Safely Returning to Global Service
For more than 20 years members of the buildOn movement have travelled to countries and communities with some of the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the world to construct hundreds of schools through buildOn’s Trek program. They worked side-by-side with the parents and grandparents of those communities to ensure that every child had equal access to education and the opportunity to learn in adequate classrooms. Then, in March 2020, international travel ground to a halt as the world grappled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While school construction continued, buildOn’s Trek Program was put on hold to protect the health and safety of both the community members and Trek participants themselves.
Today, buildOn is carefully resuming its Trek Program with pilot treks in Guatemala and Senegal. buildOn Senegal Country Director, Assane Ngom, speaks to the careful consideration given to restarting Treks, the importance of the Trek program, and the success of buildOn’s first Treks since 2020.
Treks are moments of cultural exchange and friendship shared by the Trek participants and the host communities, who work together in solidarity for the achievement of a common goal: breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectation through service and education. As a result, our partners have a better understanding of the impact of buildOn’s work, as well as the need for equitable access to quality education for all children and adults in economically developing countries such as Senegal.
For nearly two years, buildOn did not run Treks in Senegal or any of its other partner countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with declining cases and the need to adapt to the pandemic, buildOn decided to resume its Trek program in order to continue giving our partners the opportunity to participate in the construction of the schools they help fund, and to provide these important moments of cultural exchange and solidarity between buildOn supporters and community members.
To ensure a successful re-launch of the Trek program, buildOn put in place a COVID-19 protocol aimed at keeping both the Trek participants and the community members safe. Unlike the pre-pandemic period, where Trek participants stayed with host families, they now stay in separate houses or buildings in order to limit potential contamination. Vaccination is also mandatory for participants and buildOn staff members who will be present in the community. Additionally, participants are tested for COVID-19 prior to departing the U.S., upon arrival in country, and again before taking their return flight home at the end of the Trek. Conventional KN95 masks are required for Trek participants throughout their stay in the village, especially when interacting directly with the community. Locally made masks are also provided to community members.
Before the Trek teams arrive, mass meetings are organized in each Trek community, to sensitize them to the new buildOn COVID-19 protocol, which has been very well understood and accepted by all. Thanks to this well thought out and respected protocol no cases of COVID-19 have been recorded either on the participants’ side or in the host communities during buildOn’s pilot treks.
buildOn’s pilot Treks in Guatemala and Senegal this spring were a huge success. One of these first treks featured 13 buildOn alumni, who worked in solidarity with the community members of Keur Mamadou Ndao to build a new school. They all put in a lot of effort on the worksite– digging the foundation, fetching water, carrying sand and gravel, making bricks, and attaching rebar. Because they were able to see firsthand the awful conditions of the temporary school shelter used by the children of Keur Mamadou Ndao, the participants had a better understanding of buildOn’s mission and methodology. The team also participated in a school visit to the nearby village of Nerane Diarrere, where the Trek participants were able to see how buildOn’s programs focused on school construction, enrolling out-of-school students, and adult literacy have impacted the community as a whole.
For the community members, it was great to be able to work hand-in-hand with their hosts to improve learning conditions for the children of Keur Mamadou Ndao. They loved welcoming the Trek team and showing them the incredible hospitality of the Senegalese people, who believe in treating their guests as members of their own families. At the end of the Alumni Trek, participants and community members were crying as they said farewell because no one wanted this experience to end.