Katia Gomez

Ashoka Fellow
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Honduras
Fellow Since 2015
This description of Katia Gomez's work was prepared when Katia Gomez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .

Introduction

Katia Gomez’s program Educate2Envision (E2E) is teaching 12 to 18 year olds in the most rural parts of Honduras to fight poverty from within their own communities. In exchange for secondary-school scholarships, E2E brings together the young people to design and implement (with 120 hours of service a year each) a project to transform their own community’s needs. Designing adult nutrition programs, bringing electricity to their villages, and founding and running their community’s first kindergarten, the youth are taking development into their own hands.

The New Idea

More than 50% of Hondurans live in remote, rural communities where no one in the community has more than a 5th grade education. Katia Gomez is bringing education to the children and adolescents in these communities, and leveraging her scholarships to teach them to fight poverty from within the community. Katia partners with EducaTodos, an alternative education collaboration for secondary school between the Honduran government and USAID. The program, which allows for flexible hours and education within the communities themselves, meets the students’ needs and offers them new opportunities to continue to grow. E2E’s scholarships begin at 60% of the cost of secondary school, and increase by 10% for each year the young person stays in school.
n exchange for their scholarships, E2E asks the students to come together and, as a team, design a project that identifies and resolves a need in their own community. The students each commit 120 hours a year to their project, examples of which range from the repair of broken down roads, to the design of a nutrition program for elderly women, to the operation of the community’s first kindergarten, to a group of students which has mobilized citizens to bring electricity to their community. E2E also partners with BAC, one of the largest banks in Honduras, to lead the students in a business curriculum that emphasizes leadership, partnership, savings, and social impact.

In rural communities in Honduras, the youngest people are setting the example of how to bring change from within, and the communities are being inspired by the transformation. While international nonprofits continue to pull out of Honduras for fear of violence, 12 to18 year-olds are planning and achieving sustainable changes that fight poverty on the ground. Instead of becoming pregnant at a young age, girls are stepping up to the community development task, becoming equal partners with the boys and, in one community, starting a girls’ leadership club for the younger primary school children. In a context where, before, the brightest students aspired only to leave their communities, young people are seeing options to stay and change where they live. The students learn to identify their community’s needs, and find ways to address them collaboratively, developing leadership and business skills through actual practice and with seed funding, they are preparing to be the future leaders in their communities’ economies. Building local capital from within, E2E leverages every dollar spent on rural Honduran education for social impact. E2E is already working with 110 students in six rural communities in Honduras, and is looking to expand to eight more this year.

The Problem

Poor, extremely rural, and the most violent country in Central America, Honduras often finds itself alone in the struggle for development. The country is ranked 120th on the UN Human Development Index, and the World Bank identifies 64.5% of the population as living below the national poverty line. More than half of the population lives in remote, rural areas that are inaccessible half the year due to rains. The vicious cycles of poverty have motivated many young people to join gangs and continue to perpetuate violence.

Internally, Honduras faces a major human capacity gap. More than 40% of the total population is illiterate, with the number higher than 80% in the rural areas where much of the population lives. Most communities are spread hours apart and do not have their own secondary schools, which means that, with the risk of violence and challenge of the distance, young people struggle to get to school, especially as many of them are expected to help their parents in agriculture during the day. The government pays for only teachers’ salaries at secondary schools, which means that all other fees – uniforms, books, project materials, and transportation – must be paid by the students. Even students who finish primary school are the minority in rural communities. The rural students with the most potential leave their villages as soon as they can to seek better opportunities in the cities.

Studies have shown that education, and in particular, secondary school, will be key to Honduras’s development- both in improving human capital and ensuring better outcomes for the next generation. The children of mothers who can read, for example, are 50% more likely to survive past age 5. With the country’s future depending on Hondurans, education will be a critical piece of changing outcomes. But with only 43% of children enrolled in public schools finishing the primary level and 30% of them going on to secondary school, this change is not happening.

