By Amber Noe

Nearly all the opportunities life has presented me are thanks, in large part, to the blessings of receiving a solid education. Yet, for so many, those opportunities are left unrealized; unfulfilled. Alas, how can a child have hope of putting pencil to paper, if he doesn’t know when he’ll be putting food in his hungry belly?

This is a problem all too common in the countries Food For The Poor serves. Fortunately, there are proverbial angels-on-earth that take up the cause to provide this essential for so many children in need.

Johanna Hirota’s mother, Ana Maria Leonhardt, was just this sort of individual. A teacher and librarian for many years, she believed that the ticket to move out of poverty was education. So when Ana Maria passed away last April, Johanna, a longtime Food For The Poor supporter, decided to do something in her mother’s honor and keep her legacy alive, by building a school in Honduras.

Johanna Hirota and her family at the inauguration of the school built in memory of Ana Maria Leonhardt.
Johanna Hirota (right) and her family with school children at the inauguration of the school built in memory of  Johanna’s mother, Ana Maria Leonhardt.


At first, the cost of building a school seemed daunting, and Johanna wondered if she’d be able to follow through. She sat with her family to evaluate how to make their goal more manageable. “We thought, if we have 100 supporters, each person need only give a small amount,” Johanna stated. “We know at least that many people, plus all the people they know, and on and on. Breaking it down seemed very doable.”

Kismet played its part as Johanna and her brother Ron received an outpouring of support from friends, family, and from Ana Maria’s community of former students and others on whose lives she made a tremendous impact. Everyone wanted to do something and be a part of this vision.

So Johanna started a Champions page, as a dedicated place of giving, for everyone wishing to honor Ana Maria’s life in this very tangible way. “Our part was really easy and straight-forward,” Johanna chuckled. “We just sent messages to people letting them know how they could get involved.”

The rest came together as only God could have intended. Escuela Ana Maria Leonhardt, in Tela, Atlantida, Honduras was completed in November 2015, almost six months after Ana Maria’s passing. Johanna, her brother, father, and nephew traveled to Honduras to inaugurate this lasting symbol of love, legacy, and joy. “It was so moving,” Johanna stated fondly, “Seeing mom’s plaque, all the people that showed up, and the kids that will benefit from the school. We feel really blessed.”

“You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to support you. If you’re passionate about it, feel good about it; go for it,” Johanna commented on her dedication to honor Ana Maria’s memory.

Johanna and her family plan to continue fostering education efforts in Tela, so that the children may have a better future. She smiled fondly, stating “I hope my mom’s up there, smiling at us and happy that we’ve done this.”