The buildOn organization has been building schools globally and domestically for more than twenty years, but the construction of schools is not the only focus. The organization builds and develops the abilities of every member of the community in which the schools are placed.

In 1989, Jim Ziolkowski, a recent college graduate and the future founder and CEO of the buildOn organization, took a trip around the world by way of hitchhiking and backpacking. During his travels, he came across a village in Nepal that had recently built a school, and he noticed a dramatic difference between this community and others that he had visited in his travels. This Nepalese village had a unique brightness about it that was centered around education.

Upon returning to the United States he was unable to remove the comparison of what he had seen from his mind. After a short time, he quit his job and began to develop ways in which he could give the gift of education to those who would not be able to obtain it otherwise. In 1992, the first school was built in Malawi, and since then, hundreds of schools have been built in some of the most impoverished locations across the world.

The buildOn website notes, “Our holistic approach ensures that schools are built with a community rather than for a community. It involves villagers as true partners rather than as recipients of aid.” The program claims that this nature of approach incentivizes the residents, and shows them what can be accomplished when they work together in a common cause.

When a community is under consideration for a new school, each member is required to give his or her consensus in writing—or in fingerprint—that he or she will fulfill respective obligations to render local supplies, assist in construction and maintain the school upon completion. It has been observed that “Even as many must sign with a thumbprint, everyone is overjoyed to pledge their commitment to a school that will end illiteracy for their children, their grandchildren, and themselves.”

As mentioned, young children are not the only ones who benefit from the placement of these schools. At night, in the same schools where their children are educated by day, parents and grandparents are given the opportunity to engage in adult literacy classes. These classes address the issues of healthcare, poverty, and inequality, in addition to the fundamental teachings of reading, writing, and math. This is all gauged to help the people build a better life for themselves and their children.

Unfortunately, in many countries, women do not hold the same status as men. For this reason, buildOn places a centralized focus on gender equality. In the written covenant, there is an included agreement that boys and girls alike will be allowed to attend school in equal numbers. From the beginning to the end of each project, women are highlighted as key members of the community. The right to education is for everyone.

Though the construction of schools is the physical product of buildOn’s effort, it is not the ultimate focus. When asked as to what his favorite aspect of working for buildOn is, Badenoch answered by saying simply, “The people. Unlocking opportunity for people who are very capable and intelligent. The key players aren’t our staff, rather the people in the community play the major role.”

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

When Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960, the school attendance rate was 6%. Now up to 66%, the country still has a long way to go if it plans to achieve the Millenium Development Goal of attaining universal access for children to primary education.

Why do Boys Have a Higher Literacy Rate?

A girl in Burkina Faso is more likely to be married and give birth before the age of 18 than she is to graduate secondary school. Before she received a scholarship, Burkinabe 15-year-old Lucie walked more than 10 miles to school each day. With her new bicycle, she has an easier time getting to school and fetching water for her family. Boys have a higher literacy rate than girls in Burkina Faso because they are given preference in schooling.

A project called Burkina Response to Increasing the Development of Girls’ Education sponsors school-aged children in Burkina Faso’s two regions with the highest dropout rates by building new secondary schools, adding more classrooms and girls’ dormitories to existing schools, providing scholarships for needy girls and working with community leaders, teachers and parents to build a supportive framework for girls’ education and development.

Primary Education: The First Step

Elementary education in Burkina Faso is required for children between the ages of 7 years old and 14 years old, but it is not strictly enforced. The elementary education system in Burkina Faso is based on the French model; thus, classes are taught in French. Only 29% of children finish primary school, according to UNICEF data. Burkina Faso has one of the world’s highest dropout rates, second to Niger.

Secondary Education Has a Price

Burkina Faso is the third-poorest country in the world as ranked by the United Nations. Some families hardly have enough money to buy necessities like food, much less pay for secondary education. While some countries in Africa are implementing a free secondary school system, Burkina Faso charges the equivalent of $166 per year for secondary school education, a mandatory fee that many Burkinabe families cannot afford.