Historically, Honduras was shaped by the presence of international development aid, usually short-term programming managed by foreigners under three-year contracts that promoted a cycle of dependency within Honduras. This pattern did not develop the human capital of Honduras or provide a sustainable base for development. And recently, many social organizations have fled Honduras because the violence has gotten so bad, while others have had their legal status canceled by the new government. What is left is a vacuum where too-few educated people are working for Honduras’s improvement.

Because the rural communities present such a difficult environment for development success, change will require a new kind of human capacity development. Education must be pursued; but done so in a way that works for Honduras’s majority-rural population. The country cannot depend on outside assistance, and must find its own, sustainable way to change.

The Strategy

Katia has designed Educate2Envision to equip very young people to take on the enormous task of beginning to change their rural communities. Aware that the odds are against these children, she is working on every aspect of their education to help them become the people that are capable of this change.

The first step to making this possible is investing in the continued education of these students. Only 30% of Honduran primary school students traditionally go on to secondary school, due to a lack of access to schools, risks of violence, and the need to help their parents at home. Because of this challenge, E2E partners with EducaTodos, a USAID/Honduran government designed alternative education program, to bring secondary school to the communities that are located far from schools. The program provides curriculum for local teachers within small, remote communities and lets students determine the schedule for their classes that works for them. While EducaTodos is already less costly than traditional education ($62 a year compared to $300-$1000), the price still presents a barrier for many students . To surmount this, E2E offers students scholarships which cover 60% of the program’s cost the first year and increase by 10% each additional year the student continues to attend school and perform well so that by year four, the students will pay no tuition.

The scholarships are paired with the community development project which is the true heart of Educate2Envision. In exchange for his or her scholarship, each student is required to commit 120 community service hours each year. At the beginning of the school year, all the students from a class gather together and identify a need within their own community. They design a strategy to address the need, and each contributes his or her hours to ensuring the project’s success.

While Educate2Envision pitches the requirement to students as payment for their scholarship, the end result is that the program incubates the next generation of leaders, as students become the agents of change for their neighborhoods. In one community, students repaired broken down roads to improve transportation time and safety. In another, they took plans for bringing electricity to the community, which had been talked about for years, and did the groundwork to make sure it actually happened. This type of change – in which the students’ initiative inspires the adults to believe in change as well, is a critical piece of E2E’s success.

In order to complement this leadership training, E2E has also developed a business and entrepreneurship curriculum with BAC, one of the largest Honduran banks. After their first year of secondary education, students receive a business curriculum that emphasizes leadership, partnerships, savings and social impact. They also are exposed to skills-based sessions and mentorship opportunities, and some groups receive seed funding to start their own businesses.

Thus far, Educate2Envision has provided scholarships to 110 students in six communities, more than 80% of which are first-generation secondary school students. All of the schools are eligible to receive the business curriculum and qualify for seed funding for social businesses. This investment has resulted in more than 13,000 hours of community impact work, each project centered around a community problem, like Dengue Fever, crumbling infrastructure, or nutritional problems among the elderly.
The students have also used the skills learned through E2E to promote their own development of technological skills. In one community, the Honduran government built a full computer lab, but did not provide any trained staff able to operate it. Katia’s students raised their own funds to travel once a week to computer classes in another community, and are now taking full advantage of the computer lab.

In the next year, Educate2Envision will focus on expanding from six to fourteen schools and developing its partnerships. The organization is currently the nonprofit partner for a major private-sector initiative to bring Internet to 2000 schools in Honduras. Katia aims to form collaborations with large organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and USAID. She is working to make these organizations view Educate2Envision’s work as a critical component of violence prevention and local capacity building, as well as a part of the Honduran National Education Plan.

