Pay it Forward: How Volunteering Helps Bridge Gaps

Education is a basic human right. Unfortunately, the right to education is not always a prerequisite to obtaining it.

In most countries, the cost of education is a significant barrier to ensuring that every child has access to quality learning. In addition, some institutions aren’t equipped to deliver quality education and are often overburdened by the number of children who cannot access learning opportunities.

This is a sad reality for most people around the globe. Thus, buildOn was born.

What is buildOn?

BuildOn is a global nonprofit organization that organizes afterschool youth service programs in US high schools and constructs schools in developing countries. It has its roots in Stamford, Connecticut. The endeavor of this organization is a prime example of an actual “service” organization. 

Imagine people helping hand in hand with a common goal, to help those who are in need, especially the unfortunate communities, young children, elderlies, and out-of-school youths. The world will be a better place with more organizations like buildOn in it.

We at Mack Media Group were amazed by how buildOn influences and uplifts the lives of those rural communities in developing countries. As someone from Connecticut, there’s no word to describe how proud I am for buildOn, its staff, and its partners. Their way of serving communities without expecting anything in return is heartwarming and inspiring at the same time. 

Their advocacies and goals for the communities -worldwide- are more than enough reason to give them the spotlight for this month’s article. Allow me to put into writing all their achievements and continuous endeavors with appreciation and gratitude.

This amazing non-profit organization is breaking ground on a new school every three days in collaboration with local ministries of education and rural communities. Their efforts increase primary school enrollment in the villages they collaborate with by more than 20% on average.

buildOn’s Historical Background

buildOn historical background

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The founding of buildOn began in 1989 when the President and CEO Jim Ziolkowski watched a two-day celebration for the school’s opening in Nepal, where he was backpacking. For the previous months of his journey, all he saw was immense suffering because of extreme poverty.

But at that moment in school in Nepal, he saw a different thing. He witnessed the courage and hope of the community, all inspired by education.

 This opened the eyes of Ziolkowski, and in 1991 he decided to quit his current job to organize a nonprofit organization with his brother. They first called it Building with Books. From the name of the organization itself, you can easily determine their advocacy; to build a brighter future using quality education.

In 1992, Jim and his partners built the organization’s first school in Misomali, a small village in Malawi, Africa.

BuildOn’s service-learning program continued to develop. They encourage parents in rural regions to engage actively in their programs to enhance their community’s quality of education and social awareness.

The organization changed its name from Building with Books to buildOn in 2009 and established its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

A Movement Like No Other

I was personally moved by the plight of students in the United States to reach out to various communities. As I began to explore the organization’s mission, I was not only excited to learn about its vision but also intrigued by the tangible impact that volunteering can have on the lives of others.

For one, students can visit impoverished communities through their service trips and extend help for educational assistance to little kids, conduct clothing and food drives, advocate against violence, and other pressing issues that we are facing today.

All of this while also receiving an education in cultural awareness and global citizenship.

This nonprofit organization works to break cycles of poverty and illiteracy while providing opportunities for low-income children. By providing hands-on learning experiences, they enable students to discover their potential and positively impact the most vulnerable children in the world.

In addition, their programs aim to inspire and equip the next generation of leaders to create a better tomorrow for all. They work to inspire youth to reach their full potential through service, education, and public policy. BuildOn strives to create a better world where everyone receives the quality life of living they deserve.

Access to Quality Education 

buildOn quality education

Access to proper education management, relevance, and quality are the major critical barriers that buildOn works tirelessly to solve for people in the rural regions. They primarily target to work in the communities where children don’t enroll or drop out of primary schools because of poverty.

Their incredible projects have made a significant difference in different parts of the world over the past 22 years. They offer an improved service-learning setting for out-of-school youths and those children on the verge of dropping out of school. This leads to more grade levels of primary schools offered in rural communities. 

One of the best things about this organization is that they let the parents be their primary partners and leaders to aid them in implementing programs for improving the children’s education. 

I can say that the people behind buildOn are true leaders; they don’t consider themselves boss. Instead, they lead by example.  

I can see that they’re using the method “leadership through service” in their programs. This way, students and parents can cultivate values like wanting to make a difference or be an agent of change and improvement.

Building Improved Learning and Teaching Facilities

With buildOn’s effort, the distance between the student’s home and school has been significantly reduced. They also improved the working facilities and materials for the teachers. Separate latrines for boys and girls were also introduced.

All these endeavors resulted in increased primary school enrollment for girls and boys. These notable results spark the community’s long-term commitment to improving literacy and education. The best thing about this is that this commitment will be passed from one generation to another.

The essential power of buildOn’s technique lies in the fact that classrooms are built in collaboration with the students who will benefit from them. They built the school buildings and other facilities with perseverance, love, courage, and high hopes. And anything that’s built from positivity will have great results.

When buildOn expands into new nations and regions, it becomes a valuable resource for communities and local governments seeking to provide high-quality education for their children and better working conditions for their instructors. 

Another great thing is that buildOn requires the Ministry of Education to engage actively to provide educators and curriculum to each new locally-owned school.

Educators,  students, and the community can enjoy many benefits from collaborating with buildOn. BuildOn’s unique learning framework can strengthen relationships between students and teachers. 

Students, Teachers, and Community after Collaborating with buildOn

buildOn teachers and student volunteer

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The learnings they acquire from school do not end there. It’s great to see students apply what they have learned in their classrooms to the communities where they live. As a result, they develop a caring, sensitive student body with a disposition for ethical and responsible behavior.

