On a hot December day, with temperatures in the high 80s, hundreds of children flooded a soccer field in Santa Barbara, Honduras.
They waited side-by-side, faces painted, to meet one of their heroes—Sporting Kansas City Midfielder Roger Espinoza.
“I grew up not too far from here. A couple hours away from here,” Espinoza told 41 Action News.
Now a midfielder for Sporting Kansas City, Espinoza is from a country plagued by violence and poverty.
He was born in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, about three hours from where he sat down with 41 Action News and where the children eagerly awaited to meet him.
“I was in their shoes, so I understand where they are coming from,” the 29-year-old said.
Like many his age, Espinoza said he grew up playing soccer. At the age of 11, he immigrated to the United States.
For college, he was recruited to play soccer at Ohio State and then drafted to play for Sporting Kansas City. He also played in England and on the Honduras National Team.
For several days, 41 Action News joined him in his native country as he taught soccer skills to children sponsored through the Kansas City based non-profit Unbound.
“When I see those kids, I want to help them,” he said. “I want to show them the experience I had through soccer and through everything around the world.”
Honduras is a country rich with natural beauty. There are mountains, oceans and a lot of ancient history.
Yet, it’s also a country plagued by extreme poverty and violence.
“The violence above all attacks the youth,” said Norma Pacheco, a mother of two, as she watched Espinoza coach her teenage son.
The soccer stadium Espinoza uses to teach the children is located in Santa Barbara, Honduras. The city is about 65 miles south of San Pedro Sula, known to be the deadliest city in the world.
Here, the homicide rate averages about 169 killings for every 100,000 people.
“It’s the youth we have to take care of,” Pacheco said, telling 41 Action News she often worries about her son.
In a country run by gangs and drug cartels, the soccer stadiums and makeshift fields have becomes a break from the daily violence.
Yet, not every day these children can escape.
The day 41 Action News and Espinoza arrived in Honduras, a local hero was gunned down.
Arnold Peralta was considered a soccer superstar. He played for the Honduras National Team with Espinoza and was one of the top players in the country.
Unfortunately in December, he was gunned down in the middle of the day at a mall. The 26-year-old was shot 18 times.
“It shouldn’t be happening to him. It shouldn’t be happening to any human being here in Honduras,” said Espinoza.
And that’s one of the first things Espinoza told all of the children he met—that they can achieve anything and can help make their country better and safer.
“Hopefully I can help many kids through my experience,” he said. “They can become good kids, very good to the Honduran society.”