They buildOn: Father & Son Bond, Take on Challenges in Nicaragua

While many families in the United States spent Thanksgiving with their loved ones, eating turkey and relaxing, Scott Kalmbach and his ten-year-old son, Finn, spent last year’s holiday digging trenches, mixing and pouring cement and sifting sand. They were helping build the foundation for a buildOn school in in El Carrizal, a village of 200 in the coffee region of Nicaragua.Instead of a turkey dinner, they ate rice, bean and tortillas.

The Adventure

Scott, a husband and father of two, wanted to give back in a bigger way, and he wanted to do it as an outdoor bonding experience with Finn. So, they joined forces with another family from Palo Alto that had been raising money to build a school in Nicaragua. “The whole purpose of the trip was to experience other cultures,” Scott said. “We had experienced other cultures, but we thought it would be valuable for both of us to do this entirely for other people.”

El Carrizal

Finn was initially nervous about going. He was worried that they’d encounter bad people or scary things would happen – or that he and his father would have to do all of the work. But when the two arrived to the village, he was surprised to see how excited the villagers were to have them there. Children wearing their finest clothes were lining up to ask them questions.

Finn ended up enjoying working alongside his father and the men, women and children investing time and energy for a common goal. He helped roll wheelbarrows full of materials to the site, and helped set the reinforcement bar – his favorite job.

The community was thrilled about building a school. The previous community’s “classroom” was made up of desks arranged under a palm tree. When it rained, the students would resume classes under a neighbor’s porch. Because there wasn’t a place for learning that was free from distractions, it was easier for students to not take their education seriously.

Sharing a House

Scott and Finn lived with a host family that shared their three-room shed with five children and their pigs and chickens. The modest house was made of concrete blocks, a tin roof, dirt floors, and had a single lightbulb in the largest room.

“I was amazed at how hospitable, generous and joyful the people are considering how limited their resources are,” Scott said. “They had no problem giving us the only two plastic chairs they had, and serving us huge portions of food before serving themselves.”


One day, during a break from work, Scott observed a group of children playing baseball with lumpy balls made up of rubber bands. Scott pulled out a professional baseball from his backpack and threw it to one of the children. The boy held the ball up like a prize for all of the kids to see and they all screamed in glee. During the first pitch with the new ball, the batter hit it farther than he’d ever hit it, Scott said. “All of the kids forgot whose team they were on!”

Reflecting on Challenges

Scott and Finn had to step out of their comfort zones while in the village. Some of the challenges they faced were having huge spiders climb up on mosquito nets, eating the same thing for three days, using magazines for toilet paper, and bathing from a bucket of cold water.

Now that the two are back home, they think about the things they take for granted: going to a movie, eating at a restaurant, talking on a cell phone traveling on an airplane. But now, when the Finn and Scott get crabby thinking about having to walk to school, they think about how it took the older children in El Carrizal two hours to walk to their school and it puts things in perspective.

The El Carrizal school will be inaugurated very soon! Want to learn how you can make a difference in a community with buildOn? Visit our Get Involved page to learn more.