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Changing Lives through Education in Chiapas: Miguel Ochoa Castellanos and April Brenden-Locke

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

This week I interviewed my friend April Brenden-Locke and Miguel Ochoa Castellanos about a wonderful children’s home in Chiapas, Mexico, called Hogar Infantil. April is the president of the American board of Hogar, and Miguel grew up there and runs a language school...he’s a great success story. They share how Hogar Infantil changed both of their lives, cambiando vidas a través de la educación, or “changing lives through education.”

Miguel as a young person
Miguel as a young person

Miguel spoke to us from a small town in Chiapas, Mexico, the southernmost Mexican state. Miguel’s father passed away when he was six years old, and he didn’t have a happy childhood. After attending school, he would help his mom selling candy in the streets. They lived with relatives and didn’t have much money. His mom used to cry a lot, but she was a strong, hard-working woman. She made the heart-breaking decision to take Miguel to Hogar Infantil when he was just nine years old. Now that he’s older, Miguel recognizes how difficult that must have been.

April's visit to Hogar as a teen
April's visit to Hogar as a teen

April had a different upbringing; she grew up in a farm in Oregon, surrounded by extended family. She struggled in high school, trying to figure out who she was, until she saw an opportunity to volunteer at Hogar. At the age of 15, she felt compelled to go, and her mom decided to go along. They had no money for plane tickets, but they were able to raise the money needed from friends and family. She went to Mexico thinking that the people at Hogar needed their help, but she quickly learned it was about becoming part of the community. Even though she didn’t feel like she fit in during her Oregon adolescence, she immediately felt welcomed into a big family at Hogar Infantil. The experience had a profound impact on her. “It was a place that has stayed in my heart my whole life.”

Miguel told April that her decision had a big impact on him and the other Hogar residents.

“Not many people decide to go to another country to help. It’s difficult to find people to share part of their time, to share part of their lives, to come to your country and your community, to help you. And also for us, it was at that time, because you coming here showed us that we had people who loved us, that we had some people who cared about us...that cared about our existence. You might not know that, but the decision you made to come here was very good for us...not just for you. It affected us as well. We felt like we had more family somewhere and we are not alone.”

April was surprised when she saw how well the children took care of each other at Hogar. They didn’t have a lot of stuff, but what they had was shared with each other. April shared a story about a boy recovering from surgery for polio and being touched by the way the other children surrounded him and made sure he wasn’t lonely. They had this spontaneous sense of care and taking care of each other. The kids had all come from systemic poverty, but they found each other and took care of each other. When April went back to Hogar as an adult, she found that same spirit of community.

Miguel now
Miguel now

Miguel believes that part of Hogar’s community spirit is the fact it’s situated in Chiapas, a part of Mexico that is very poor but also extremely generous and caring. Sharing is innate. He remembers when he lived at Hogar, someone donated a bike, and 20 children shared the bike.

“When you get older, you continue the habit of sharing. That’s one thing you acquire when you’re in that place.”

Hogar Infantil was founded in 1963 by Nicholas Anderson, an American expat who was living in Chiapas. With just a handful of U.S. donors, Don Nich began taking in children who were living on the street. After Nich’s death in 1977, others, such as David “Capitán” Guinn, stepped in to ensure that Hogar Infantil would survive and carry on its mission to break the cycle of poverty through education.

Miguel believes Hogar changed his life. After leaving Hogar, Miguel went on to study in the U.S. and to college. Then he opened up a language school in his living room, just raising enough money to buy chairs. Now he has a family, a language school, and another business. Now he has up to 200 students and employs 5 teachers. His wife Ana helps him a lot, and she also grew up in an orphanage. They share a strong work ethic and belief in giving back to their community.

Miguel wouldn’t have the life that he has now, and he enjoys sharing his life story to inspire others. His slogan is “Make the impossible, possible.” He feels grateful for his life in spite of the setbacks he faced in his childhood.

April volunteering at Hogar
April volunteering at Hogar

April shares how she found her way back to Hogar Infantil in the past few years when she saw they were looking for new fundraising ideas. When she wanted to re-engage in Hogar’s work, she discovered the U.S. board president lived only ½ hour from her in Oregon, married to one of the guys who was living at Hogar when April was there as a young person. When April returned to Hogar to visit, she found the same generous, lively spirit and community she experienced as a young person.

If you’ve been inspired by Miguel’s and April’s stories, you can find many ways to support Hogar Infantil and the children and staff there by visiting their website. 65 children and young people ages 5 to 21 live at Hogar Infantil. They can especially use support right now during COVID-19, because the local community has been hit hard. The students love to hear from other people via website messages, cards, and letters, and you can also give financial support. From making a lasting difference in one child’s life to uplifting a community of thousands, you can help transform the lives of children in poverty.

Next week I interview Dr. Kris Gowen. After her best friend died, Kris decided to travel around to all 50 states and sign karaoke in each state! We talked about friendship, grief, and sex! Kris is cofounder of Beyond the Talk, the sex ed you wish you had. They provide presentations, workshops, and interactive games all aimed at increasing access to sexuality information.

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