Published November 26, 2018
There are 250 million children who cannot read this sentence, according to the New York City non-profit Pencils of Promise, and that’s why 15 UB students are raising money to build a school in a developing nation.
Working in conjunction with Choose a Challenge, an organization that helps students donate to charity while also raising money for an adventure trip abroad, each student aims to raise $4,000. Half of the money raised will go to Pencils of Promise, which builds schools in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos and Nicaragua. The other half will support a trip to the Peruvian Andes the students will make next summer to raise awareness for Pencils of Promise.
The trip to Peru will not be a lavish one. Each student will learn about and interact with the area and culture around them before reaching the mountains, where the trip caps off at Machu Picchu, the site of ancient Inca ruins.
The UB fundraising effort began with Alexandra Chang, a senior business administration student who wanted to find a way to give back to the community. She started looking into the charities that are supported by Choose a Challenge, and says she instantly fell in love with the mission of Pencils of Promise.
“Their vision had a goal to make all the schools sustainable,” says Chang. “They’re not just building a school and leaving right after, but really getting the community involved and making sure the school is still standing long after they build it. They also make sure that the educators are there and that the (local) government is going to support the school, as well as planning a means to make sure students get to the school.”
Chang told her close friend Elizabeth Humphrey, a senior business administration and global gender studies double major, all about Choose a Challenge and Pencils of Promise. Humphrey says she was sold on the opportunity because she’s grateful for what education has done for her.
“A lot of the things I’ve been able to do in my life come from being a well-educated person and coming from a well-educated family,” she says. “Just the simple fact that so many people don’t have access to basic literacy, math, English and science skills is so disheartening. It’s really important for me to help people who don’t have the same backing because of a simple reason like they don’t have a school in their area. I had five in my neighborhood that I could’ve chosen to go to for elementary school.”
Since then, 13 other students have joined Chang and Humphrey, thanks to the recruiting help of Choose a Challenge, which is organizing the trek through the Peruvian Andes.
Chang says she hopes this fundraiser and trip will show students that it’s not impossible to travel abroad in college, even if the financial resources aren’t quite there.
“I’ve had a lot of travel opportunities since I became a student. I’ve volunteered in Madrid and I studied abroad in Hong Kong last semester,” she says. “A lot of students tell themselves that they don’t have these opportunities because they don’t have the time, the resources or the finances. I want to show that these kinds of experiences are right in front of you with the right research and a little extra work. I often hear that many people’s biggest regret from college is never studying abroad, and this isn’t quite that, but it gives you a chance to go somewhere and experience something new,” she says.
Humphrey agrees, adding that study abroad and travel opportunities like this one teach so much.
“I studied abroad in Belize over the summer and had an internship working with the community and it was amazing. You get a very different feel for where you are when you’re completely in it and learning about it,” she says.
The group is still in the early stages of fundraising, but members already have raised more than $3,000. Once they reach their $60,000 goal, Pencils of Promise will have enough money to build another school to join the nearly 500 others the organization has spearheaded.
Chang encourages anyone interested in helping the UB team reach its goal to visit its Pencils of Promise page. Every bit helps, she says, because it will all go toward making a big impact.
“I wouldn’t want to spend my senior year any other way than making people realize that you have the opportunity to make such a big difference with such a small contribution,” she says.