Scott Simock, a professional photographer living in Los Angeles, was first introduced to buildOn in May of 2015 when he traveled to Malawi with buildOn Ambassador Travis Van Winkle as part of a filmmaking crew. His experiences in Malawi inspired him to create his own buildOn Trek Team, and after a year of fundraising, Scott and his team traveled to Nepal in September 2016 to build a school with buildOn.
The buildOn Trek program brings groups of volunteers from across the globe to some of economically poorest countries in the world to work in partnership with local community members to build schools. buildOn recently sat down with Scott to discuss his experiences and incredible photos from his Trek in Nepal. All photographs in this interview were taken by Scott. To see more of Scott’s photographs from Nepal, as well as other work in his portfolio, please visit Scott’s website (http://www.theelkgrove.com/) or follow him on Instagram at @scottsimock. To learn how you and your friends can help build a school like Scott and his team, click HERE.
Scott, thank you for partnering with buildOn to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations. What inspired you to build a school with buildOn?
The Malawi Trek is what inspired me. It was an pulse of something I personally never felt before. I’ve donated to other organizations in the past and still do as frequently as I can, but once I make a payment, my job usually feels done. Nothing about that process is tangible. In Malawi, it was different. We got to observe it all. It was all within reach. The whole experience in Malawi lit a fire within me. On our final day, I walked over to the buildOn staff and told them how I wanted to lead a trek team. I didn’t think much about it. It was pure reaction. It just felt right.
How did your team of 15 volunteers raise funds to build a school?
We started by reaching out to our inner circles. There were some small parties held here and there as well, but we kept it pretty personal for a long time. A majority of our donations came in from friends and family. It was unbelievable what we could accomplish just by reaching out to our inner circle of loved ones. I still get the chills thinking about it.
In mid-spring we all met up and decided to start running larger public fundraisers that were personal endeavors. From rooftop parties to pilates in the park, our team took on larger public fundraising. We met in the early summer about our final fundraiser in order to cap off our goal.
In the end, we had 796 total donations via our fundraising page with over 110 guests at our public fundraiser. I’m blown away, man. I’m so proud of our team. They worked hard for every cent that we raised for this school. Ultimately that’s what bonded us–a year’s worth of hard work.
What was your favorite part of the Trek experience in Nepal?
Self Reflection. Being Wrong. Surprises. Coming face to face with the unexpected, the problems, the temperature. The adventure began when I felt tested. I went into Malawi assuming what I was going to experience. I was so wrong. I went into Nepal thinking it would be similar to Malawi, and once again, I was wrong. No man ever steps in the same river twice, right?
The Trek experience demands that you throw your arms up and take the ride. The Trek experience is raw. It tests you, but it will never give you more than you can handle. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust buildOn with your health and safety, you will get the most out of your Trek experience.
My favorite part about our Trek to Nepal was watching our team. On our way to the village, I sat in the back of the bus. I didn’t want them to know I was watching them. We pulled up to the village for the welcoming ceremony and that was the “It” moment. Man, the smiles on their faces filled me with such joy. All of our work came full circle in that moment. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Their joy was my biggest reward.
What did you learn on Trek that you wanted to bring back home?
Aside from bringing home every child in the village? Or the baby goats?
Immersion in other cultures is the greatest classroom without walls. The experience challenged habits I needed to grow apart from. Immersion will change the way we treat people back at home, the way we treat ourselves, how we improve our personal health, how we communicate, and how we make daily decisions. It improves how we deal with disagreement and how problem solve–the benefits are endless. It’s not for everyone, and I get that. But if anyone has the passion to become a leader, they need to challenge their perspective.
On a personal note–it’s been six years since I’ve been in a classroom, and eleven years since I’ve been out of high school. I had no clue at that time that education isn’t an option for everyone. I thought every human being on this planet goes to high school. I had nothing that could measure or value an education. I abused my privilege because I didn’t know better. I’ve since realized that it’s never too late to learn. I used to joke that all I needed was street smarts and that books were boring. Man, I was so wrong.
I’m happy I learned this lesson when I did. No regrets. I know the experience gained from Trek will shape how I live the rest of my life. Ultimately, what I look forward to most is taking what I’ve learned from this Trek experience and using it to parent a child of my own one day.
What advice would you give other people who are considering building a school with buildOn?
The school is already built. If your heart says building a school is the right thing to do, then it’s already done. Don’t sweat it. You cannot fail. It’s worth every bit of energy you put into it, and it will happen. buildOn is an incredible support system.
Do you have any advice about fundraising?
Same as above. You’ll figure it out. Don’t be intimidated. I never fundraised for anything like this in my life. None of my team members are professionals at marketing or fundraising. We did what worked best for us. That’s the only way to approach it–do it within your means. Make it yours and enjoy it! If you’re not having fun with it, you’re not doing it right.
Do you have any advice for people who are about to go on Trek? Advice about traveling and/or building a school?
Leave your walls behind. This is going to be an experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen, felt, smelled, heard, tasted, digested, sank your teeth and feet into. This exposure is new. Now is your time to throw your hands up and say, I’m all yours. This is your time to be free of constraints. Feel all the feels. You won’t regret it.
What do you hope the school does for the community?
I hope this school acts as a place for great minds to flourish. I hope that the boys become men who stand for women’s rights. Through buildOn the girls will get the education they deserve. We all fell in love with the kids of our village. They’re capable of everything they dream of. I know they can become anything they want to be.