Coast to Coast 2017 Tackles New Advocacy Issue: Hours in Class

  • January 19, 2017

  • With AJS coalition “Transformemos Honduras”, over 130 cyclists biked 271 miles across Honduras to raise awareness for public education.
  • Cyclists stopped at eight cities in seven days to recognize Honduras’ best public school students.
  • At each event, AJS announced new advocacy efforts to improve public education in Honduras.

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From Honduras’ rainy Atlantic coast to its sunbaked Pacific shore, over 130 cyclists shared a simple message – for public education to improve in Honduras, all must do their part.

This is civil society coalition Transformemos Hondurasseventh year hosting the annual bike race “Costa a Costa” or Coast to Coast. The event has grown to become not only a beloved tradition but also an important advocacy tool.

As the race threads through eight of Honduras’ biggest cities, Transformemos Honduras (TH) hosts public events recognizing Honduras’ best public school students, and calling on the government, on nonprofit organizations, on parents, teachers, and school administrators to work together to improve education in Honduras.

“We can’t just demand change from the government, we all need to join the work,” said Carlos Hernández, president of the Association for a More Just Society, a central member of Transformemos Honduras (TH).

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Transformemos Honduras is a coalition of over 20 Christian nonprofit organizations in Honduras, including the Association for a More Just Society, World Vision, Compassion International, and many others, who since 2009 have worked together for better public health and public education in Honduras.

Transformemos Honduras works to train and mobilize citizens to audit corruption and inefficiencies in public systems like health and education. TH then holds the government accountable with detailed diagnostic reports, as well as clear plans for improvement. This aligns with the coalition’s shared motto – “Pray. Dream. Work.”

Sometimes as Christians, all we do is pray that things will change,” Carlos Hernández said, “We have to do more than that. We have to dream that things can actually be better. And then we have to work.”

This work has already seen clear results. When Transformemos Honduras started working with education, schools met for fewer than 125 days of class per year (students met just 88 days in 2009); teachers showed up to class sporadically, or not at all; and Honduras’ test scores ranked dead last in Latin America, a place they had kept since 2000.

Transformemos Honduras organized parents and concerned community members to record exactly how often schools met, bringing their findings before the government, the media, and the Honduran public. As a result, thousands mobilized around education reform, the Minister of Education was fired, and education in Honduras began to change. After just five years, days in class had jumped from an average of 125 to well over 200, teachers skipping class dropped from 26% to 1%, and test scores jumped from last place in Latin America to 10th out of 15th.

“I think we have to be optimistic and say that though grave challenges remain, we have achieved important things in education,” said Carlos Hernández, “This is thanks to the efforts of teachers, of students, of parents, but also civil society, which we are honored to be part of.”

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Working with Honduras’ public education system means holding it accountable where it fails, but it also means recognizing where it has succeeded. Over the course of the Coast to Coast bike race, Transformemos Honduras awarded 40 children, five from each city, who had achieved academic excellence in their public schools.

These children, deep thinkers, eager learners, and big dreamers, serve as examples of what is possible.

During the event in San Pedro Sula, seven-year-old Genesis Amaya thanked Transformemos Honduras and the cyclists for the prizes, which included medals and shiny new bicycles. “It encourages us to continue learning,” she said, smiling through missing teeth.

“I feel really good and happy,” she added later, “Everyone in my house was so happy for me.”

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As these students pursue their dreams, a strong education system will help make them possible.

“I want to be very smart so that I can do many things,” said Amner Padilla, who was the top student in his 2nd-grade class. “Sometimes I don’t really like to study, but my mom always makes me! Then they congratulate me in school.”

“I really like numbers and accounting,” said twelve-year-old Efrain Lopez, who finished sixth grade with 100% in all subjects. “I think one day I would like to work in a bank or a business.”

When asked what she hoped for from the future, seven-year-old Alexa Calix thought differently: “I want to be happy!”

In our work to improve education for the more than two million students in Honduras’ public schools, AJS is working so that all these dreams – especially Alexa’s – can come true.

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In its seventh annual year, Coast to Coast drew cyclists from seven different countries, from honeymooning Danish couple Hanna and Carsten to Honduran Supreme Court Justice Rafael Bustillo.

At the event in the city of Comayagua, his hometown, Bustillo thanked Transformemos Honduras for organizing the event, adding, “Children like this are our future, and we must continue to support them – young people, prepare yourselves, study, that is how our country will move forward.”

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Nine cyclists from the United States also joined the race, fundraising to support AJS’s education reform programs.

One of these cyclists, eleven-year-old Jonathah Bouwman from Grand Rapids, MI, who rode accompanied by her father, Joel, became the youngest cyclist to ever finish the race. “In my school, I have really good teachers,” she explained in Spanish, “Here in Honduras, it should be the same!”

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At events in each of the eight cities, representatives from nonprofit organizations, local governments and school districts, and private businesses came together behind a common message.

“We are grateful to Transformemos Honduras for giving us this opportunity to participate in this event,” said Gennie Flores, general manager of Bikemart, a Honduran cycling store. “As civil society, we should be the first auditors of public education. I’ve been a volunteer with AJS, and I can say that as a person I am motivated to continue in this movement.”

“Education is a very fundamental theme,” said Roman Canales, a representative from World Vision, “Education changes your life, it can cut the cycle of poverty. Without education, it is very difficult for us to develop our country. That is why we want a quality education for all children in Honduras.”

Since Transformemos Honduras began advocating for 200 days of class per year, the standard has been met for four years in a row. Now, says Transformemos Honduras coordinator Blanca Munguía, it is time to go farther.

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“We have another goal in 2017,” said Munguía. “We want to go beyond the 200 days of class and ensure that each of those class days is effective. We want to push for continued changes so that in 2017 we ensure that each hour provides learning for the children.”

Transformemos Honduras published a study in December 2016 that found that just 74% of a typical school day was focused on academic content, below international standards. In other words, though Honduran schools were now meeting over 200 days per year, some students still weren’t getting the full amount of education.

“Each hour should have content, it should have results,” said Munguía “The government should oversee this, and ensure that teachers that they hire are professional and come in through a clear and transparent hiring system. In that way, Honduras will have teachers who know how to best use class time and are able to teach students well.”

Over 130 cyclists biked across 270 miles of rough roads and mountains, through sun and rain, to add their voices to this message.

“We are finishing a week where these cyclists put forth a great deal of effort, and at the end, were able to say, ‘we did it!’” said Munguía, “I hope that at the end of 2017, in our fight for quality education we will also be able to say, ‘we did it!’.”

tela boy prize.jpgCheck out Coast to Coast’s website for more photos and information about the event. For another chance to cycle in support of AJS’s consider joining the Sea to Sea race across the United States and Canada this summer. Contact us to learn how to get involved!

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