Currently the free, public and compulsory education takes children through age 16. From age of 13 to 16 years old, children attend a “post-primary” school, which is intended to prepare the students for secondary school. When a fee is involved, as it is for secondary education, the government does not make schooling mandatory because many families do not have the means to pay for it.

A Pop-Star’s Dedication to Help

Burkina Faso is the seventh country to benefit from a BuildOn Project. Katharine McPhee, star of the NBC hit TV show SMASH and runner-up of the 2006 American Idol, and her husband, Nick Cokas, are partnering with BuildOn to expand access to schools in Burkina Faso. The couple provided mosquito nets to the country through Malaria No More and funded the construction of a school in the country’s capital, Oagadougou. Their dedication to Burkina Faso continues as they fund BuildOn’s first two schools in the country.

“Investing in education and opportunity for young people is a major priority in our lives, and we are thrilled that with the help of BuildOn, we can maintain our ongoing commitment to improving education for the children of Burkina Faso,” McPhee said.

 Haley Sklut

Sources: Looking to the Stars, UNICEF, Burkina Faso Embassy, Plan USA, Classbase, Intervida
Photo: Build On

BuildOn_EducationVenture into a forest, and the trees are a hard thing to miss. Trees come in all shapes and sizes, but even the giant sequoia tree had a small beginning. All trees are grown from minuscule seeds. How does something so expansive and enormous come from such an insignificant beginning? Just like any other great wonder, all things start from small beginnings. Trees had to grow, buildings had to be constructed, and people are grown from swaddling babes. Everybody and everything had a small beginning; it’s the decisions made and actions done that determine what grows from it.

Jim Ziolkowski is the founder, president, and CEO of buildOn, a non-profit organization established to build schools in developing countries while also running after-school programs for America’s toughest inner-city environments. The seeds for buildOn were planted on an after-college excursion into the Himalayan Mountains. Ziolkowski came across a village in Nepal that was celebrating the opening of a new school. During his trip, Ziolkowski gained first-hand experience of poverty-stricken areas and the conditions that lay therein. But in this village, Ziolkowski saw something that forever changed him. He saw a community that was hanging its hopes on the power of education.

Ziolkowski returned to the United States, and began his job in corporate finance at GE. However, the memories of his cross-country hiking could not be forgotten. 15 months into his job, Ziolkowski walked out forever, pursuing a life that would enlighten the lives of others throughout the world by founding buildOn.

In 1992, Ziolkowski traveled to Misolami, a village located in Malawi. Ziolkowski planned to build his organization’s first school here, but he soon succumbed to malaria. Ziolkowski barely escaped with his life, and had another life-changing moment in the process; barely anybody in the area diagnosed with malaria escapes with their life. Ziolkowski only survived because he was not entrenched in extreme poverty, unlike most of the people in the area. Ziolkowski saw education as a way to escape extreme poverty, and his fire to change the world’s education for the less fortunate was strengthened.

Ziolkowski returned to the U.S knowing he also had to impact the lives of the urban youth in a positive way. Ziolkowski was unable to connect with these kids on a deeper level because he had been raised in a stable small town in Michigan. To solve this problem, Ziolkowski moved into a rough neighborhood in Harlem, so he could experience the difference in person. He lived there for three years, and he learned the urban youth did not want to participate in the dangerous style of life, they wanted to change it. Ziolkowski wanted to assist this mindset to the best of his ability.

Twenty years later, the results from Ziolkowski’s experiences have helped launch buildOn into a successful program. On Ziolkowski’s return to Misolami in 2012, the village had constructed four other schools thanks to support from buildOn. Instead of 150 kids attending school, now well over 1,000 were enrolled. Ziolkowski’s success can be seen on the forefront of this village, and in neighborhoods throughout urban America. The tree (buildOn) started out as a small idea, but Ziolkowski’s drive and determination turned it from a seed into a giant sequoia.

Ziolkowski’s success has been printed in his book, Walk in Their Shoes, available on Amazon.

Zachary Wright

Sources: Amazon, buildON, NC State University
Photo: WorldOz