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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    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.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora