Education has proven to reduce poverty, increase life expectancy and create more community involvement. If you can read this book you are lucky because you were given an opportunity to learn. Katia Gomez understands how providing education can help not just an individual, but whole communities, and future generations. Starting in Honduras she has created a program that provides mentors, an informal library system, community involvement, high school, and adult school. Beyond education her presence has encouraged a whole community to work together and take control of their future.
What was your inspiration or what necessitated you to begin this adventure? My inspiration was planted in my mind as a young girl. As the child of a single parent, resources were always scarce and financial hardships came upon us consistently. Towards the end of primary school, however, a member from our church decided to sponsor me all the way through university and it was this priceless gift that led me to Honduras during a study abroad trip, sparking the impetus that would become Educate2Envision. It was during my trip of 2009 that I met a young girl from the village we worked in whose presence stuck me with the whole way back to the US. I decided to try and sponsor her through school and I learned that she was an orphan and at age 12 had been pulled out of school to work. I saw in her a future that was being stripped away simply because she did not have the financial means to decide her own fate. But I had been incredibly lucky to be in the shoes that I was in – to be the college volunteer visiting a new country and able to give back to the world; it was a luxury she did not have. For this reason, I knew that I needed to at least put forth an effort, no matter how small, to help change the course of her life and the many others I had yet to know.
What steps did you take to create your program? When I arrived back home from Honduras, I immediately began my research to understand the larger scope of the education problems affecting the country. I met with professors in the field and NGO technical staff who were experts in this area and could provide me with a knowledge base that I then worked off of to begin designing Educate2Envision’s programs. The library became a place that I found myself in frequently reading “how to” books on starting and running a nonprofit organization. I used these materials to help me understand enough of the lengthy paperwork process to file in 2010 and officially become an organization. Once I had things in place at home, I headed back to Honduras to revisit the same community and held meetings, collected more data, and learned from the stories of the local families that education was a necessary tool to change the course of their lives.
What obstacles were you forced to overcome? I was met with a lot of skepticism and doubt at first by the local government who believed that the community I had chosen was a lost cause and would be unresponsive to our efforts. Even some of the local teachers expressed a disinterest in providing the community with a greater level of education basing this on their belief that they would not take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. This was tough to hear after so much time spent in preparation to assist this community, but we triumphed through the pessimism to prove them wrong. We also struggled with funding, being an unknown group of recent college grads, it was tough to fundraise sufficiently for the ambitions that we had. We held countless bake sales just to ensure we could sponsor our students through the first years of high school.
What were the hardest problems to solve or actions to take? The hardest actions to take were probably those relating to our adolescent girls because of how time-sensitive of an issue we were dealing with and still are today. Finding a girl in the nick of time before she is married off to an older man or becomes pregnant before even reaching 14 years old is a major challenge. Not only must we first find these girls, who are hard to reach in rural villages that we work in, but we must then convince them and their families to forego early marriage and choose the path towards education instead. There are monumental societal barriers and preexisting mindsets that come in to play that can deter progress. Although we are able to create access to higher education for these communities that live in poverty, the hardest obstacle to confront on a daily basis is the belief system and lack of self-esteem many children suffer from.
What must you do to stay operational? A dedicated and dynamic board of directors is essential to any sustainable organization especially a small start-up without much paid staff. You need these people who not only believe in you as a person but in your mission whole-heartedly. For our organization, we also thrive off of partnerships both here at home and in Honduras where we operate because it is such an essential tool for growing your programs and collaborating with other great establishments to increase your impact.
Who, if anyone, helped you succeed? Having my core staff in the beginning helped me immensely because running an international organization can never be a “one woman” job. Having support from them and professors from my university instilled confidence in me and gave me the positive reinforcement I needed to carry through my projects. I believe that it helps to have people who remind you to redefine success in your mind, as a young entrepreneur, so that you can savor the small victories and not be held hostage by the most ambitious goals that will undoubtedly take more time to achieve. The first success to be celebrated is any first step taken towards action.
Do you have any advice for readers who want to get involved or start a similar program? My advice for future social entrepreneurs can be summed up in one word: patience. Patience with the rate as which your programs grow, patience with the recognition you may strive for, and most importantly patience within yourself as a human being. I believe that it is so important to remember that we are not in a race and to stray away from a “contest-mentality” in which we feel the need to win each and every time. If you want to succeed with your endeavors, keep those you aim to help at the heart of all you do because distractions will make an appearance, whether it be notoriety or bureaucracy or other pressures, remember why you started this. Remember the first moment that the light was ignited and then move forward with patience.