Revolution for Hope
— Hannah Otazu · Tuesday, March 7, 2023 —
High in the Honduran mountains, there is a home whose walls are covered in pictures. Pictures of families once thought lost, but who have now been found. The hope these pictures impart are a sign of a silent revolution- one that challenges the decades-old standards of orphan care, and one that is changing lives, communities, and will surely change a country. An active front-line champion in this revolution is Gerardo Flores, the Regional Coordinator for Orphan Outreach’s Honduran non-profit organization, and part of the Hope in Jesus team, which is a center for reintegration. “I often say, ‘Orphans don’t need orphanages, they need families,’” Gerardo asserts. “In fact, more than 98% of the children in institutions are not [true] orphans. They have families. So why aren’t the families connected to the kids? Traditional orphan care is focused solely on the children, not their families. What we try to do at Hope in Jesus is get kids back into families. Yes, these families need help, but what family is perfect? We all have problems. What these families really need is a second chance and we want to give them that chance.”
Orphan Outreach’s Honduran NGO (nonprofit, or non-governmental organization), Asociación Manos Extendidas (AME), began working with Hope in Jesus in 2019. Prior to that time, Hope in Jesus was run as a traditional long-term orphanage, with many of the children living there for ten or more years of their lives. The partnership between Orphan Outreach and Hope in Jesus was formed around the idea of changing that model. The staff of Hope in Jesus have created a new path forward, a map, that guides these children out of institutions and into a family, consisting of three pillars. “Our first pillar is Holistic Care: when a child first arrives at Hope in Jesus, we assess their needs and begin meeting them. We do whatever is needed for their health, nutrition, and education. The second pillar is Rehabilitation. This portion is led by our psychologist and focuses on addressing the child’s emotional trauma and healing. The third pillar is Permanency. This is where the social worker begins piecing together the child’s file and launches an investigation to find them their family. All three of these pillars are operating at the same time so while the child is getting the general care they need, they are also getting emotional support, and we are beginning our investigation,” explained Gerardo.
Eighteen children were living at the center when the team began implementing this new system. Over the past two and a half years, in the midst of a global pandemic, they have successfully placed four children back in their families and six more are set to be placed in their families in 2023. As new children are brought to Hope in Jesus, they are immediately integrated into the new system. While this process may sound simple enough, the reintegration center has had to overcome some significant challenges to make it work. “The home is about 45 minutes up a mountain, off of a dirt road, and many of the communities our kids come from are just as remote and hours away,” Gerardo said. “In 99% of the cases, we don’t have all the information. We don’t know why they were removed or separated from their families; we don’t even have an address. We’re lucky to have a name or a birth certificate to help us track down the family. Once we connect with family, we print out a picture of them for the child. We’ve had kids who were angry and violent become calm, star students after connecting with their family. Knowing where they come from and where they belong changes everything for them.” However, the children’s lives aren’t the only ones changing. Entire families are being restored.
“One of my favorite stories is of a girl we’ll call, Anita. Anita was put into care because her father died while he was in the hospital with her. She was placed in Hope in Jesus when she was about two years old. For 12 years, Anita lived her life in an institution. We started her investigation. After a few months, we discovered a last name, and with that name, God helped us find a community of Afro-indigenous people, three hours away, known as the Garifuna. When we finally tracked down the family, we told them about Anita and they began to cry. They said, ‘No, she died when she was a baby. We had a funeral. We buried an empty casket.’ But we showed them her picture and their reactions were amazing!” After some further investigation, we told Anita about her family and began the reintegration process. We are grateful because she is now back with her family. “Garifuna people have a rich culture of dancing, singing, food, and language, but because of an unfortunate consequence of institutionalism, Anita is just now learning her culture. Our team worked long and hard at preparing her and her family to receive her back. It sounds easy but it was very hard and complex work. There were issues to work through, but we did everything we could to help them and ensure it was safe for Anita to go home,” Gerardo shared. “The reports and stories that we receive are amazing. Anita is overjoyed because a family has opened their heart, she has found out where she comes from and today, we can say Anita knows where she is going.” Regardless of the challenges, the Hope in Jesus team is determined to never give up. “We are going to do the right thing, no matter what it takes,” Gerardo expressed. “We won’t have big expectations. We might be disappointed, but we’re not going to give up because these kids need someone who isn’t going to give up on them.”
Of all of the challenges the AME and Hope in Jesus team face, perhaps the greatest is changing the mentality of the government and society at large. “We are challenging a system that has been in place since World War I. It’s going to be tough, but God is paving the way. Every day is a miracle. At the beginning of 2020, the government began to see that reintegration is the best option for most children. They want us to help them change the mentality of the people towards reintegration. We have earned their trust and it’s making a big impact! Now, we are able to share our methods with other NGOs and teach them a new way of caring for orphans,” Gerardo expressed. Your giving helps our ministries change the lives of children, their families, and communities, forever. Contact us to learn about how together, we can restore hope.
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