photo credit: Lucas Turner
Earlier this year I had an amazing opportunity to go to Haiti and help build a school in a rural mountain village with the help of buildOn. It was one of the most special weeks of my life. I met some absolute amazing people, saw some amazing landscapes, and got to help some of the most unbelievable children with their future. While on this journey I met our trek leader Lucas Turner. He is a previous alum of TOMS, Charity:Water, and Krochet Kids before taking one of the coolest jobs in history at buildOn as a trek coordinator.
buildOn empowers U.S. urban youth to transform their neighborhoods and the world through intensive community service. Globally, they’re constructing a new school every three days in some of the economically poorest countries around the world. I wanted to highlight buildOn because of the tremendous work they do both domestically and internationally.
buildOn’s priorities are to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service learning programs in many of America’s most under-resourced high schools and by building schools in some of the world’s poorest villages.
I thought it would be very interesting to interview Lucas, so others can see what its like to go on trek and change not only your only life but of those who live in some of the remote areas of the world. We all have the ability to impact others in a major way, sometimes it just takes an amazing opportunity to make that happen. buildOn makes this opportunity available to inner city kids to corporate big wigs. Check out the interview below.
What is the most satisfying and inspiring part of being in these communities and build schools?
Hands down, the most satisfying part of my entire buildOn experience is watching the collaborative team work unfold when we build a school between the communities and the buildOn trek teams. For many communities, building their school is the first time they have been empowered to believe that they can make change in their own lives. Also, having the trek team work side by side in solidarity to accomplish the common goal of building the school makes it even more inspiring. It is indescribable to experience that sense of investment, pride and excitement from all parties involved. It is what keeps me coming back every trek.
When you go on trek you usually find a local elder to speak with about the school being built. What are some powerful memories from those conversation with the elders?
Every single time I speak to the elders of the community I find myself being blown away by how incredibly resilient and proud they are. A lot of the elders never received a proper education and had to drop out at a very young age to help out with the family by working. One would think that they would feel sorry for themselves or sad, but instead they use their trials and challenges as fuel to continue living a good and honest life. In many buildOn communities, the elders are enrolled in our Adult Literacy Classes, which is an opportunity for them to learn very tangible math, reading and writing skills. It is always powerful hearing them say that learning how to sign their name is one of their proudest accomplishments.
You probably have seen some great scenery while on trek with buildOn, what was the one place that you always remember; where the scene was breathtaking?
Each country has a breathtaking landscape in its own special way. I am easily overcome by the natural beauty of the Haitian and Nicaraguan mountains and majestic sunrises/sunsets in Nepal. One morning in Malawi, I went on a 3 mile run at sunrise with my colleague McDonald. The fog was just slipping away, the animals were starting to scurry around and it was just cool enough to be chilly. The world was truly waking up and we were able to witness it. I will never forget that scene.
As you travel to different countries and you see schools being built in these communities, what do local residents say about the school being built and what it means for their community?
Education truly is the ignition for positive change and growth. The community leaders are incredibly proud to work with buildOn because they know that they are embarking on a journey to not only educate students, parents and grandparents, but also to improve the overall well-being of the community. On a recent trek to Haiti, one of the host mothers told me, “Before our schools, our village was nothing. We had nothing to be proud of and there was a huge feeling of shame throughout the community. Now, since we built the schools, so much change has happened. We have more energy and happiness than ever. Our community comes together regularly to celebrate or plan for the future. We are so proud knowing that our children will never have to live with that sense of shame. It is amazing.”
With buildOn you are usually on trek with some amazing people and students from all sorts of backgrounds. What are some of the differences you see when you take a group of students vs a group of professionals on trek to build a school?
Honestly, there are not many drastic differences. Each person comes on trek for different reasons and I love unlocking each reason throughout my time with them. Our buildOn students definitely have a never ending source of energy, which typically yields things like random dance parties after a day on the worksite. Sometimes adults can initially be hesitant to completely “unplug” and be off the grid for the week of trek, but typically after the first hour they are having so much fun that they forget about those work emails. My number one rule on trek is to have fun and smile a lot and I have yet to have a team break that rule.
What is your favorite part about going on trek and seeing these schools being built in some of the most remote areas of the world?
Remote areas of our world are so often overlooked and marginalized solely based off of the geographic area being too difficult to access because of lack of roads, or for being too far away. This has been happening for hundreds of years, making the people living in these areas lose hope and under value their own human rights. Without education, people lack choice and opportunity. Working in these areas of the world is incredible because I can witness people go through the transformation of thinking there is no hope for growth, to gaining the confidence to realize that they have the choice to take control of their own lives.