The Beat

buildOnheader2.jpg POSTED BY EA Staff ON Apr 17, 2015

buildOn Believes Education is a Basic Human Right [Q&A]

Nonprofit buildOn is fighting the education crisis around the world by helping those who need it most – children living in poverty – to get into school and stay engaged.

buildOn works in some of the poorest countries on the planet to build schools in villages that have historically had no adequate school structure. They have built more than 700 schools in seven countries: Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Malawi, Nepal, Nicaragua and Senegal. In the US, they run programs at 50 high schools in seven US regions: Chicago, Detroit, New York, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Boston and Connecticut.

buildOn is one of three charities you can donate toward in the Humble Origin Bundle 2, so we sat down with Founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski to learn more about the organization.

How did buildOn get started?
While I was traveling after college I encountered extreme poverty as I had never seen it before, especially while visiting India, and Nepal. When I was in a village in Nepal I was overwhelmed by extreme poverty and the way people were suffering from the injustices caused by this poverty.  The more I traveled in regions of poverty, the more clearly I saw that those conditions were directly related to rampant illiteracy and the general lack of education. I also saw that these communities desperately wanted their own children to read and write.

These experiences in developing countries also made me more sensitive to poverty in the U.S., particularly affecting urban youth. The problems of our inner cities are intimidating, and many adults had given up, but I knew that the kids themselves wanted to build a better community, and shape their own destiny - They wanted to be part of the solution.

I wanted to empower American youth and different communities around the world to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education. I was certain that if I tried, the commitment from the villagers and the youth to the cause would surpass my own. So I quit my fast-track position in GE and started buildOn.

How does the education crisis negatively impact society?
Every 26 seconds in the U.S. a student drops out of school .The education crisis in the U.S. perpetuates the cycle of unemployment, violence, and crime in America’s urban centers. Each year, dropouts cost the U.S. Economy an estimated $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue alone, and 82% of all inmates in American prisons dropped out of high school.

Worldwide nearly 900 million people cannot read or write. Global Illiteracy drives extreme poverty, undermines democracy and fuels terrorism. No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40% of its adults able to read and write.

It’s amazing that internationally you are building schools and improving education in developing countries, but tell us briefly more about how students are engaged in buildOn here at home.
After living in a Harlem in the 90’s, the worst drug trafficking neighborhood in the US at that time, and listening to the community, I realized that the youth were not looking for a ticket out. They didn’t want to escape, they wanted to transform their communities. They wanted to lead powerful change. They wanted to be the solution! So we built intensive service learning programs that empower youth to do just that. Instead of receiving services, our youth provide service that lifts up their community. They map out their neighborhoods and study the problems that affect the people and transform that knowledge into power and action. They do direct service that changes lives.

Every day our students are visiting senior centers, helping the disabled, working with people that have AIDS, cleaning up parks and abandoned lots, and working at the very food pantries at which some of their own families depend. So far they have contributed more than 1.5 million hours of service. They are the solution!

What they do in their community has a direct impact on their academic achievement.  And that’s important since the four-year graduation rate in most of the schools we work with is under 60%.  In fact, 92% of the buildOn students from those same schools not only graduate, they go to college.

What’s the one thing you’d like EA players to know about buildOn?
We are not a charity we are a movement. Here at buildOn we are dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education.  We CAN break this cycle if you join the movement and there are many ways to do it.  
You can support a student who is trying to make a change here at home, you can lend your voice to spread the word, you can help build a school abroad and you can even start a chapter in your own community. We’ve had supporters do everything from hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. They’ve hosted benefit concerts in Detroit, and fulfilled pledges to get buildOn tattoos when they reached their goal. You can be creative while helping others here in the US and abroad.

To learn more about buildOn and how to get involved at or by following on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at @buildOn.

Want to help? Pick up the Humble Origin Bundle 2 to donate to buildOn! Get great games in return for helping to build new schools, bring education to students in need, and help strengthen urban communities in need of support. 


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