This month, we are celebrating Howard Lobb’s 20th work anniversary with CoEd!

We think that deserves a celebration!

For the past two decades, Howard has dedicated his life to helping children in Guatemala break the cycle of poverty through education. We are so thankful for Howard’s many years of leadership and service to our mission. We truly wouldn’t be where we are as an organization today without him.

Many of you’ve had the chance to meet Howard on our tours to Guatemala and get to know the Gran Jaguar himself. (Back story time! When Howard was introducing himself to some children at a school in Guatemala, they had never heard the name “Howard” before, so they thought that he was saying his name was “Jaguar”, and the nickname stuck. Because he is so tall, we sometimes call him El Gran Jaguar, the big jaguar, which is also the name of one of the Maya temples at Tikal!)  But if you haven’t had the honor of meeting Howard yet, you might be wondering, who is this guy and how did he get here? Well, we’re here to walk you along his journey and celebrate the amazing impact he’s had on shaping our organization thus far.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

In 1996, Howard went to Guatemala for the very first time to see a developing country and to explore volunteer opportunities. “My mother was always encouraging me to do service for others, and so I went down to see a Catholic mission. Immediately, I was in awe of how beautiful Guatemala was and how friendly the people were.”

But during his first exploratory week in Guatemala, he just couldn’t get over the heartbreaking condition of the villages, towns, and Guatemala City. The roads, schools, and living conditions of the people were unlike anything he had ever seen before.
In addition to witnessing poverty around him every day, he was told horrible stories from the civil war that had just officially ended that year—stories of military trucks driving down the road picking up boys as they walked home from school, “recruiting them into the Army,” just like that.

After that trip, he was offered an opportunity by Sister Kris Schrader to come back and volunteer for the Catholic mission by helping to teach in their middle school. It turns out that the school, “La Labor,” was where Joe and Jeff Berninger, CoEd’s Founders, had just started their first textbook cooperative. He met Jeff and Joe, and they quickly became friends as they realized that they had many shared values, including a passion for education.

Howard teaching in “La Labor” school in 1997

Joe, Jeff, and Howard in Guatemala

“After this first time volunteering in Guatemala, I became obsessed thinking about what was possible with human development and adding to the quality of people’s lives. What was the objective? What could we do to make true, lasting improvements to people’s lives that allowed them to maintain what was already good in their lives, but yet help them create additional options in life?”

Fast forward a few years, Joe remembered, “So, it’s the year 2001. CoEd had just received a grant from Microsoft for $50,000 to put a computer lab in a school. The problem was, at that point, CoEd didn’t HAVE a computer project. $50K for a computer lab…and no capacity to put in computer labs. CoEd was just a textbook project only for the first 4 years.”

He thought, “who do we know who has a heart for service, knows Spanish, knows technology and who could come down and help us get a computer lab installed in 3 months?”
“Howard…maybe, Howard,” he said.

Joe called him up and said, “Howard…have I got an offer for you…we need you in Guatemala. Just give me 3 months and you can go back to your life.” Howard thought “I always thought my work in human development would be related to environmental work, but something about this opportunity rang true. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I knew it would be so much fun working with Joe and Jeff. So, I took a leave of absence from my job and went!”

In 2001, after installing the first center in Tecpán, Howard then decided to leave his corporate career in engineering to stay in Guatemala and help truly develop the second of CoEd’s four educational programs in Guatemala: the Computer Centers Program.

Howard in 2002 meeting with the staff of the Patzun Cooperative school to help them with CoEd’s 4th ever Computer Center

Howard and the rest of the 2003 Computer Program team

Howard showing new computers to girl students and mothers in a Computer Center in 2004

Howard working with a student at a CoEd Computer Center in 2020

Even though CoEd was only a few years old, he jumped right in and wanted to help provide a vision for expanding the program into the vital arena of technology skills. “It was such an exciting time: from understanding how to set up client-server networks, to benchmarking tech-in-education best practices with my educator friends back in the States, to creating our first ever teacher training and coaching model, and to building the revolving fund plan based on the Textbook Program’s sustainability model. And it was so fun learning from the small CoEd team at that time, Joe, Jeff, Horacio, Anne, Alvaro, and to then help build the computer team that would really make the program and the student learning possible.”

“Growing up in the Midwest of the US, I had little concept of Central America as a kid. If anything, the few images that I saw on the TV news were less than positive. But working here, I have seen Guatemala through new eyes. I have seen the true capability and professionalism of my Guatemalan co-workers and their heart and humor, and they inspire me as I learn from them and as I see them make continuous and incredible improvements to our work.”

Today, the program provides critical and life-changing technical skills to nearly 14,000 impoverished schoolchildren each day through our network of 53 computer centers.

Back then, he had no idea that this leap of faith would root him in Guatemala for the next 20 years. But here he is, decades later, still working tirelessly to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education. Now, as Director of Partner Development, he works to build relationships with CoEd’s supporters all over the globe. After he started working for CoEd, and as the years went past, he met and worked with more and more supporters who would come down to Guatemala to visit and volunteer with CoEd’s program.

Howard leading CoEd’s tours to Guatemala and showing supporters our programs in action

When asked about Howard, Joe said, “Howard is the real deal. He walks the talk. He gave up a lucrative career, his home, and proximity to family and friends, to follow his calling. He is more than just a co-worker, he’s a friend. During difficult times, he keeps me sane and makes me laugh. Howard…el Jaguar…is an irreplaceable part of our team. His leadership and his personal example inspires each of us to reach higher and strive further.”