I like the learning program of this organization, which is incredibly flexible. The responsibilities and tasks will depend on how much time they can offer and what you can give the students. BuildOn will modify its lesson plans to meet the educator and student’s needs!

Another thing I like about buildOn is their concern for the community’s welfare as a whole. Their influence on the community where the schools were built is astonishing. The increase in compassion is evident in every community member. 

Little by little, they’re developing a community of young people concerned about the state of society and the need for service.

Volunteerism: A Force of Change

The need for volunteers is evident everywhere. Whether it’s a soup kitchen, wildlife rescue, or serving meals at shelters for unhoused veterans, volunteers are constantly at work providing aid to the less fortunate. This nonprofit organization, buildOn, is no different.

Student volunteers at buildOn help make a change by becoming the change themselves. Through their direct service and advocacy, buildOn volunteers learn to solve problems collectively, develop their communication and critical thinking skills, and find their voice to speak up for the issues that matter to them.

For example, their feeding programs, tutoring sessions, and organizing food and clothing drives in Connecticut help both volunteers and citizens to come together to make a difference in the lives of those they serve.

Through these initiatives, teens are also learning valuable skills and making their communities safer and more inclusive. In addition, these efforts positively impact the city’s overall quality of life, making a meaningful impact on the city they live in.

buildOn as A Global Movement

Let’s take a look at how great this organization has been since its beginning. The organization has tried to motivate parents in rural areas to participate actively in their children’s development and education improvement. 

In collaboration with rural communities and local Ministries of Education, buildOn has built 2,079 school facilities in Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Nepal, and Senegal. 

Currently, over 270,000 children and adults are attending buildOn schools worldwide, many of whom were previously out of school or on the verge of dropping out. And 2.6 million accumulated volunteer service hours are contributed by community members worldwide.

It’s amazing how this organization is continuously growing and emanate positive impacts worldwide

buildOn’s Ideals

BuildOn ideal's

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Education Is a Vital Human Right

I personally agree with BuildOn when they say that access to quality education is the best way to eliminate poverty. 

Quality education is everyone’s vital right, yet most people who live in regions with extreme poverty don’t even have access to basic education. 

And buildOn is committed to changing this society’s issue. BuildOn encourages local residents in the world’s poorest countries to promote quality education and opportunities in their communities by partnering with them.

Youth Empowered by Service

buildOn U.S currently has six participating cities, including Boston, Bridgeport, CT, The Bronx, Chicago, Detroit, and Oakland, who are active in rendering service to their community.

BuildOn uses effective Service-Learning programs and empowers students in some of America’s most undervalued and under-resourced high schools to engage in the most critical issues in their society. 

It’s great that they require youths to participate through direct action by helping younger kids, seniors, and the unhoused. By doing this, buildOn students learn through service.

Direct Service

This type of buildOn service is dedicated to direct people-to-people acts.

BuildOn’s service-learning programs directly connect students to their community’s unfortunate members. These direct services include tutoring primary school students, serving food in soup kitchens, and spending time with the elderly. 

Indirect service

Indirect services include community beautification activities like creating public art, cleaning vandalisms, and making community gardens. In this way, buildOn students and partners can show their community they care about their environment.

Building Constructive Leaders

The world around us is changing. And the definition of a leader is also evolving. And buildOn gives students from some of America’s under-resourced high schools the tools to be leaders and build a better and solid community through service. 

BuildOn calls this Constructive Leadership. Their students are taught to lead by learning to serve first. Empower them with resilience, empathy, passion, and courage to build solidarity.

I admire that their mission revolves around service. Every week, their students in buildOn’s programs do significant service to their communities, assisting the homeless, younger children, and senior persons in need. 


buildOn company advocacy

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The advocacy of buildOn does not only focus on providing quality education to the community. They also encourage students to learn about the pressing issues in their community and conduct campaigns to address the problems that affect their local and global communities.

It’s important that the youths and adult members of the community become aware of society’s current issues and realize the power of their own voices. This way, they can speak up by organizing action events and awareness and campaigning for new tactics to tackle difficulties in their communities.

For me, buildOn is one of the best nonprofit organizations here in Connecticut, which reaches out worldwide in the name of service.

Why Volunteer?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that approximately 258 million children do not attend school worldwide due to poverty or conflict. Unfortunately, some of them are also forced to work at an early age to support their families or attend school at night, further stopping them from accessing learning opportunities. 

Some children live up to 15 hours daily on foot, trying to reach schools that are far away from home. In addition, many schools lack proper facilities such as toilets, roofs, electricity, and water supply. Without these basic amenities, people are led down a path of not obtaining an education.

One way of bridging this gap is through volunteerism.

Volunteering is a powerful way of creating connections between people who have little in common but a desire to help others. It enables them to be part of something greater than themselves and gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. Moreover, when volunteers are involved in projects directly relevant to their values, they feel inspired and empowered by what they do.

These feelings motivate them to continue giving back throughout their lives.

The buildOn nonprofit organization empowers underprivileged high school students from America to change their communities by giving back to them and helping others.

However, serving is more than a nice thing to do.

In serving others, youth build confidence and self-worth, discover new passions, and make friends from different backgrounds. They’re also helping their community by addressing real needs and problems. In addition, as students develop leadership skills and become more confident, they are better prepared to confront future challenges.

Through buildOn’s Constructive Leadership, everyone wins.

Categories: Junior Writer

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