In the next five years, E2E aspires to cover all of Honduras, so that every municipality in Honduras will have access to secondary education. In the long term, her goal is to make Educate2Envision entirely financially self-sufficient. Up until this point, the organization has relied on a combination of matched contributions, individual donations, various awards, foundation grants, fundraising events, in-kind contributions, and small proceeds from business partnerships with organizations like the international Rotary Club. In the long term, Katia is aiming to transition toward a model in which the proceeds from students’ businesses will be used to fund future scholarships. Already in one of the communities where she works, the students’ businesses have allowed them to purchase their own school uniforms, and in another the students were able to pay all the scholarships for their second year of secondary school. Katia is also working to develop a virtual volunteer abroad program which will unite high school students in the US and Spain with students in Honduras via video conferencing. Once the program is packaged and technical capabilities have been proven on both sides, the organization will sell this program to high schools in the United States and Spain and also private bilingual schools in Honduras.

Currently, Katia’s team consists of herself and her local country director in Honduras. Thus far, she has been able to accomplish all of E2E’s work while maintaining another full-time job. In the next year, she will be able to dedicate herself 100% to the project, increasing her time resources for the project dramatically. As E2E expands to other schools she will also increase her staff to meet the needs of the increased number of communities.

The Person

Katia Gomez grew up in a single-parent family where money was often a challenge. Her single mother had begun working early and so was unable to reach the education level she hoped for, so she taught Katia to always apply herself in school and prioritize education. Encouraging Katia to go to the best schools that she could, she helped her to find financial support for both high school and college. On an alternative spring break during her undergraduate studies at University of California San Diego, Katia volunteered in a small rural community in Honduras. She instantly gravitated toward the community’s children, and in particular a girl named Jenny. When she returned to California, she decided to support Jenny in the only way she knew how, through financial sponsorship. It was only through contact with her family members and sponsorship paperwork that she discovered that Jenny’s parents had been murdered, and before Katia’s sponsorship, Jenny’s grandmother had withdrawn her from school to work at home. Upon receiving a photo of Jenny with her new backpack and a huge smile, Katia decided she needed to find a way to more sustainably support the millions of Honduran students who shared Jenny’s situation.

The next year, Katia returned to Honduras on another spring break trip, but this time with her notebook in hand. She spent the week observing the community and interviewing its members, searching for a solution that would be more sustainable than her school’s one-week trips to build water stations or conduct health classes. That summer, she checked out book after book on founding a non-profit from her local public library, and began having small-scale bake sales to raise money for the community in Honduras.

Although she had no personal family ties to Honduras and the country was one of the most difficult in the world in which to work, Katia was determined to bring change to the country. She made her first trips to Honduras, delivering books and helping the community to build a school. Working on the ground and attending social conferences, however, Katia became convinced that she wanted to bring a different kind of development to the country. She was frustrated by the way the majority of projects in Honduras were short-term interventions without true investments in local human capital. She felt that these projects, which tended to bring US brigades or volunteers in short-term interventions perpetuated the cycle of dependency and handouts that had shaped Honduras’s foreign aid reputation. Through a series of conversations with her local country director and the first iterations of Educate2Envision, Katia developed a strategy that would place the community members at the centers of their own development, and began to fight poverty from within. Since then, she has worked a full time job in San Francisco, spending every vacation and spare moment making sure that Educate2Envision’s scholarships are paired with community development and business curricula, so that they can promote real and sustainable change. This year, she will make the transition to dedicating herself full-time to E2E, spending half the year fundraising and working on partnerships, and half the year on the ground in Honduras in the communities.

Educate2Envision took a major leap in 2012 when Katia won VH1’s $100,000 do-something award. She has also been named one of “10 Heroes for International Day of the Girl” by TakePart.com and one of the Top 12 “Amazing Young Entrepreneurs Doing Good” by Forbes. In 2013, she was also named by Newsweek as one of the "Top 25 Women Under 25 in the World to Watch." She has been a featured speaker at Rotary Clubs across California, Millennium Campus Conference, Women Deliver International Conference, and Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference.