August 13, 2015 by Debra Gittler


Happy birthday, Ma Dukes aka Carol Gittler aka my mom! (Seen with my dad, below.)

When I started the first version of a blog in 2011, I knew that I wanted it to be about education in Central America, about what’s going on in El Salvador, and about the experience of being the leader of a start-up NGO.

I wanted the writing to be honest and sincere. Not just about the work and the challenges of social change, but about the person/people doing that work and their lives.

I wanted to bring light to the humanity behind what we do. To emphasize that we care as much about the people we serve as those that we employee.

I wanted to be able to highlight the urgency of the work and how that affects our psyches. Our work is emotional, touching, personal. It demands passion and reflection. It is done from our hearts, not just our heads.

As a great mentor reminded me: We are not cardiologists. No one will lose his or her life if we take a bit more time to figure out a solution.

So how do we maintain a sense of urgency about the work, but a sense of calm and focus about ourselves?

How do we recognize that those we serve in El Salvador—literally some of the most vulnerable in the world—demand urgency and resolve, but at the same time we— the people doing the work— must first and foremost care for ourselves? We cannot give 100% if we are not our best.

So I need to be honest—I’m not at 100% just now. I want to be happy and positive and grateful that I can be home to celebrate my mom’s 75th birthday with her. But I’m sad and torn. I feel divided between two homes—Chicago and El Salvador.

Even more so, I feel divided between two obligations—my family and my work.

And I love both.

But my dad is sick and he isn’t going to get better.

It is easy to feel grateful that my family is united, my parents are financially stable, and I have the flexibility to be with my father frequently.

It’s easy to feel grateful that my work is fulfilling and meaningful, that my staff and board are supportive and kind.

It’s easy to keep perspective about tragedy because right now, tragedy seems to abound, and yet the backdrop of violence and poor health only buoy the laughter and joy, the intensity and intentionality.

So there it is. El Salvador is suffering, I know that. Our work is phenomenal but really needs vision and leadership just now (as always) and I find myself struggling to give 100%. Because I don’t have 100% to give just now.

People frequently say to me “your work must be so rewarding.” It is. But right now, it is rewarding not because of our actions or the value of doing good. Right now, the work is rewarding because it is allowing me to not be 100%. Right now, the reward is that I feel divided and torn and confused and overwhelmed. But I still know that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Feliz cumpleaños, mama. Can’t wait to cut a cake with you.

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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