Where once stood a grass-thatched classroom in the remote village of Bugabo, Uganda, now stands a 10-room brick schoolhouse filled with students wearing red and black uniforms. A plaque acknowledging Davidson College hangs on the wall.
The school became a reality thanks to the efforts of the Davidson chapter of Building Tomorrow (BT), an international social-profit organization that empowers college students to raise funds and awareness in order to provide education to children in East Africa. The chapter raised more than $42,000 between 2007 and 2011, and the Bugabo community broke ground on the school in January of 2012.
"We've really enjoyed that, despite what some would consider an impediment with the small size of the college and the group, the Davidson chapter has always engaged a steady group of funders and consistently done a great job," said George Srour, founder and executive director of BT.
Nationally, BT includes more than 25 colleges and universities, and Davidson has funded the 13th completed academy with help from Virginia Tech to reach the $60,000 goal. Their fundraising efforts, along with more than 20,000 hours of volunteer labor from local community members, have culminated in a schoolhouse that opened its doors to 325 students the first week of February. The school contains seven classrooms, an office, library, meeting space, restroom facilities and a playing field.
"We tend to be a small group, but that means that each member is even more dedicated," they said. "We're working towards preventing poverty by empowering students and giving them the ability to support education globally. And we're making this a reality through events with a fun spin."
Members of the organization often sit outside of Chambers Building handing out donuts, coffee and fact cards about educational access in Uganda as a way to inform students on their way to and from class.
"Students see that the Building Tomorrow mission really resonates with Davidson's campus, where we value education so highly and have grown up within a reasonable distance of our schools, but sometimes they forget how rare that can be," said Ness.
To raise awareness, BT implements efforts such as "How far would you walk for an education?," which involves placing street signs on campus that illustrate the distance between campus buildings in comparison to the distance students in Uganda might walk to school. They also have brought Srour to campus-something he looks forward to because students ask a lot of great questions and show passion for the organization.BT's most successful fundraising event has been the letter writing campaign. Members send family and friends letters about the organization and the Davidson chapter's goals for the year.
"Most of our events throw a wide net out to campus, so you never know who will take the message to heart. But the letter writing campaign is a more personal way to target specific people outside of the college," said Keesler.
Annual on campus fundraising events include a buffet-style dinner with food donated from local restaurants and "Buy a Brick, Build a School," during which they hang a large piece of paper in the shape of a schoolhouse and fill it in with paper bricks as people purchase them.
During the fall semester, BT focused on co-sponsoring events as a way to get their name out on campus and to the greater community. Habitat for Humanity and the Davidson Housing Coalition invited BT to collaborate with them on "Building a Community," a movement toward fostering community relationships. BT also co-sponsored a Bank of America lecture series event on primary education.
Ness said, "Although we're ecstatic that we've completed one school, we know that there are still thousands of children without access and we look forward to continuing to raise funds to build another school."
The Davidson chapter will receive updates from the completed school building, which has been leased to the local municipal government. They manage day-to-day operations while the Ugandan national government provides salaries for teachers and staff.
"We hope that once everyone sees that we've completed a school, they'll be inspired to either join our organization or make a donation toward the next one," Ness said.