Members of the Movement: Nick VanBelle

At buildOn, we like to celebrate the creative and adventurous steps that our supporters take to fundraise to build schools and bring hope to communities across the globe.

An important part of our work to build schools and empower communities in the developing world is our Trek for Knowledge program. Hundreds of buildOn supporters travel abroad each year to work alongside villagers in some of the world’s least developed rural communities as they break ground on new schools together.

Nick VanBelle, a member of buildOn’s Brunswick High School chapter, is one of those supporters; but, in order to make his Trek with buildOn possible, the high school junior first completed a different sort of trek on his own.

When Nick climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in August he dedicated his climb to support the construction of a new buildOn school in Malawi. The mountain, located in Tanzania, is the highest peak in Africa and tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Though Nick says that the climb itself is not all that strenuous compared to other well-known mountains, it is still a big accomplishment and takes about 10 days for most climbers to summit.


View of Mount Kilimanjaro from Nick’s airplane.

“I was expecting [the experience] to be somewhat impactful, like I’ve seen in movies and television shows, but that’s nothing like seeing [Kilimanjaro] in person. Especially the view on the top of the mountain and the culture you experience,” he says.

Nick learned about buildOn from his mother, who joined him on the climb with some of her friends and their children. He decided to turn his climb into a fundraising opportunity and was able to raise over $7,000 for buildOn’s international programs by summiting Kilimanjaro. He plans to work on expanding the buildOn chapter at his school and travel to Malawi to help construct the school he already started fundraising for.

Nick appreciated meeting the porters who help to carry the team’s equipment during their Kilimanjaro trek. Getting to know them gave him insight into the experiences of people who live in Tanzania and make their livelihoods helping climbers. Before the climb, he spent time in a small Tanzanian town that made him realize more vividly how education can make an impact across the world.

“Seeing the way that the children have to go on the streets and make money by selling little knickknacks to foreigners made me realize that opportunities are never going to be the same for all kids across the world. Because of that, we have to do all the things we can to give [others] better opportunities,” he says.

This starts with making sure everyone has access to education.

He remembers having friends worry about him before he left for Tanzania, questioning why he would want to go to Africa in the first place.

“I responded by trying to convince them that, by raising money and going on trips like this, I have the ability to change other’s lives while changing mine in the process. It’s one of those things that I might never get to do again when I’m older, so it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Nick says.


Students like these, who are now attending a new buildOn school in Mangalala, Malawi, will benefit from the fundraising efforts of Nick and other buildOn chapter members at his high school.

Though the buildOn school Nick is fundraising for is in a village in a different country from where he first experienced the realities of global poverty, he is excited about the impact his efforts will be able to make for another east African community in need.

The Malawian village’s children will have access to a better school structure, and the community will benefit in other ways, as well. Adults may also learn to read for the first time through adult literacy courses, gender equality will be enhanced, and community participation in the school’s construction will empower the villagers. These facets stand at the heart of buildOn’s school building methodology and approach to enhancing equality of opportunity throughout the world.