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East Hampton Students Learn Through Experience In Senegal

Andrew Nachemson

Back row: Priscilla Campbell, Rafael Almanzar, Julia Talasko, Jermaine Phillips, Alvaro Aguilar. Front Row: Johnny Pizzo, Amanda Seekamp, the Village Chief, Natalia Fernandez. (Courtesy Photo)

BuildOn, an international nonprofit organization which sends students to help build schools in developing countries, recently sent a group from East Hampton High School to Senegal, West Africa. The organization, whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy, first established a youth service in East Hampton in 2012. The program was developed with assistance from another local nonprofit, Paddlers for Humanity and after raising over $80,000, was eventually able to send the group of fifteen students and one teacher to participate in the volunteer construction process.

The group, lead by teacher Priscilla Campbell, left on Friday, July 5 and returned 11 days later. The students helped build a small schoolhouse in a village in the Fatick region of Senegal where no adequate school structure existed before. While the school wasn't completely finished by the time the group left, the students had made very significant progress and the villagers are expected to complete the final stages of construction very soon. Each student was directly involved in every aspect of the building process and they worked without professional assistance. From creating the bricks, to laying them in place, mixing cement, and digging trenches, the students were fully immersed in the labor of construction, all in 105-degree weather.

The trip leader, Priscilla Campbell, mentioned an especially memorable moment when one of the women in the village declared, "we went to bed poor and we woke up rich," in reference to the work the students had done for them. And, while Campbell certainly felt that she and the group did a lot of good for the village, she also stressed that the experience was equally valuable for the students and herself.

"We learned so much from them. We went there with the idea that we were going to do this wonderful thing for them, which we definitely did, but we came away from it with so much more than we thought we would," Campbell explained. "We came away with an understanding of how people can live with so much less and so much that's different from us and still be very happy. We just learned a lot about life."

"It's good to do things for yourself if you want a small moment of happiness, but when you do things for others - for something greater than you - you feel like you matter," East Hampton High School senior Serrana Mattiauda added. "It was an experience that changed my life forever and I'd just really like to thank buildOn and my amazing classmates for sharing it with me."

Campbell has since retired from the school, but another teacher will take her spot as the faculty leader during future trips. With continued support from this year's volunteers and Paddlers for Humanity, buildOn plans to continue its initiatives within East Hampton High School and organize more constructions soon. The organization expects to be able to send a group every other year. The next trip will go to Haiti, Nicaragua, Malawi, or Nepal.

More information about the buildOn organization can be found on their website at www.buildon.org.

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