During the past two years, the Lower Merion High School buildOn Trek teams have raised more than $90,000 to construct a pair of schools in impoverished rural villages in Haiti. While buildOn’s past service efforts are nothing short of astounding, the club is not one to rest on its laurels. This year’s Trek team is looking to not only carry the torch, but raise the bar in the name of service.
The eighteen members of the 2014 Trek team, which for the first time unites students from Lower Merion with Harriton’s buildOn club, has set its fundraising goal at $91,950 to fund the construction of a school in Nepal. If the Trekkies are able to meet this goal, they will board a plane for an extraordinary 12-day service trip during the first two weeks of April. Throughout the trip, students will be fully immersed in Nepalese culture as they live with host families and work on the construction site side-by-side with local community members.
“I am most excited for the opportunity to live and build connections with the families that will be directly impacted by the school,” said LMHS sophomore Jen Crainic. “Knowing that there will be moms and dads on the worksite building a school for their children and grandchildren that will finally have an opportunity to learn to read and write makes each minute I spend fundraising worthwhile.”
Although Nepal’s ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index has gradually improved throughout the past ten years, 25% of the population remains below the poverty line of $1.25 (US) per day. Ethnic conflicts and the lack of a skilled workforce have posed obstacles to developmental efforts. BuildOn has a strong connection to Nepal extending back to the organization’s early years having helped to construct more than 100 schools in remote areas. These schools are helping to transform both children and adults in Nepal with gender-equal primary classrooms and Adult Literacy Programs that offer health, literacy, and community development instructions to parents.
“Often times living in such a great community, we forget how fortunate we really are,” said Carly Hoffman, a junior at LMHS. “I am interested to learn about and see first-hand the differences between the two communities and to gain a greater appreciation for what I have here. The entire experience should be a really big eye-opener and I am eager for the road ahead.”
“I am really hoping that by being immersed in a culture that contrasts ours so greatly I will be able to learn things that I would never be able to learn in a school environment,” continued LMHS sophomore Shane Weiser. “I also hope that when I come back I will have a deeper appreciation for what I have and hopefully inspire other people to do so, too.”
The Trekkies have been hard at work since the beginning of the school year planning and organizing a host of fundraisers. As of mid-December, the team has raised more than $55,000 through a wide variety of activities, including car washes, letter-writing campaigns, a Halloween party for elementary and middle school students, bowling nights, a Linvilla Orchards pie sale, jewelry sales, and spaghetti dinners, just to name a few. Some students even collected precious materials like fillings and crowns from local dentist offices to help the cause. Another big ongoing fundraiser is the sale of Breaking Grounds Free Trade Nicaraguan Coffee which also raises money for Nicaraguan farmers and their families.
This year’s cast of 18 Trekkies will have a bit of veteran experience. Two members of previous school-building treks - LMHS seniors Ji Soo Kim (Haiti 2013) and Benji Pollock(Haiti 2012) - have first-hand experience with such a major undertaking.
“I went to Haiti in 2012 and it was one of the most life-changing and incredible experiences I've ever had,” said Pollock. “I think this experience will be just as rewarding, but in a different way. In Nepal, I hope to embrace the new experiences more thoroughly and thoughtfully. Without as much of a major culture shock, my mind will not be as cluttered, and I'll be able to absorb more efficiently, and start giving back more quickly. To first-timers, I'd say keep an open mind, don't pass up on new experiences, embrace the culture and your fear of the unknown, and appreciate every moment of the Trek experience.”
LMHS ninth-grader Florence Kyomuhendo knows that while the group traveling to Nepal may be young, the impact of what they are doing will last a lifetime.
“A group of high school teens is going to Nepal to build a school for children who don’t get the advanced educational experience we have. To sit down and process something like that is remarkable,” said Kyomuhendo. “While some teens are spending a night at a friend’s house, watching a movie, texting or going to a party we’re going to build a school in Nepal. That’s a lot for a person to take in. It’s not the typical thing you would think you would be doing freshman year but here I am. I’m looking forward to learning from this experience and figuring out what I am capable of doing. I’m excited to create a bond with the people I’m working with and the people I meet in Nepal. “