Nepal Journals, February 2011: buildOn’s 400th School

“I was once asked to sign a piece of paper but I didn’t know how to write my name. I wept.”

– Ram Dulari Chaudhary

Twenty years ago, we began our effort to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. We established our first programs for urban youth in the South Bronx and our idea to build schools internationally was born in Nepal. Over the next 20 years we expanded our work in the United States to Detroit, Philly, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco. We built schools in ten countries on four different continents and are now working in Mali, Malawi, Senegal, Haiti, Nicaragua and Nepal.

Today, 20 years later, I am back in Nepal with a team of youth from the South Bronx. Today we break ground on our 400th school in the place where it all began.

This morning hundreds of people from the village of Pakariya covered us in flowers and smeared bright red “tika” on our foreheads as they welcomed us into their community. There was traditional drumming and dancing as a crowd of beautiful indigenous people led us to the center of the village.

The mood became very serious and quiet when community leaders read aloud a covenant between buildOn and all who lived in Pakariya. The covenant outlines our commitment to contribute the materials, engineering and technical supervision necessary to build a school. It also outlines the village’s commitment to contribute all the labor. But most importantly, this covenant outlines the promise that every family in the village will send their daughters to school in equal numbers with their sons.

Almost every adult here is completely illiterate. Many can’t even sign their own name.

Ram Dulari Chaudhary was one of the women who could add only a fingerprint to the covenant. Ram and many of the adults in Pakariya have lived most of their lives in slavery. In my next diary entry, I will share her story and explain how she and so many others here were liberated through education.

Tomorrow we break ground on the new school—Ram will never again weep because she can’t sign her name. Nor will the 150,000 children, parents and grandparents who have attended buildOn schools around the world.