|Ubil presenting the blueprints of the Amigos de Jesus chapel before the first mass held at the chapel site on 1-6-16. The chapel is set to be finished before the end of 2016.|
Ubil is the only employee on the Honduras side of Amigos who has been with our family since the very beginning. His journey with Amigos is inspiring, and he continues to be a light to the 'hogar' with his humility, warmth, and sense of calm in an often-chaotic work environment. Ubil began at Amigos in 1998 when founders Anthony and Christine Granese hired him to head the original construction of Amigos. Due to language barriers, he didn’t even fully realize at that time that he was constructing an orphanage! He only knew that a bridge and two-story building needed to be built. When he did realize that the final product would be Amigos de Jesus, he felt called to stay with the organization, and just two years later, he became the on-site director, a position which he held for 10 years. Today, he continues to serve as head of construction. Ubil lives near to Amigos with his wife, daughter, and father - who is 100 years old! His daughter is now in “kinder” (preschool) at the Amigos de Jesus school.
1. How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesus?
In 1998, when Anthony and Christine Granese and Fr. Dennis O’Donnell came to the area to build Amigos de Jesus, they put the word out around town that they were looking for a construction worker. However, none of them spoke much Spanish, so in the beginning, I didn’t even fully understand that they were looking to build a children’s home. I was simply looking for a job and I knew they needed a bridge built. It is amazing how much my life has changed since that moment.
2. Can you share with us a little bit about the early days of Amigos?
Starting Amigos de Jesus was not an easy task. The property is very rural and could not even be entered without crossing a river. So our first task was to build a bridge, which today serves as the main gate of Amigos. For the first year, Anthony and Chris lived in makeshift shacks on the property, and I would come in to help build the first buildings, which are now the main office and ‘comedor.’
Also, for the first few years, we didn’t have telephone service here. We couldn’t get a telephone line to reach the Amigos grounds. It made contacting the outside world difficult. If we needed to make a call to people in the U.S., we would go to a payphone in town at a pre-determined time. Then at the end of the phone conversation, we would have to set up a time for the next phone call. No one could call us, we could only call them. Looking around at the WiFi and telephone connections we have here today, I am amazed at how far we have come in such a short time. Technology is incredible.
3. What made you feel called to stay with Amigos after the initial construction project was completed?
It is amazing how God works. I have always had a heart for the street children of Honduras and I actually had experience working with street children in San Pedro prior to meeting Anthony and Chris. From the moment we started building here, children began coming for shelter. And as I continued the construction project, I started forming relationships with them. After that, I couldn’t leave. I truly feel that God is the one who brought me here.
4. How did you go from being a construction worker to the director?
I remember after two years of working with Anthony and Chris, they began talking about moving back to the U.S. and there were a lot of questions about who would take their place. However, during the discussions I had never even considered myself as being in the running. When they asked me one night if I would do it, I was completely shocked. In fact, at first I said no. I knew that the director position would be a 24/7 commitment, and I didn’t want to put family through that. My son was living with us at the tiem and it would mean he would grow up here at Amigos. However, the more I talked with Anthony and Chris, the more comfortable I began to feel. I didn’t say yes right away. I told them I had to talk with my family. My family was, and still is, incredibly supportive. It took a big sacrifice on their part to move here full time. But I held the positions of director and head of construction for 10 years, from 2000 until 2010, when Amy and Wilson Escoto arrived. Amigos will forever be our family.
5. Tell us a little about the process of building new buildings at Amigos. Who makes the decision of what to build and where to build it?
It is always a group decision. We have a running list of about 20 buildings that need to be built here in the future. We are always revising the list to prioritize the most important buildings. Sometimes we receive donations to build certain things specifically and our money goes toward that. But the decision is always a group one between the on-site directors, the board, Fr. Dennis, and me.
6. Do you have a favorite building here?
The main gate and bridge. As I said before, those are the two first things we built at Amigos. To me, they also symbolize the connection between Amigos and the outside world. Every child, staff member, and volunteer that has ever come here has had to pass through that gate. Today, there is a tradition of all of the children welcoming visitors and new members of the ‘hogar’ by all gathering to greet them at the gate.
7. What construction project is next on the list?
We are currently working on the chapel, which we hope to have done this year. We are also going to build another classroom building at the school, which will be designed specially for preschool, kindergarten, and special education. The new building will free up classroom space for the school to expand to 5th grade next year.
|Ubil and his wife and daughter (on left) with, left to right: Anthony and Christine Granese,|
Maryanne (long-time friend of Amigos), and Fr. Dennis at Ubil's home in November 2015.