When I met the founder of Olancho Aid, he asked me three questions.
“Do you know special education? Do you know construction? And finally, do you want to learn? I could only answer the last question enthusiastically, and I said, “yes!” Believe me, I had no idea how much I would come to understand through experience; as an educational organization we not only teach but we learn each and every day. My interaction with North American culture has helped me to understand that there is a bigger world than Olancho. Since beginning with the Foundation, I’ve learned much about myself and above all, to value every moment in the stages of my life.
In 2009, I was honored to be appointed as executive director of this organization. The first board of directors put their trust in me to develop Olancho Aid in Honduras. I had little experience and knew only a few words in English. Even so, they trusted me as a Honduran who loves his country. In the same way they believed in my potential, I believe in the youth we serve. My role has been to sow the seeds of education so others may have opportunities for personal and professional growth.
The tagline of this organization is education, hope and transformation. I believe deeply in the idea of offering equitable education, promoting Catholic values and treating everyone with dignity. Olancho Aid offers a unique opportunity for exposure to quality education based on high standards that expands our students’ horizons while respecting the culture and idiosyncrasies of this country we call home.
About a year and a half ago, I informed the Olancho Aid Board of Directors that I would not renew my contract. After 20 deeply meaningful years, I had decided to adjust my path and dedicate myself to my own business. I also informed my colleagues that this would be the end of my term as executive director. It has been my honor to work with the individuals who have collaborated as part of the Olancho Aid team over the years. They are true professionals with a heart for serving their community. They have become mentors to our students in helping them develop into good men and women.
My thanks go to the students and their families who in these 20 years have seen how the impact of education is significant in their lives. Our students with special needs and disabilities will always be in my heart. Escuelita Nazareth is the program that I have loved the most in my professional career. The students deserve the best education and attention that can be offered. For many years, this program has been the only educational center of it’s kind in the department of Olancho. May the members of this special community always find a home at Nazareth.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my family who is always there for me, the professional colleagues who have supported me, and all the volunteers, donors, and board members who have said yes to this great work of love, investing in education in Honduras.
Speaking of my family, I am the father of four children who have been educated in our schools, including my daughter who has polycystic kidney disease. It is not an understatement to share that she has been able to survive these seven years thanks to the support of friends who I’ve met through my work in this organization. This experience has taught me an important lesson: this life is better lived when we take a leap to build sincere relationships with people who, at first glance, seem very different from us. When we respect the dignity of all, common ground is easy to find. No matter the circumstances, with an open mind and caring heart, we all have something to give toward a more just society for all.
I cannot close without mentioning the pandemic and how difficult it has been for all of us worldwide, some suffering more than others. We learned to live with the minimum, to handle prolonged isolation, and above all to recognize that we must prioritize the well-being of others to be well ourselves. To ensure Olancho Aid could survive and continue serving the community, we had to make difficult decisions like relinquishing management of the bilingual schools and downsizing operations which meant parting ways with staff who had been part of the Olancho Aid family for years.
It is time for a new beginning. Damalis Garcia will oversee day to day operations for the schools, clean water projects, and Agape Farm while Francisco Barahona will be Director of Finance for the Honduran operation. Lauren O’Neill has been hired in a new role with the U.S. Foundation to oversee it’s operations in Honduras and Jessica Santavy will act as the interim executive director. I feel comfortable that the organization is in the hands of a very capable team that will navigate providing a new model of education to support the post-pandemic needs of this community.
As I often say, don’t worry! Olancho Aid will always be a part of me and I am happy to announce that I will stay involved as a liaison between the Diocese of Juticalpa and the Foundation. God is wonderful with all of us, each day he manifests himself in different ways, oftentimes we don’t recognize it until much later. I never expected to receive so many blessings in my time with this organization. I pray that my efforts have spread the fruits of that blessing throughout Olancho and beyond.