, to come up with games and manipulatives, and to find ways to be interactive throughout every lesson.

Pictured above are several of the BECA teachers with their students, many of whom they have the opportunity to spend time with inside and outside of the classroom.

An example of what this can look like: Most recently, I was on my way to bed when I found out that the backup printer we had been using had broken and I suddenly had to hand write 18 exams and 18 supplements for an exam the next day. Luckily, my roommate overheard the moment I found out and sent a message to the rest of our house and half my house came to my rescue- writing multiple pages each! (Another example of the amazing sense of community and support our school/ADJ fosters!) Even when we DO have a functioning printer, the frequent power outages or random printer breakdowns keep us from being able to use for stretches of time, leaving us again to lean onto our fellow teachers and come up with fun, creative lessons.

All of these aspects highlight the unique collaboration that characterizes the education we give. The three groups of volunteers, amazing school staff, Amigos staff, and community families all collaborate constantly to provide so much love and support to each and to every student. Even our older students, through our Reading Buddies and the 6th Grade Helpers Program, collaborate with each other and with teachers to surround younger students with encouragement and an example to follow. The student-teacher interactions in and outside of our school, the creativity and effort that goes into our lesson plans, the focus by both student and teacher on socio-emotional learning and community building, and the immense levels of care and collaboration from every person in our school to facilitate learning and empower these amazing kids really highlights the unique experience of providing (and receiving!) an education at the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School.

Reading Buddies and the 6th Grade Helpers Program encourage students to not just invest in their own education, but also that of other students, especially younger students at our school. 



 

Meet an Amiguita ~ Elisa*

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Elisa* is a patient young woman whose love for her four siblings is seen on a daily basis. You can often catch her reading amidst the chaos of Zumba dancing and loud music, or talking outside with friends and siblings. Although her overall demeanor is quiet and collected she has a playful and witty side that will surprise you at any given moment.

Read below to learn more about Elisa:

  1. Age: 12
  2. Birthday: July 26th
  3. Grade/School: 5th 
  4. What is your favorite class in school? Math because I want to learn about fractions. 
  5. Who is your favorite teacher? Profe Yadira (Honduran volunteer teacher) because she helps me learn more and gives me advice. 
  6. What is something interesting in class that you have learned recently? We made an origami heart with Mr. Max (2017-2018 BECA teacher) during our origami class in after school activities.  
  7. What do you like to do in your free time? Read because I want to learn more English. 
  8. What do you want to be when you grow up? An engineer.  
  9. What is your favorite part of Amigos de Jesús? The corner of 'hogar' 2 (the house where Elisa lives) because we can talk with our friends there. 
  10. What do you like to do with the volunteers/your 'madrinas'? Cook. 
  11. Who is someone that has been an example to you at the hogar? Madrina Reina because when I was sick she helped me. 
  12. Favorite song: Desde esta noche by Thalía
  13. Favorite color: Pink and light green 
  14. Favorite food: 'Pollo con tajadas' (chicken with fried plantain chips) 
  15. Favorite book: The Chronicles of Narnia

*Name changed to protect privacy

  Elisa, pictured on the left, with her four siblings, posing for a picture at school last year.

Elisa, pictured on the left, with her four siblings, posing for a picture at school last year.

  Elisa and her older sister,   Virginia,* during vacation this past October.

Elisa and her older sister, Virginia,* during vacation this past October.

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  Pictured in the middle, Elisa celebrates her youngest brother's graduation from 'Prepa' (kindergarten) in June of 2017 along with her two sisters.

Pictured in the middle, Elisa celebrates her youngest brother's graduation from 'Prepa' (kindergarten) in June of 2017 along with her two sisters.

  Elisa, pictured on the right, with her older sister and a friend visiting the Mayan Ruins in Copan Ruinas. 

Elisa, pictured on the right, with her older sister and a friend visiting the Mayan Ruins in Copan Ruinas. 

  Elisa and her two sisters showing off their new clothes on Christmas Day this year. 

Elisa and her two sisters showing off their new clothes on Christmas Day this year. 

  Elisa, pictured in the middle, during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in April of 2017, when she received her First Holy Communion. 

Elisa, pictured in the middle, during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in April of 2017, when she received her First Holy Communion. 

Going Shopping at Amigos de Jesús

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“Miss! Cuando va a ser la tienda?” (Miss, when are we going to have the store?) This is a question I am bombarded with every few months, especially after the container has arrived. Once our supply of clothes and shoes has been replenished, the kids look forward to having “tienda,” when they have the chance to choose clothes, shoes, and other necessities that they need from the items that people have generously donated.

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In order to have tienda every few months, we depend on a few very special people to help us organize and maintain the clothing, shoes, toys, linens, appliances, etc. that are kept in the “bodega,” or storage space at Amigos. Perhaps the VIP of the bodega is Medardo, one of our university boys who is studying accounting at the university in San Pedro. When Medardo is on vacation from school, he helps Maritza in the office, assists the cooks in the kitchen, and oversees sorting and organizing the donations in the bodega. Medardo approaches a very time consuming and sometimes overwhelming and frustrating job with infinite patience and enthusiasm. We are so fortunate to have him and grateful for his consistent behind-the-scenes activity.

As you can imagine, the kids are understandably very excited when it is their turn in the tienda. They look forward to it for weeks, and practically jump up and down with excitement while sprinting toward the bodega. They are called according to their “hogar” (house) three or four at a time, so that they can receive individualized attention from two or three of their madrinas or padrinos. It is truly a joy to see the kids be able to pick out their own things, to learn about sizes and how to try things on, and to be happy to have “new” things, even if they are gently used.

Here are some pictures of the children in the tienda this past January. As always, thank you for your continuous and generous support of our children and young men and women here at Amigos!

Checking out sizes and looking for new shirts! 

  Here, one of our 'padrinos' helps one of the young boys in 'hogar' 5 try on and pick out a new shirt!

Here, one of our 'padrinos' helps one of the young boys in 'hogar' 5 try on and pick out a new shirt!

  One of our teenage girls walks away with a bag of new clothes and even tennis shoes for gym class.

One of our teenage girls walks away with a bag of new clothes and even tennis shoes for gym class.

  Genevieve, who helps organize, manage, and run 'tienda' showing off new clothes with one of our young girls. 

Genevieve, who helps organize, manage, and run 'tienda' showing off new clothes with one of our young girls. 

- Genevieve Volpe, Project and Operations Coordinator