How to Build a School in a Third World Country

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As the old parable says: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." There are many ways to help build schools in remote areas of the world that desperately need them. Some people, ignited by personal passion, start their own foundations. Others join efforts that are under way, hammer in hand. But most people who care deeply about promoting education in the Third World are happy to help successful organizations in their efforts.

1 Research

Research a country that interests you or that you feel particularly passionate about helping. Sir Edmund Hillary, through his Himalayan Trust (, has been a tireless supporter of the Sherpa people of Nepal ever since his famous 1953 climb of Mount Everest. Greg Mortenson also made Third World education a personal mission. Acutely ill after climbing Pakistan's K2 in 1993, he stopped in a remote mountain village to recover. The people opened their hearts and homes to him, despite their overwhelming poverty, and nursed him back to health. Profoundly grateful, Mortenson returned to the United States, sold his belongings, took the cash back to the village and built a school. A decade later, his Central Asia Institute ( has built 40 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many for girls attending school for the first time.

2 Research your chosen country

Research your chosen country. Typically, children in remote areas have neither the choice nor the opportunity to go to school. The money they earn is often critical to their family's survival. In other places, only well-off families are able to send their kids (almost always boys) to boarding school. Children leave their families for years--and once they've tasted city life, many don't return. This has profound implications on family life and cultural preservation.

3 Investigate methods

Investigate methods. Successful nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) build partnerships with the people they work with. They listen carefully, meet local needs, develop in-country partners who administer to the projects, and always respect the local culture and customs. Some NGOs focus on building schools for girls and start a powerful new cycle in their village when the students return as teachers or nurses, challenging long-held cultural assumptions that girls aren't worth educating. Other groups build schools in remote villages, allowing children to learn at home.

Link up with a well-established NGO active in your area of interest. See 403 Set Up a Nongovernmental Organization.

Become an active member. Spread the word about the good work the organization is doing, serve on the board and donate money. If you're heavy on talent and passion but don't have deep pockets, offer to help write or design the newsletter (see 165 Produce a Newsletter), maintain the Web site, stuff envelopes, answer phones and even write thank-you notes.

  • Some organizations operating in politically or socially turbulent regions do not permit volunteers to work incountry for safety reasons. See 439 Plan a Trip to a Politically Unstable Region.
  • Virtually every continent has programs in place helping to promote education and health care and preserve cultural heritage.
  • Young people find these causes very appealing. Some kids collect pennies or donate their birthday, bar mitzvah or babysitting money to help these groups. See
  • Many terrific organizations such as the American Himalayan Foundation ( and Habitat for Humanity International (; see also 386 Build Low- Income Housing) would welcome your membership dollars.
  • Free the Children (freethe has built more than 375 schools globally, educating more than 300,000 students daily.
  • ProPeru ( offers a three-week program in which you pay $1,900 to build schools and stay with a host family in Peru. Then again, consider how far that same $1,900 would go in a country where $200 pays the annual salary of one teacher.

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