By: Bob Hope
Soon after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998, killing 20,000 and destroying much of the tiny country, I was asked to gather food and supplies to be shipped to a remote rural area in the mountains in the northeast. Atlanta-based Honduras Outreach had been operating a short time in the Agalta Valley, an eleven-hour drive from the capital of Tegucigalpa with winding dirt roads the last several hours through the mountains. I knew a little about the area because my wife Susan had been there a couple of times with church groups, and my daughter Clair, who was attending Tulane University, spent a summer there guiding groups to work in tiny villages. I had no intention of ever going. It was well outside my comfort zone.
However, once the hurricane hit, I and others were called to help. I loaded some crates a couple of Saturdays, provisions that would be sent by boat and then transported through the mountains. I also made a few calls to ask for donations, mostly called friends who worked for Coca-Cola and Pepsi to ask for water to be shipped. It was light work. A few phone calls took only minutes. I told them what was needed and gave them the phone number of a retired army general who was coordinating the shipments.
I didn’t think I was a prospect for working with a team in villages in Honduras but I was curious, curious enough that a special trip was set up for me to visit and see what was needed. I had never been anywhere so remote or so poor. We flew into Tegucigalpa and spent the first night in a cowboy town, Juticalpa. It was very basic. There was no communication back home. No phones, no email, no nothing. Early the next morning we hit the road in a van, navigating through bumpy dirt roads. When he encountered a river or stream, we sought a swallow spot to drive across. Hours later we arrived at a very basic ranch in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The accommodations were very basic but better than I expected. We were far out in the wilderness, but in another way of looking at it, the wilderness was really a beautiful paradise.
I got the grand tour. It wasn’t what I expected. The people lived in tiny little houses made out of mud bricks and roofing tiles molded over their thighs. The people were happy but they weren’t poor. They didn’t have anything, but they had what they needed to survive day to day. I was becoming slowly captivated by the people and the beautiful Agalta Valley. They were very happy. There were no vehicles other than the few on the ranch, and the only people who looked like me where ranch workers.
My stay was only a few days. However, the third day changed my life. I was being taken to a very tiny and remote mountain village. We drove as far as we could and then walked about an hour. The villagers gathered to greet us. The mayor was introducing our group, and when he got to me, he said, “This is the man who saved our lives. He got us the water.” I was stunned. It took so little, just a couple of phone calls. I was hooked. I asked what I could do to help. I didn’t want to come with a church group and work in one village all week. I just didn’t feel I was anyone’s spiritual leader. What else needed to be done? The answer was that they had a $30,000 gift to build an elementary school and would need help supporting it. In this remote area, there were only a few one room schools, and it was difficult to get teachers. Their vision was to have a first-class school system. I would start by asking friends to come with me to Honduras and see how we could help.
A few months later, our first group of friends, about a dozen of us, went to Honduras to scope out the situation. After a couple of trips and better understanding the challenges, we formed a non-profit to raise money to support the school effort. HAVE Foundation (Honduras Agalta Valley Education) was formed and has since raised over $2 million dollars. The small group has grown to 60 who go down once each year to work on the schools and other projects in the small mountain communities. Over the years, we had many top civic leaders and a core of Rotary members. One of our longtime team members was Vince Dooley, the great football coach at the University of Georgia. In memory of him, we dedicated Vince Dooley Way as the drive from the road to Hope Middle School. In the beginning, the dreams of the youngsters were modest, hoping someday to be a ranch guard or a truck driver or a cook. Now we have doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers. The graduates go on to college and excel.
We now have beautiful schools that are providing the access to knowledge that allows the youngsters to fulfill their dreams. We now have doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and many other professionals who have been educated at our schools. Members of our travel group and others sponsor scholarships for the students. My new student is Jennifer Ortiz, a six-year-old. I will support her all the way through, send her letters and meet with her during our trips.
This annual trip and the efforts to help my friends in Honduras is a blessing and joy in my life. All of us in our group make many news friends each year, and as the schools have improved, we now realize we are helping ourselves as much as we help the people in rural Honduras. We feel the happiness that can only be felt when someone is giving of themselves to others.
If you have interest in going on a future trip, just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.