buildOn Philadelphia Advisor Speaks About Making a Difference Globally, Locally With buildOn

Maeve O’Hara, a buildOn advisor and math teacher at Bodine High School, was one of the many amazing guest speakers during our 500 Schools, 1 Million Hours celebration on October 13. She’s been involved with buildOn for four years and has traveled to remote villages in Mali and Nepal to build schools with her students, buildOn staff and communities in the village. Here’s an excerpt of her speech:

The thing that makes buildOn different than any other organization is that it works with students both locally and globally and connects them in real ways. Our students here have the opportunity to travel to remote villages to build the schools that they fundraised for.  And then if that isn’t cool enough, they build the schools alongside the local villagers.

…My first trek with buildOn was to a village called Bokoro, in Mali, and my second was to Kharaula, a village in Nepal.  buildOn’s treks provide authentic experiences, filled with the beauty of culture, the uncomfortable nature of being far, far away from home and first-hand experience of just how valuable a person’s education truly is.  The strength, resilience and compassion of a buildOn trek student never cease to amaze me.  Two of my former students, Medgine and Jamie, who went to Nepal with me, are here tonight.  In Nepal, we helped each other grow, encouraged each other to push past our discomfort and embrace the amazingly beautiful culture and people that surrounded us. I may have been the teacher, but they taught me, as well.  It’s unique that a teacher gets to experience something so profound alongside her students; to sweat with them, dance with them, attempt to speak a new language with them. It’s humbling. I thank buildOn from the bottom of my heart for trusting me to help lead those treks.  And I thank all 23 of the students I’ve gone on trek with for touching my heart, and reminding me how totally awesome young people are.

I came across footage of the welcoming ceremony in Bokoro, Mali and it was filled with gold. The chief of the village spoke, and I think his words sum up everything buildOn stands for. “There is no health without education, there is no success without education, there is no independence without education,” he said. “The one who comes to your village and builds a school for you has done everything for you. You left your house but you are at home again.” I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to!  The man was dead-on, and he understood that providing the children of his village with an education would forever change the course of his village, and he embraced that because change was imperative to the survival and health of his people.  And so he signed the buildOn covenant with his fingerprint, and the rest of the villagers followed suit, for they were not given the education necessary to sign their names. We celebrated with drumming, laughter and dance. The women danced in a circle, with their babies on their backs, and I could not help but think that their village had been changed. Simply put, those babies would be able to read and write, and sign their names.  The school we helped build in Bokoro was just one of 189 schools that buildOn has built in Mali alone.  That’s 189 welcoming ceremonies, 189 chiefs, 189 villages changed forever.

Today we are also celebrating the incredible achievement of buildOn students hitting the milestone of a million hours of service in their communities. buildOn students inspire me.  They break the negative stereotypes that many people have of youth, and show their communities that a single helping hand can make a difference! I look forward to my school’s buildOn meetings every Thursday. They provide a respite in my week and remind me why I love to teach young people.  At our first meeting this year, our officers welcomed the new members by sharing why they build on.  I sat there listening to them and they brought tears to my eyes.  They spoke of how buildOn is a family for them, how it is a place where they feel like they belong, and how they’ve met other young people like themselves all over the city who want the world to be a better place and don’t mind rolling up their sleeves to GET it there!

buildOn is not a charity, it is a movement; a movement creating agents of change that will make our world a better place.