A Pueblo of Hope

El Zonte is a small fishing village, on the pacific coast of El Salvador, next to a famous surfing paradise.  I didn’t think much when I first laid eyes on it, but little did I know what a hidden gem it was because of a group of special people and the magic they have created there.  

It was a few days after I arrived, I met Jorge on the street.  He offered me a ride with a big smile when he saw me struggling on the rocky mountain road.  As we casually conversed, he told me about the non-profit organization he and his team founded.  It is called the Hope House El Salvador, an organization created to offer skill training for local youngsters and to cultivate community leaders.  It sound nice, but what caught my attention wasn’t the concept of his initiative but Jorge’s passion.  His eyes were lit up and his face glowed as he described the mission of his community and its impact on the residents.  It was clear to me that he loved his work.  Here is a person obviously living his soul’s purpose.  This intrigued me.    

In the following weeks, I went to their community events and witnessed Jorge and his team members in action.  All year around, they offer young residents, between age 3 and 18, classes in English, IT, welding, business and even sewing classes for parents.  On Saturdays, special programs were created for smaller children.  The drivers and volunteers picked up children from their homes and brought them to a day of fun activities of learning, exercises and games both in classroom and on the beach.  While they played, delicious snacks such as fresh pancakes were prepared for them.  What stricken me the most is not only how thoughtfully they designed their programs, but how much personal attention each participant received.  

For example, at the end of 6 months program, English class students received a graduation celebration that had the same level of attention to details as a university graduation with parents and officials in attendance.  Through every interaction, children received undivided attention from volunteers as if he or she was the most important person on earth.  Through every action, the team showed the children how to give and receive love unconditionally.  Skill teaching was only a small part of what Jorge and his team have achieved in the past 13 years.  Their aim is to provide a holistic experience that combines learning with recreational activities, spiritual connection and community service in order to unite, to love, to grow and to fill young residents’ soul tank with love.  

Their impact on the community continue to expand whenever they see opportunities.  For example, 3 years ago, an anonymous donor donated a bitcoin to Hope House.  They instantly saw the potential of bitcoin.  This is a marginalized community where 70% of residents don’t have bank account nor credit to get a bank loan and to start a business.  Bitcoin could potentially offer them a way into the mainstream economy.  In the following 3 years, with tremendous effort, they educated local residents about bitcoin and set up bitcoin terminals throughout the pueblo and beyond.  In 2022, because of Jorge and his team, the president of El Salvador declared bitcoin a legal tender throughout the entire country – the first of its kind in the world.  This earned El Zonte the nickname Bitcoin Beach and their story is documented in a film Dare to Dream, released worldwide in 2023. 

What kind of person would have this much impact on a society? Did he come from a family of influence? No.  Jorge was born in the middle of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war between the oppressive government and the resistant militants.  When he was young, his father left the country to seek a better life, leaving his mother to raise 8 children alone.  War, poverty and constant starvation were memories of his childhood.  Many of his friends died during the war or in subsequent decades of gang violence.  Although being the youngest child in the family, Jorge was eager to take care of his mother and his two older sisters.  Before reaching his teenage, he had already thought of ways to achieve financial prosperity.  After school, he would go from street to street selling bread and helping his mother set up food stand to earn little extra cash.  

At the age 11, he identified two role models who had achieved financial comfort through construction business and convinced them to take him on as an apprentice.  What followed was a decade long pursuit for a better life than what he was born into.  He did this with focus and a level of maturity far beyond his physical age.  After 2 years of joggling between school and apprenticeship in construction business, he decided to learn how to become a chef.  Although it was rare for a man to aspire to be a chef at that time, the 13-year-old Jorge had his own plan.  He wanted to learn another survival skill and to be in close proximity to free food – a benefit for restaurant employees.  This gives him a sense of abundance, especially for someone whose childhood was characterized by acute starvation.  

Two years after working as a chef, his restaurant owner moved away, but the property owner offered him an opportunity to start his own business on the same property.  At the time, he was only 15 years old.  This marked the beginning of a transition from employee to business owner.  He created opportunities for himself with his work ethics and integrity.  His employers saw him as a trustworthy person.  His colleagues saw him as a generous individual who cared about others.  

Between the age 11 and 21, Jorge rotated between restaurant and construction businesses.  From absolute novice, he grew himself into a business owner and skilled expert, capable of independently cook, manage a restaurant, making furniture, and building houses.  In the process, he offered job opportunities for fellow residents of the pueblo.  In addition, he learned to speak English fluently and became a skilled surfing coach.  While working in the restaurant, he met his soul mate Christina.  Together, they raised a family with two lovely children, plus dogs, horses and cows on their property with a stunning view.

When Jorge was 21 years old, he joined a project helping a missionary building houses for impoverished residents in another part of the country.  After 3 years on this project, Jorge realized that he wanted to bring his passion, talents and energy to serve his own pueblo, therefore, the idea of Hope House was conceived.  What Jorge wanted was to offer children, who struggled the way he did as a child, opportunities for a better future.  Besides fun, learning, games and community services, what Hope House brings to these children’ lives are love and hope.  In addition to the weekly activities, they have rallied the entire community to create profound changes in community lives and mentality.  Since the foundation of Hope House 13 years ago, they have collaborated with local government, NGO and donors on a number of projects, including establishing their own high school, building houses for more than 150 impoverished families.  For the future, they envision El Zonte as a model of inspiration in the coastal area of El Salvador.   

What is the formula of success for Jorge? Some people might say it is good luck to receive help from donors and volunteers.  There is no doubt that external factors played critical roles in Hope House’s current achievement.  But they are the consequence, not the root cause.  Nothing in his circumstance predicted his success – born in extreme poverty and unstable social environment, had limited education, growing up without the protection of a strong father figure.  Yet, he became an influential leader and created a dream life for himself and many others?  I believe there are two reasons – his character and his attitude.  

From 11 years old, he had clear vision of the kind of life he wanted to create.  He took full responsibility and committed to do a great job whatever it was.  With resilience, he overcame many challenges, acquired solid skills and earned the trust of every employer he worked for.  Most importantly, he always took every opportunity to serve and to take care of others.  Initially, his goal was to take care of his mother and sisters, then it was his co-workers, then it was his fellow community members and volunteers.  His motto summarized his attitude precisely:

“When you are ready to serve, you are ready to live.”

Jorge, a man born to serve, has demonstrated for us how the desire to serve can create miracles.  His life is an example that we are creators of our own future.  When we have a mission bigger than ourselves, the Universe conspires to help us.  It rewards us with a life of material abundance, joy and fulfillment.  As a highly conscious leader, Jorge not only serves as an inspiration to his community but also to everyone who interacts with him.  We hope that his community will continue to prosper and grow under his leadership and that his spirit will inspire us all to reach our potential and to make service the essence of our lives.   

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