By Elise Frankel
The Alameda High chapter of buildOn, a non-profit international organization dedicated to building primary schools in developing countries, is led by co-presidents Kori Valler and Violet Daar, both juniors.
The Alameda High chapter has already built upward of three schools in Haiti and Nicaragua. This year, the club is sending trek participants to Haiti this summer.
Trek participants have varying degrees of experience with traveling to developing countries but all are very excited to be going to Haiti this summer.
Junior Toby Walecka went to Paraguay last summer as part of a trip with Amigos, a volunteer youth program. When asked how she thinks that experience will be different from Haiti, Walecka said, “Well, they speak different languages and I don’t speak French, so that’s going to be very different.”
Walecka is a new member to buildOn and says she is most excited about, “going to Haiti and experiencing the culture and meeting people there.”
According to Daar, the cost for building materials and everything needed to fund the school is approximately $30,000. The club, as well as the individual trek participant,s contribute to this cost through group and individual fundraisers.
Club fundraisers include monthly bake sales, buildOn’s semiannual acoustic night, and the new addition of an oldie’s dance. These fundraisers bring in revenue that goes directly to paying for the construction of the school.
Trek participants have their own pages similar to Gofundme accounts where family, friends and neighbors can contribute to their individual contributions and travel costs, which add up to roughly $4,000.
Senior Sarah Adamson is also looking forward to the trek this summer. “I’m excited to experience a new culture because here and in Europe, it’s very similar. And Haiti is a third world, developing country, which is obviously very different from here.”
Of her expectations for trek Adamson says, “I haven’t really thought about it, just not living with people that are your family and being around people that you don’t already know, going into a stranger’s house. So it’s going to be a new and exciting experience.”
This year’s trek will take place in July and participants will find out the name and location of their village one month before they leave.
In terms of preparation, participants are emailed a link to a handbook detailing what to expect, what to pack, cultural norms and more. On their first night in the country where they will work, they will get more training from buildOn staff on basic language, safety precautions, and find out their roommates.
Last year’s trek was to the village of Las Palmas, in Nicaragua. Twelve students from Alameda High, four students from Encinal, and one from Oakland Tech traveled to build the school.
The community finished construction on the school in Nicaragua in December. BuildOn teams usually stay in the country for 10 days and help on the foundation of the school.
Tasks on the work site usually include: digging, tying rebar, painting, hand mixing cement, moving cinderblocks, and working with the masons to level the work site. The work is shared between one of the two work groups and the community members.
While one of the work groups is on the work site, the other is doing cultural workshops. One of the workshops that is included on all treks is gender talks. With the help of a translator, buildOn members participate in an open dialogue with groups of men and women in the village separately.
Other cultural workshops include tours around the village’s main source of income, which is usually farming.
With summer rapidly approaching, buildOn is heading into its busy season. According to buildOn’s website they have built 104 schools in Haiti, 263 schools in Mali, 184 schools in Nicaragua, 80 schools in Senegal, 41 schools in Burkina Faso, 192 schools in Malawi, and 161 schools in Nepal.