News / Africa

Child Beggar Who Asked for Pencil Inspires Man to Build 206 Schools

In the six years since its founding, Pencils of Promise has built 206 schools in Africa, Asia and Latin America. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)
In the six years since its founding, Pencils of Promise has built 206 schools in Africa, Asia and Latin America. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)
Faiza Elmasry
Before he turned 25, Adam Braun had a vision of what he wanted to do in life, and the legacy he wanted to leave behind.  

In 2008, he founded Pencils of Promise, a non-profit he prefers to call a "for-purpose” organization, to ensure all children have access to education. Six years later, Braun's organization has built 206 schools, breaking ground on a new building every 90 hours, reaching more than 22,000 children in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Boy and a pencil

It all started when Braun visited India as a college student and a boy begging on the street approached him to ask for money. Braun asked the boy what he would want, if he could have anything in the world.

“I thought the answer was going to be 'a house' or 'a car'," Braun said. "His answer was 'a pencil'. So I gave him my pencil and he just lit up with joy. I realized he never had been to school before, and that was the reality for 57 million children around the world.”

After graduation, Braun was on the path to a successful Wall Street career, but he never forgot that boy and the problem he represented.

“We live in a world in which every single child can have access to quality education, because we have everything necessary already," he said. "We have the capability of educating every child. So I became immensely committed to helping create that world.”

Financing schools

Using social media, Braun spread the word about his mission and raised money. He funded construction of the first Pencils of Promise school, in Laos, five years ago.
Students who attend a Pencils of Promise school in Guatemala, May 2011. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)Students who attend a Pencils of Promise school in Guatemala, May 2011. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)
x
Students who attend a Pencils of Promise school in Guatemala, May 2011. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)
Students who attend a Pencils of Promise school in Guatemala, May 2011. (Courtesy Pencils of Promise)


Since then, his organization has helped finance more than 200 schools in remote rural areas of Laos, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Ghana. In each country, he says, his organization works closely with the ministries of education.

“Those are the ones who craft the original curriculum, but we provide additional sanitation, health and water curriculum," he said, "essentially teaching kids to live healthy holistic lives.”

Pencils of Promise also works closely with the local communities.

“Every project is uniquely catered to that community, but 20 percent of the funding on average comes from the community itself," Braun said. "We want locals supporting other locals.”

Common goal

Rallying people around a common goal of education is something that generally brings communities closer, says Leslie Engle Young, director of impact for Pencils of Promise.

“We started saying 'OK, how can we get your 20 percent? What part of the labor can you do? What materials do you have that you can contribute to the project?'" she said. "And through this really organic conversation, we start building true partnership with these people."

Young is amazed at the feedback they receive from parents and grandparents every time a new school is built.  Thrilled to see their children given the opportunity to learn, people are willing to pool efforts and resources.

“I was just in Ghana at the opening ceremony of a new kindergarten in the community of Likpe," she said. "One parent got up and gave the students a charge, basically saying to them, ‘This is your school, you need to make the best of it. It’s your right to have an education and now it’s your job is take advantage of that right and see where you can go in the future...Teachers, you’re going to show up regularly. You’re going to do good work. We’re going to help you do that good work.’”

Enthusiasm like that inspired Braun to broaden his organization's reach beyond the elementary school level.

“So we developed scholarships, which enabled them to continue to secondary school, as well as teacher training," he said. "We are really rigorous about making sure that the programs are not just beautiful photos and videos of kids, but that we’re actually seeing incredible results in the classroom. And if we're not seeing results, then we need to change our programs. That’s why our kids in Pencils of Promise schools progress from one grade to the next at two times the national average.”

Braun shares his story in his new book, The Promise of a Pencil, about building up his non-profit, pursuing his dream and proving that one ordinary person can create extraordinary change.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: R.Sooriamoorthy from: Mauritius
May 18, 2014 12:57 PM
Well, if that's not an authentically great man, I'd think no one is right now.

by: Teacher from: USA
May 17, 2014 11:22 PM
I wish I had the forethought of Adam. I taught in a 'poor' school. Many years after my retirement, I stepped into a store and a young man said to me, "Do you remember...You gave me a pencil?"
I helped a number of children with their books, clothing, etc. But never went beyond that.

by: Mona from: Singapore
May 17, 2014 9:59 PM
Thank God for a man like Adam. He's a true inspiration. I wish to be like Adam some day.

by: Thomas Reimel from: Montgomery County, pa
May 17, 2014 6:32 PM
A true inspiration. It is amazing what one man and a great dream can do.

by: Robert Tubere
May 16, 2014 7:19 PM
Adam, you are a man with a big heart and matching genius. I thank God for men like you. I respect your father for bringing up a young man like you.

by: randy from: md. usa
May 14, 2014 11:08 PM
once n. Korea does another nuke test it will make the earth warmer by 5 degrees could this be in comparision to 50 million Cows farting? is this number to low ?

by: DR. APOLLO SWORO O. DUKU from: Juba, South Sudan
May 14, 2014 8:10 AM
Mr. Braun I would like to applaud you foryour good work I believe this what we need to help my young brothers and sisters in South Sudan, a new-born nation facing big challenges at the moment, and rated as having one of the worrst litercy rates in the world currently. We will welcome your support to help educate our future leaders of tomorrow. Keep it up.

by: DORAI RAJ L from: Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
May 14, 2014 7:14 AM
Was the student a beggar or a poor street boy?

by: Guest from: Earth
May 13, 2014 1:56 PM
But the bigger question is how did he found Braun Shavers and became so rich?
In Response

by: Someone from: Pune, India
May 15, 2014 1:26 PM
I think you're gravely mistaken in your facts. His Wiki page says, "...Adam's father Ervin Braun, a dentist, founded an AAU basketball team called the Connecticut Flame in 1995 and still remains the coach of the team." He is doing an amazing deed and is a person we can all look up to.
In Response

by: Daniel P from: Sydney, Australia
May 13, 2014 6:42 PM
My friend he is not the founder of Braun shavers neither is his father by from I could gather. He is of jewish descent from NYC but first an foremost he is a Humanitarian which our world is in desperate need of.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs