They buildOn: High School Alumn Sean Cochrane Founds buildOn College Chapter, Joins the Peace Corps

buildOn has been a big part of Sean Cochrane‘s life. Cochrane, 22, was a buildOn member of St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley; then when he went to college at Lewis and Clark College, he looked up buildOn’s former Vice President of International Program, Brett McNaught, and asked him if he could teach English to some of the villagers attending buildOn schools in Nepal, where he was studying abroad. During his senior year of college, Tom Silverman, buildOn’s Global Chapters Manager, contacted Cochrane about starting a chapter at his college. The two worked together to launch the chapter, and now it’s one of the most active chapters we have. Since then, Cochrane joined the Peace Corps and worked as a volunteer in Mali—coincidently, the same country where he built a school with buildOn—until he was evacuated after the country’s coup d’etat. We had the opportunity to chat with Cochrane while he was in the United States. Follow his blog to learn more about his adventures in Africa.

What were you doing before you joined buildOn?

I was a freshman in high school when one of my favorite teachers, Mike Sommers, suggested that I come to a meeting of a club that was, at the time, called Building with Books. He told me I would have a great time volunteering with my classmates in our community while learning about the world, and he was right!

How has buildOn changed your life?

After going on just a few service projects, the way I saw my community and myself completely changed. I learned how small actions we take can have a big effect on the people around us, and when many people come together, those small actions can have an even more important effect. I quickly learned that I wanted my whole life to reflect my commitment to service, not just the few hours I was able to spend volunteering every week outside of school.

While on trek (building a school) in Mali in 2006, I was humbled to learn how much more widespread poverty is in some other countries than in the United States, and I became interested in working in the developing world. My experiences with buildOn motivated me to learn French in college so I could communicate better in West Africa, and because of that I was able to study abroad in Senegal when I was a junior. When I returned, I helped to start a buildOn chapter at my college, Lewis & Clark College, and that chapter just went on their first trek this year! Mentors in buildOn, such as Brett McNaught, have continued to inspire me to pursue service in the Peace Corps. I was a volunteer in Mali until the military coup there, and I am now heading to Guinea as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer to coordinate malaria awareness and prevention efforts. I am part of the Stomping Out Malaria in Africa initiative, a continent-wide commitment of over 3000 Peace Corps volunteers in 20 countries  working to reduce malaria in the communities where we work, in target countries overall, and to build a global network of malaria prevention workers.

What are some of your favorite memories working with buildOn?

Trek, of course, is the most unforgettable experience of my time with buildOn. I remember being blown away by the kindness, generosity, and happiness of our host community, all in the face of backbreaking poverty. I remember being inspired during a conversation we had under a mango grove with the village Imam, a religious leader. He told us that before he was Imam, there were few mango trees in the village. When he saw how good they were for the people, he decided to plant more so that villagers could benefit from them for generations. We had seen how appreciated the mango was, especially in a remote village where there is little food to eat. I was struck by the Imam’s foresight and dedication to help his people. This exemplified the villagers’ strong will to improve their lives, just as we had seen in their commitment to education as we worked alongside them to build their new school. Then, as we were talking, a long green snake fell out of the tree above us and onto a girl who was afraid of snakes! She was unharmed, and after overcoming the brief scare we all had a good laugh.

While those two weeks were some of the most intense moments of my life, and had a significant impact on me both personally and professionally, I also treasure many memories of volunteering in the San Francisco Bay Area. I loved the feeling of discovering strong bonds with people whom I otherwise would never have met and contributing to my community in ways I never imagined possible, whether it was in a soup kitchen, at a beach clean-up, or raising money to build schools.

Complete this sentence: buildOn is… a worldview; we are all connected and need to support each other.