Wednesday, May 7, 2014

buildOn: Encouraging Education, Inspiring Change

The statistics have been pushed at us for years. High school drop-out rates, percentage of illiterate people worldwide, number of children without access to education. The astonishing figures have been proclaimed on news broadcasts and radio shows, in political debates and government policies. The facts have even trickled into our everyday conversations. But more often than not, we shrug our shoulders and think "what can we do?"

But not Jim Ziolkowski.

Who is that, you ask? He's the founder, president and CEO of buildOn, a non-profit organization building schools in developing countries, while simultaneously operating afterschool service programs in the U.S. in some of the country's toughest inner-cities.

I learned about Jim and his amazing organization last night at a Go Girl Travel MeetUp dinner, where the company's CMO, Carrie Pena, was our guest "expert" for the evening. She spoke of buildOn's mission to halt the seemingly endless cycle of illiteracy and poverty both here and abroad, and, I have to admit, it had me mesmerized.

One of the main aspects of buildOn is constructing schools in developing countries, such as Malawi, Nepal and Nicaragua. To date, 611 schools have been built, and some 85,000 people (children to grandparents) attend those schools globally. Now, you may be asking if those schools have been built in communities that actually wanted them, and the answer is yes. buildOn collaborates with the people who will benefit from the schools, works with the community to attain proper permitting and makes sure all regulations are met. The deal: the village provides the land, up to 3,000 volunteer work days and a gender-equal Leadership Team for the construction project. buildOn provides the engineering, materials, skilled labor and project supervision. The other part of the deal is that the village must promise that girls will attend the school in equal numbers with boys.

But that's just one part of the mission. Here in the U.S., the buildOn staff runs afterschool service programs at 62 high schools in six regions, focusing on schools in urban, low-income areas. Students who are part of the buildOn programs take part in weekly service outings like tutoring and serving meals at soup kitchens, as well as educational courses that boost global awareness of issues in developing countries. Every year, a select group of students and teachers will get to travel to one of the communities they have been learning about and help construct a school with buildOn. A truly special opportunity, as many of these students have never even been outside their own neighborhoods.

buildOn has taken those disturbing statistics and created a movement to not only fight illiteracy, poverty and low expectations, but to also transform the perceptions, potential and futures of youths in America and around the world. So if you're tired of shrugging your shoulders over the state of education and want to start doing something about it, then get involved with buildOn. You can fundraise, start a chapter in your area, help with buildOn events or even build a school in one of many remote locations. The opportunity to affect change is waiting, get building!

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