buildOn Alum Gina Caputo Defends International Student Service in the Wall Street Journal

Responding to a savage attack on high schoolers who complete service abroad that was published in the Wall Street Journal, a former buildOn student from Connecticut defends her generation’s desire to give back. Read the entirety of Gina Caputo’s very moving letter to the editor below. We’re proud that Caputo’s experiences in Mali instilled within her the passion to articulate the worth of our programs so eloquently.

Caitlin Flanagan’s vicious generalization of students doing service and volunteer work overseas merely to bolster their résumés (“The Do-Good Zeal of the College Bound,” Review, July 16) is hurtful and misses the point.

[pullquote]This wasn’t “edutainment” or a vacation; this was sweaty, dirty work.

Last summer, I worked with 14 students to build a school in a village in Mali called N’tiola—in-CHO-la, which is hardly “unpronounceable.” We went through the organization buildOn, which covered all expenses except clothing and vaccines. We were selected for our commitment to service; we earned our way through our participation in buildOn’s volunteer service projects. My group came from diverse socioeconomic strata, from the inner-city to more well-off areas. We worked alongside villagers for two weeks in the scorching sun.

When we weren’t working, we were learning about the culture and history of Mali, as well as exploring the village and playing with N’tiola’s kids. This wasn’t “edutainment” or a vacation; this was sweaty, dirty work. This wasn’t “luxury”; we lived with host families in whatever accommodations they had, without electricity or indoor plumbing. This wasn’t “throwing money at the problem”; buildOn’s philosophy is to empower villagers to use education as a tool to begin breaking the cycle of poverty.

[pullquote]Believe it or not, many of us want to do good for good’s sake.

Believe it or not, many of us want to do good for good’s sake. We want to “give back” because we understand that there are many places where people are struggling. Our passion is to change that, one step at a time.

Perhaps if the college application arms race were to slow down, this dialogue would be unnecessary. However, for the time being, Ms. Flanagan’s article is offensive and part of the problem.