Do Something Awards  winner (woot!) Katia Gomez has always recognized the importance of education. While visiting Honduras, she saw how its citizens lacked the access to education that could give them a brighter future. She started Education2Envision  to help children finish their education. So far the organization has helped 450 students graduate from high school.
1. How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you are addressing?
The term “elementary school dropout” is unheard of in the U.S. so it was unsettling to discover that this was not an exception to the rule; it was widespread throughout countless communities in rural Honduras. During my first interviews with teachers and community members, I became incredibly motivated to educate myself on why girls became pregnant as early as 13, why on average less than 10% of the entering class graduated from primary school each year, and why the majority of children were removed from school at 3rd grade to work.
2. How do you feel about it now?
I feel more inspired than ever because I speak often to the students E2E supports and am continuously reassured that we in fact are changing lives and future generations to come. I also feel incredibly optimistic after witnessing the resilience and unwavering determination of our students to become educated, even if it means walking 5 hours to class or having had to wait until they were 26 years old to enter high school.
3. What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?
During my initial visit, I asked several of the children what they wanted to be when they grew up and had figured this was a typical question no matter what part of the world you lived in, but the majority responded with silence. It began to dawn on me that it was actually a luxury to have a response to that question - this was not commonly asked. For the children in these remote communities who live in areas where not a single person has gone beyond primary school, the mental boundaries to what you can achieve are understandably difficult to overcome.
4. Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?
Seeing the untapped potential that has existed for far too long among the youth of these communities and the great minds that can contribute to the development and prosperity of the country but are not being invested in - this inspires me to work hard. Equally as inspiring to me are the parents’ visible desires to provide their children with a life of less hardship and one where they can reach their full potential.
5. Can you describe the moment you knew that you were actually making a difference?
Once E2E had signed all the final paperwork to bring high school to our first community, I decided to pay a surprise visit to our sponsored students. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I observed each student walk to the front of the class and express their thanks at what this opportunity had meant to them. Some broke down into tears as they recalled having such a strong desire upon finishing primary school to continue learning so they could improve the lives of their families and themselves, but thought it to be impossible without the financial means.
6. What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start or grow your project?
The most difficult roadblock in the beginning was mainly financial and ensuring there were sufficient funds to support the growing number of students that would enter secondary school. As our programs grew and became more involved, financial concerns remained and we were forced to stall construction of the community education center in Pajarillos for a few months until more funds were available.
7. What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?
The biggest lesson has been that when it comes to education projects, you cannot expect sustainable results by taking a donation-centered approach. Although students do indeed need pencils, notebooks, and backpacks to attend class, what will benefit them even more are leadership and technical skill workshops, mentoring and tutoring programs that offer opportunities to reinforce their knowledge, and guidance in performing community outreach to share their knowledge - in a nutshell, “skill supplies” must go hand in hand with “school supplies”.
8. What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?
I remember attending a conference in Honduras and hearing a fellow NGO worker say that you must know the difference between motivation and inspiration. Inspiration is what will help you start a project but motivation is what will cause you to see it through. If you find that you are no longer just as motivated as you were the first day then you should step back and rethink if this is what you really want to dedicate yourself to.
9. If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be and why?
Based on what I know now, I would have looked for partnerships with other organizations earlier on. Having the Honduran Secretary of Education as a partner has been invaluable, but I waited a while to reach out to other organizations, which has turned out to be a huge benefit. Most recently, our partnership with an all-girls university near the capital, Tegucigalpa, has allowed us to begin a mentoring program between secondary school girls and those at the university level.
10. What's your next project?
In about one month we will have completed construction of a community education center serving over 1,000 community members in Pajarillos, Honduras. Once we secure ourselves in our third community, in partnership with the Honduran Secretary of Education, we will continue selecting additional places with similar needs especially in the most remote areas to offer our support. Secondly, this summer E2E will sponsor the first ever Youth Health Conference for students in the rural areas.
11. If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for your organization, who would it be and why?
I would choose George Clooney because, although he doesn’t focus specifically on education, I love his tenacity when it comes to spreading awareness and making his voice heard about a cause he cares deeply about. I know that to have him on your team would mean getting one of the most committed and passionate advocates for your work ever.