University of Washington Fraternity & buildOn Partner for Global Impact

When Hans Nothstein was asked by his fraternity brother, Bryan Starnes, to be the co-chair of their fraternity’s annual major philanthropy project for the 2016-17 school year, he immediately knew that he wanted this year’s project to be different. Their fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) at the University of Washington, has a long legacy of benefiting local organizations within the state of Washington, but this year, the two chairman envisioned their annual philanthropic efforts going further by fundraising for a global cause in addition to a local cause.

“We really wanted to expand the reach and the impact of what we were doing,” Hans explains. “When we were considering who we wanted to benefit, I immediately brought up buildOn. From the get-go I was always impressed by how buildOn could take such a straightforward approach to making a real long-term impact.”


Above: Partnering with buildOn took Hans to Senegal to break ground on new school for the local community. Before starting construction the school, Hans signed the buildOn Covenant in solidarity with the rest of the Trek team and local community members. 

For Hans, Bryan and their fraternity brothers, FIJI’s partnership with buildOn was a perfect match. By challenging every one of FIJI’s 115 active members to either raise $350 or give an equal contribution through local service hours, the fraternity was able to see their fundraising efforts translate into something incredibly tangible—a school in Niowdane, Senegal. “To build a school from our efforts over here in Seattle—to raise funds and kick-start an effort to build a school in a community that has never historically had an adequate school structure—what that basically means is that the sky’s the limit,” Hans says. “What else can individuals do when we pair together?”


Above: The temporary classroom in the village of Niowdane did not protect students from the elements and was hot and crowded.

Hans again was reminded of the incredible impact that individuals can have by working together when he traveled to Niowdane in July 2017 to help build the school on Trek. By constructing the school in solidarity with local community members from Niowdane, Hans witnessed first-hand what it meant to the community that he and a fraternity brother, Drew McCoy, had traveled all the way to Senegal to break ground on the school. “I wasn’t sure how much of a real effect our presence was going to have. It felt like we were going more for ourselves than we were for the community, and I was worried about that,” Hans remembers. “But after arriving and seeing what our work was doing, then it started to make sense how important it ended up being for us to be there.”


Above: Drew McCoy, a member of FIJI at the University of Washington, and a community member from Niowdane dig the school’s foundation together.

“A big lesson that kept ringing true was that we have more in common than we do differences.”

For Hans, the bonds fostered with the community in Niowdane were a personal highlight of his time in Senegal. By throwing a football around with children in the village, having tea with his host family at night, and learning how to wash clothes by hand or carry water in the village, Hans felt himself becoming closer to the community. “It was really cool to be connecting even though there was a language barrier. A big lesson that kept ringing true was that we have more in common than we do differences,” says Hans.


Above: Hans, an International Studies major at the University of Washington, dances with a community member at the village’s Welcoming Ceremony in Niowdane.

Now that he’s back in the United States, Hans is excited about that the people he met in Niowdane will soon have a new school building. “I hope that the school gets more young kids into school, and I hope it encourages them to stay in school longer,” Hans explains. “I hope it peaks and energizes the interest in education. I could see that that was happening, especially with older members of the community who understood that, as they put it, ‘Our grandparents never had this. We never had this. But now we get to see our children have this, and we know that it’s going to last.’”

Niowdane School

Above: The buildOn school in Niowdane was completed in August 2017 and will be open for the start of the school year in October.

“I absolutely think that more Greek organizations could really succeed with Trek.”

Hans’ experiences on Trek have left him believing even more in the power of education. And Hans believes that more fraternity and sororities can get involved to make a global impact. “I absolutely think that more Greek organizations could really succeed with Trek. Most already have a philanthropy effort, often they are locally focused—which is a very good thing, often for very good local causes—but I think a lot of people miss out on potentially seeing their efforts go farther. How far can you stretch these dollars? Where is the largest impact going to be made? I think a lot of sororities and fraternities could get involved with buildOn. I think they would have incredible rewards from it.”

Below: Drew takes a turn dancing at the Welcoming Ceremony while on Trek in Niowdane, Senegal.