Maria’s Story – Reaching for Higher Things


“I view life differently since joining buildOn. I reach for higher things.”
– Maria Cevallos

As the bus arrived into Kankhumbwa village in northern Malawi, Maria Cevallos pushed to keep the tears back. A flood of children with bright eyes and wide smiles bounced around the bus in anticipation as she and fourteen other high school students from the South Bronx, who had traveled to Malawi to help build a school with the village, stepped out into the hot, mid-day sun. The unrecognizable words they sang would soon become familiar: “Ee-i-ee, Sa-sa-wah” – a song of celebration in the local Chichewa language.

For most students, it was the first time they had ever seen construction tools, much less used them. And while the work was extremely hard, they were far from alone. The local community members were right there beside them, brick by brick, in solidarity. For Maria, the strength of the women was what inspired her the most. Each day, the women would show up at the work site, babies on their backs, ready to work. Maria will never forget carrying a baby on her own back.


Maria and her team were there to build a school. However, the trip would produce much more than a building. Seeds were sown. Friendships formed. Memories made. Each student would return to the Bronx with a new found perspective on life and a better understanding of the value of education.

Two short weeks after their arrival, Maria’s eyes filled again with tears as she said goodbye to her host family. As she hugged her host father good bye he began to cry, a rare act by a Malawian man. Maria was moved, “I could feel his love for me, and that he would miss me. My own father has never shown me that much affection. It meant so much and I will always carry it with me.”

Maria, a junior, is already looking toward her future. Her dream is to obtain a Master’s degree in psychology. She hopes to travel more so that she can continue learning about different cultures and offer help wherever possible. With her buildOn family and faith behind her, Maria knows that nothing is beyond her reach.

Breaking The Cycle

With your support we can empower many more students like Maria, students who are poised to change their lives, and our world.