PEPPERELL — In 2002, a Pepperell resident and a Harvard high school senior came together with an idea to raise money for the construction of a school in Africa. 17 years later, that idea spawned the funding and creation of 21 other schools in multiple villages throughout the continent.
Such are the strides made by Build a School in Africa, the nonprofit organization that raises money around the world to provide education for students in the small villages of the sprawling continent. Through local events and international fundraising efforts, BSA has funded the construction of 22 schools and is continuing to take requests to build new schools for underprivileged children.
"We've been there long enough that one village will get a school and they'll spread the word," Judith Lorimer, director of the project, said last week.
Lorimer said BSA usually raises $15,000 to pay for a brick school building that contains two classrooms, two bathrooms, one office and space for storage. BSA can also found a three-classroom building but Lorimer said it requires an additional $7,000. On top of donations from generous people from around the world, Lorimer herself helped fundraising efforts by producing an African rhythm and dance show that raised almost $10,000 in its first year. She said she organized 17 shows over the first 11 years of BSA but had to stop recently due to rising costs. Fortunately, the BSA website makes for a fine replacement in raising money.
"We'd much rather have the $2,000 it would cost you for your airfare than to have you make bricks," Lorimer said.
On top of the website, overseen by webmaster Matthew Heberger, BSA has help on the ground in Africa. Lorimer credited Abou Coulibaly and Madou Traore, who work in the country of Mali on behalf of BSA connecting villages looking for schools back to her to start fundraising efforts.
It's a big step forward from the origins of BSA in 2002 when Lorimer met Kyla McKenna, then a student at the Bromfield Academy in Harvard. McKenna wanted to help build a school in Africa for her senior humanities project and knew that Lorimer had visited Mali multiples times over the years. With that, McKenna suggested the retired kindergarten teacher mentor the program.
While the group raised $4,500 to build a school in the village of Fadjiguila in its first year, Lorimer said the land where the school was set to be sold was sold to someone else. Fortunately she had a backup plan. After visiting the southern part of Mali as a volunteer for the Save the Children organization in 2004, she saw the schools in need there and had a radical strategy of funding the construction of a new middle school.
"I said, 'Would you guys be interested in $10,000 to help build a school?' and they said 'Why yes, of course we would,'" Lorimer said. "I came back the following year with $10,000 in my fanny pack in cash."
Lorimer added that there are two more villages on the waiting list for construction funding while BSA prepares its next fundraising efforts. She said that she has met with the directors of the schools who have expressed the thrill they felt as bricks were being laid down to further the education of the young kids.
"It makes me feel like I've made a difference," she said. "As a former teacher, I know how important education is. Making education more accessible is really important because so many of these small rural communities don't have a lot of resources, so it's a huge status symbol for them to have a nice new school."
Jon Winkler: firstname.lastname@example.org