Fred Doss of Bridgehampton has been associated with buildOn, a nonprofit group that teams students in the United States with global school construction projects, since 2001.
BuildOn has paired schools in the Bronx and Detroit, among other places, with villages in South America, Haiti, and Africa that have no formal education to offer the children there. The U.S. students get involved in every facet of raising awareness and money for the school project, and their efforts culminate with a group of them setting off to spend a week at that village, assisting the locals in laying bricks and mortar.
Now, through Mr. Doss, East Hampton High School will become one of buildOn’s stateside schools come September.
The impact on the small overseas communities, which prior to buildOn’s involvement sometimes school their children in temporary shelters, if that, cannot be understated, Mr. Doss said. “Their needs are very simple. Life is much simpler,” he said. “Their expectations are easily met, and a little bit goes a long way.”
His first experience with buildOn was life changing, he said. “The mission spoke to me.”
“The villagers spend weeks with no food, no water, digging in the hot sun all day, all to build a school for their children,” he said. “You can’t help but be moved by that.”
Returning back to his former job with General Electric, Mr. Doss talked to the company about providing funding and offices for the growing nonprofit. Over a decade later, G.E. still provides offices free of charge to buildOn.
Mr. Doss, who is also the co-chairman of Paddlers for Humanity, was quick to point out the “dual mission” of the organization. “It also gives American kids self-empowerment and self-confidence,” he said. “They learn to give back. They learn that they can make a difference.”
Before a single brick is laid, buildOn requires that villages form a gender-equal leadership team for the construction project. All villagers involved in the project are required to sign a covenant between buildOn and the community that outlines each party’s obligation: buildOn agrees to provide the engineering, materials, skilled labor, and project supervision, and the village contributes up to 3,000 volunteer work days and a promise to send girls to be educated in equal numbers as boys.
BuildOn also works with each country’s education department. “It’s very tightly run,” he said, adding that 90 percent of all donations to buildOn go into the programs.
Paddlers for Humanity, which has recently focused its fund-raising on projects that benefit children and youth, donated $30,000 in 2009 to buildOn for a school in Nicaragua, and is donating $15,000 to jump-start the high school program in East Hampton. A fund-raiser is also in the works for November, although there are no details as of yet.
The plan, Mr. Doss said, is to target a location and for the East Hampton students to have the project on its feet by March of 2013. Although buildOn has traditionally been associated with inner city schools, Mr. Doss believes that East Hampton students will benefit just as much as kids from those other schools.
“Privileged or not privileged, it’s an opportunity to go and see a totally different way of life,” he said. “You sit down with these people, you share a meal, you hang around at night and talk.”
“People who have no opportunities deserve a chance,” Mr. Doss said passionately. “Global education will hopefully save us all.”