Texas Businessman Helps Change Lives and Improve Communities in Honduras

Texas Businessman Helps Change Lives and Improve Communities in Honduras

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CIO Provides ‘First World’ Solution to Third World Challenge

A former captain in the U.S. Army, John Mason has been likened to Pixar’s Mr. Incredible. Entertained by the comparison, Mason admits, “A kid in Honduras actually walked up and called me Mr. Incredible.”

For the Honduran children whose lives he has affected, the similarity goes far beyond appearances. Because of Mason’s influence, 25 girls who previously could not have attended school beyond sixth grade have now graduated from high school, and almost 100 more are well on their way.

For some these numbers may not seem impressive, but for the families and villages of these children—and for the girls themselves—the impact is monumental.

For Mason, who serves as the CIO of St. David’s Healthcare as well as the Central & West Texas Division of HCA, this story began during a mission trip in 2005. Having built houses for impoverished families in the past, he had witnessed the grim realities of third-world poverty. But this trip to Honduras was different. This time, because of one girl, Mason came to fully realize the bleak future in store for these children… and he decided to do something about it.

Gissela was the child who started it all. A young girl who seemed to be about the same age as John’s oldest daughter, she appeared one day and followed him everywhere as he worked, holding his hand whenever she got a chance. Putting his tools down at the end of the day, Mason asked her a simple question, and her answer changed everything.

When he asked the fifth grader where she would go to school after sixth grade, she told him, “I’m not going to sixth grade. My family can’t afford it and I need to work to help feed us.” Mason was stunned. He says, “It was a light bulb moment. There were girls dropping out of school in the fifth grade to help feed their family?!” He immediately decided he would find a way “to get this girl through school, one way or another.”

Changing Communities, One Girl at a Time

Sarah-group-SM_1052With the help of his wife, D’Lanna, and several close friends, John started the Path of Hope Foundation (POHF) seven years ago in Nashville, Tennessee. What started as a simple dream to help one girl continue her education and fulfill her God-given potential has since grown into a program that is changing the lives of many girls. By providing scholarships and support for girls in developing countries, the POHF allows girls who would otherwise not have such an opportunity continue their education and expand their horizons.

Since 2008 the number of girls entering the program has grown dramatically. During the first year 14 girls attended school because of POHF scholarships. That number more than tripled the following year and has increased every year since. In 2014 at least 96 girls will be participating in the program.

One of the first questions Mason is usually asked when he describes the Foundation’s work is, “Why just girls?” His response—and POHS’s approach—is based upon studies that have shown that educating girls will have a greater societal impact in the long run. For example, in many villages throughout Central America, girls are kept out of school in order to work for the family, to allow their brothers to get an education, or because they have become pregnant at an early age, continuing a cycle of poverty from generation to generation. Yet, it is often the women in the community who drive commerce, lead their families, and ensure their children are attending classes.

In order to make a significant impact on a community, it’s critical that girls have an opportunity to finish their education. Research has shown that educated women are more likely to ensure that family members continue their education, have a lower pregnancy rate, and higher incomes. In a place where nearly 25% of the population lives on less than $1 per day, every year of education beyond the sixth grade equals a 10-15% increase in income.*

Without a high school education, girls can only expect to make about $1 per day when they enter the workforce. Because of her diploma, however, a Foundation-supported graduate can expect to earn about $5 per day—a 500% increase over her peers. Mason points out that in the case of a recently orphaned graduate, “This difference allows her to more easily support her family after their mother’s death. Without the Foundation’s support, she would likely struggle to make ends meet, which is not something you want to see happen to a young lady just starting her life!”

Even with these successes, Mason believes that the Foundation’s greatest achievement is “how we have affected the villages we are working in. While it might seem that having girls graduate would be our greatest achievement, that is just a step in the right direction.”

He explains, “What I know is this: The villages we have worked in have changed. The people seem to dress better; they seem better fed. And most of all, their outlook and demeanor has changed. I think they see successes taking place, and this is affecting other areas of their life as well. Though I can’t prove it, I really believe we are actually living our tag line: Changing Communities One Girl at a Time!”

Some of the Foundation’s U.S. volunteers who have been to Honduras describe feeling guilty about the advantages and comparative luxury of their “first-world” American lifestyle. Mason tells them, “Don’t feel bad for what you have. It’s how you view it and use it that counts. If you view it as a blessing that you can give to others, it makes a world of difference.”

If you would like to sponsor a child’s scholarship, visit the organization’s Donate page or contact the foundation by e-mail at info@pathofhopefoundation.org. As a volunteer-run organization, this nonprofit is able to keep administrative costs low. In 2013 more than 97% of funds raised were sent directly to Honduras to support girls.

* George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881, Washington, D.C., World Bank, 2002.

Group-shot-cropped-SM_1394Content and photos © Path of Hope Foundation