For Mott Hall High School student Gil De Jesus, service is more than just logging hours to graduate or a means of boosting college applications—it’s a way of life. Gil’s desire to serve came at a young age as he watched his father raise money to help elderly neighbors in the Dominican Republic. “He really inspired me to do something with my life and buildOn gave me the opportunity to make that happen,” says Gil.
This past February, Gil was one of 17 dedicated students from the Bronx who traveled across the ocean to the remote village of Yargouye, Senegal, to help build a much needed school. The students served in solidarity with the people of the village, breaking ground on a school that would help lift the community out of poverty. Gil reflects: “I think the biggest thing I learned from my Trek experience was not to settle. Be grateful for what you have, but don’t settle.”
Like all buildOn Trek’s the Bronx students lived with local host families, eating the same food and living in the same humble conditions as their hosts. Through this living arrangement, Gil learned one of the biggest lessons he’s learned in serving more than 450 hours with buildOn. Just as he learned to value service from his dad, he learned to value education from one of his new “family members.”
“My oldest host sister woke up at 5:30 each morning and left and I never saw her till late at night. One day I asked where she was going and found out that she was walking all the way to another village to go to school. She could have settled for being a housewife, but she had the motivation for more and she will use that education to help others by being a teacher,” Gil remembers. “In my life, it starts with me being greedy about my education too. I’m a student in the South Bronx and that demoralizes a lot of students because they feel that because of where they’re from, college isn’t a possibility for them. They don’t think they’re good enough. But I’m applying to Columbia University and pushing myself to do what many students at my school are unwilling to attempt.”
Just like Gil and his host sister, thousands of buildOn students and villagers around the world are raising expectations both for themselves and their communities with help from buildOn.
Top Photo: Gil signs the buildOn Covenant in Senegal – a pledge signed by the Senegalese community and his Bronx Trek group to commit to service, education and equality.