ELON, North Carolina — Amigos de Jesus Children’s Home and Bilingual School in Honduras Director of Operations, Alan Turner, said graduations are one of the most rewarding things because most of the children that come to Amigos de Jesus likely would not have had the chance to graduate high school, get a technical or vocational education or attend a university otherwise.
When Turner first arrived at the organization after graduating college, one high schooler’s accomplishments had a significant impact on him.
“He graduated from high school and then college because of Amigos,” Turner said. “Then, he started working out on his own, and then about a month and a half ago he went back and got his master’s degree, but he did that himself. He put himself through a master’s program and graduated with a degree.”
Turner watched this graduation online and was happy to see a young man who is not living at Amigos anymore, but still part of the family, enjoying his successes.
Amigos de Jesus places a high emphasis on education as they feel it is the only way to alleviate and one day break the cycle of poverty and unemployment.
What Is Amigos de Jesus?
Amigos de Jesus is a Children’s Home and Bilingual School in Honduras that was initially founded in 1997 by Christine and Anthony Granese, a North American couple, and Father Dennis O’Donnell, an Archdiocesan Priest from Philadelphia.
Located right outside the town of Macuelizo, the Children’s Home houses 150 children, and the Bilingual School currently enrolls around 230 students. Sixty of these students live at Amigos, and the other 170 are from neighboring communities throughout Honduras.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries throughout the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.
Poverty in Honduras
The poverty rate in 2022 was 52.4% with the extreme poverty rate at 13.3%. With one of the lowest human development outcomes of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank’s Human Capital Indicator found that a child born in Honduras will be almost half (48%) as productive when they grow up as they would have been if they were guaranteed a complete education and health.
Education is one of the largest problems that Honduras faces as a country – an issue that Amigos de Jesus works to address. Only two out of 10 students enrolled in first grade are projected to finish high school. Only one in 10 enter a university.
This led to an illiteracy spike. One in 10 Hondurans is illiterate, and this number doubles in rural areas.
In March of 2023, USAID connected with the government of Honduras, the private sector, the government of Taiwan and others to donate toward education resources in Honduras.
USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, told a Share America reporter how educated communities become safer. “We know that when children are educated, communities become safer, people get healthier, wages go up and poverty goes down,” she said. “In fact, according to UNESCO, if all the world’s students completed their secondary education, poverty could fall by half.”
Amigos de Jesus Bilingual School offers a number of educational programs that are open to both students at the children’s home and Hondurans in surrounding areas.
Amigos de Jesus Educational Programs
The Bilingual School offers a personalized education program that does not exist in the public school system – including vocational training. They utilize professional and volunteer staff members, from Honduras and various parts of the world which formed an excellent team of teachers led by a specialized director.
In order to ensure the best educational experience, the Bilingual School provides a separate academic path in the native language for students who might be struggling.
Further, the school provides special education for students with therapies and inclusion in the classroom.
Students who attend the Bilingual school from other areas and children who come to live at Amigos de Jesus come from all walks of life, and many have experienced a multitude of different traumas. This often leads these children to exhibit aggressive or disorderly behavior which is challenging for the staff.
“The younger kids just obviously have no clue what’s happening,” Turner said. “They are just taken away one day from one person and brought somewhere else another day.”
He continued to say that many of the challenges the staff deals with are when kids want to go back with their mothers, but the staff is aware of the situation that the child previously was in. The Amigos de Jesus staff is trained on how to be trauma-informed caretakers for this reason
“For instance, we have kids who are used to running around in their bare feet all day,” he said. “When it’s time to put their shoes on to go to school, it can turn into a huge crisis.”
The organization as a whole has grown tremendously since its inception and has made a name for itself amongst the local communities. Many surrounding residents seek the Bilingual school for the educational opportunities it provides.
“Our school employs so many people in the local community,” Turner said.
Helping children escape the circle of poverty is Amigos de Jesus’ main priority, and they are committed to continuing to aid Honduras in its battle against poverty.
– Taylor Barbadora