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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora