Twenty years ago, HBI President Bob Hope organized a group of business leaders to travel to rural Honduras to build a school system. Since that time, both Bob and Chairman Paul Beckham have organized and participated in what is now a group of about 50 business people representing a variety of industries in Atlanta and beyond. This group travels has funded and helped build Aldersgate Primary School and Hope Middle School, educating about 500 students each year. They are preparing to build a new high school in this very remote area, which requires an eight-hour bus ride, mostly through the mountains, from the nearest airport.
Schools had previously been one-room structures and teachers were so hard to find that the school would be closed, leaving the small mountain villages without an education system. School attendance is not a requirement in this region, so both parents and youngsters had to be convinced that school was worth the time spent away from local village work that had traditionally been done by the children who might otherwise be in school.
Leadership of the Honduras Agalta Valley Education Foundation, formed by HBI to support the schools, decided that the best way to inspire school attendance would be to make sure everyone saw the school complex as a special place.
A landscaping plan was developed to beautify the school grounds, positioning the school as the showcase of the valley. Even though the buildings were basic, the landscaping could be attractive and would, in fact, be the only landscaped property for miles around. In addition to winding paths with beautiful flowers and shrubs, part of the landscape plan was to honor one of the HAVE Foundation members who not only visits annually to work on the schools, but funds them as well. That person is legendary University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley. Thus, Vince Dooley Field was created as the soccer field for the schools, including Bermuda grass, hedges (similar to the ones at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia), a scoreboard donated by The Coca-Cola Company and even bleachers, likely the only ones in rural Honduras. Now that challenge was to earn the villagers’ respect for the schools and ensure they were aware of the school’s importance.
Using relationships formed while handling an economic development tour of Atlanta for Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, HBI introduced President Juan Orlando Hernandez to Coach Dooley and convinced him to travel to the Agalta Valley to lead the Vince Dooly Field dedication ceremony.
President Hernandez and his entourage of 50 military vehicles and three helicopters carrying other top Honduran officials showed up for the dedication of the soccer field. The president spoke to the audience of students, parents and teachers, along with various officials from the valley. Local media, ESPN, Fox Sports, NFL Network and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution were there to cover the event.
Additionally, the president accepted the $5 billionth shipment of medicines from Atlanta-based nonprofit MAP International for clinics in the area. All of this activity was arranged and orchestrated by HBI.
The schools were instantly important and became the most important buildings in the Agalta Valley. Because of that, school participation has dramatically increased and some students, who once viewed themselves mired in the valley forever, now aspire to someday be “the president of Honduras” someday.