The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 4, 2010

UPJ names Distinguished Alumni Award winner

JOHNSTOWN — Chester “Chet” Thomas has been named Pitt-Johnstown’s 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.

The award is the highest honor the university bestows upon alumni.

Thomas, a 1966 graduate, will be presented the award at the annual Pitt-Johnstown Proud Celebration on March 20.

Thomas, a native of Somerset County, is the founder and executive director of Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG), also known as Project Global Village, located in Honduras.

After graduation, Thomas joined the Peace Corps, where he served in Colombia until 1969. In 1974, following Hurricane Fifi, he relocated to Honduras, where he worked on the reconstruction of the destroyed areas and started a relief and development organization called CEDEN, which was an association of Christian churches in Honduras. Personally, he also founded an orphanage for the children of parents lost in the hurricane. The orphanage continues to operate today.

In 1976, disaster struck again, and he answered a call from the National Council of Churches – USA to direct a massive reconstruction of 22,000 housing units following an earthquake in Guatemala. In the early 1979, he returned to Honduras, where he currently resides.

In 1983, he started Proyecto Aldea Global, which employs more than 165 people distributed among seven regional offices. The organization also utilizes the volunteer services of several thousand community health, human rights and educational leaders across Honduras.

Thomas’ efforts have resulted in the construction of 74 schools, 18 maternal child care clinics and 115 community health centers that provide health care for more than 500 communities.

Through a physical infrastructure program, more than 1,000 miles of roads have been constructed to help small farmers market their produce, and a ferry boat system was built to transport vehicles across the El Cajon dam.

Thomas’ efforts have led to the construction of more than 350 community water systems.

In addition, the Celaque Highlands Agro Industrial development project, initiated by PAG, has installed more than 130 miles of main water lines to provide irrigation to 600 farmers’ fields, allowing for year-round farming.

As a result, the Celaque area is becoming a major agricultural food production center with more than 95 tons of vegetable produce being shipped each week to distributors including Wal-Mart and other food distribution chains.

In addition to his role with PAG, Thomas is founder and president of the Honduran Community Health Network, co-founder of the Mosquitia Coast Development Organization and serves as vice president of the Federation of Voluntary Development Organizations of Honduras.

He received the 2006 World Health Program Award for outstanding community health programs in Latin America.

He received the 2009 Honduras Environment Award, the highest environmental award in Honduras.

Maintaining a strong commitment to education, Thomas developed PAG into a living classroom for thousands of college students from around the globe who have visited the area. The PAG organization built the Los Pinos Environmental Center, which serves as a facility for ecotourists and students.

On learning of his selection for the award, Thomas said, “I am humbled with the news of this award as it has been God who has provided me this privilege to work with those in need in Central America and by doing so, honor his name. Our work over these past 39 years has been fun, challenging, and very rewarding, as is this acknowledgement from the alumni of Pitt-Johnstown. I am very grateful.”

Tickets to Pitt-Johnstown Proud can be purchased by calling 269-2080. The registration deadline is Thursday.