You might remember that last year, we hosted a fundraiser that earned $120,000 for one of my favorite charities, Pencils of Promise.
What does Pencils of Promise do? They build schools in developing countries, like Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos. And with the money we raised, we were able to build THREE schools in Ghana, which is in West Africa.
One of the schools is officially complete and students have started using it — how freakin’ cool is that!?
In case you want all the details on that fundraiser, like…
- How we raised six figures with our community in two weeks.
- Why we chose the charity we did, and my personal connection to it.
- Other ways you can give back (that don’t include money).
…Then check out THIS post. I describe everything we did to make the fundraiser a success and how you can replicate it if giving back is part of your mission too.
Now, that fundraiser was in February 2017 — a little more than a year ago. A few months later, in August 2017, myself and a few members of my team had the chance to go to Ghana to actually visit the schools and meet the communities they would impact.
Y’all. It was life altering.
And hey, we made a video to tell you all about the experience and why the work that Pencils of Promise does is so important. 🙂 Check it out below!
Pssst, make sure you’re watching in HD and in full screen. It’s better that way, ya feel meeee?
That video gives you a full-spectrum glance into what PoP does to support students in developing countries, and how our fundraiser impacted that mission!
And in case you just want a quick teaser of what the trip was like, check out this 30-second clip below!
Here are some of the highlights that really stood out to me about our time in Ghana:
1. Pencils of Promise does SO much more than just “build schools.” (And I love them for it.)
I’ll be honest — when I did this fundraiser, I was under that impression that the money we raised would all go toward building the school structures. And that sounded pretty amazing.
But when we got to Ghana and started learning more about what PoP does, it all started to make sense.
In addition to building safe school structures that are conducive to learning, they also…
- Train teachers on modern teaching methods. This may seem small, but many of these teachers were using outdated teaching plans (that involved reading and repetition vs. critical thinking and application). PoP does teacher trainings to bring them up to speed on the latest and best teaching methods, because if kids are having fun in class and learning how to APPLY what they’ve learned to their lives, then they’ll be more engaged.
- Host sanitation trainings. This is big! If a child is sick, they don’t go to school. And many children in developing countries get sick from drinking dirty water. So, by teaching them how to wash their hands with soap and get water from the filtered dispenser, they have a better chance at staying healthy.
2. Music and expression is such a beautiful component of the Ghanaian culture.
The culture in Ghana is colorful in every sense. From the clothes they wear to the music they create, you can FEEL the passion everywhere. It was moving to me to see people who seemed so alive.
These were some of the school officials and students. Don’t you love their outfits? They’re so expressive and beautiful to me.
At one of the school inaugurations that we went to, some of the students recited poems and spoken word presentations. I was so moved to tears by how much passion they brought to their speeches. It reminded me that language is helpful, but true communication comes from the energy you use to express it. There’s so much we can experience through an exchange of energy with another person.
3. Be ready for surprises!
It takes about 16 hours to get to Ghana from Los Angeles, and that’s just counting the time in-air. If you factor in the airport waiting time, buses to your hotel, layovers etc, then you’re looking at close to 22 hours total. Phew!
Here’s us about to board our second flight, pretending to be awake.
(The two guys on the left are Jeff and Andrew, our video team and some dear friends of mine from college. Next to me is Kenny, who’s also an old friend of mine and someone who works on my team!)
We arrived in Ghana early in the morning and had a nice, sleepy breakfast. Shortly after that, we hopped in a shuttle with several other donors and started driving, not really sure where we were going.
Quick sidebar: there were about 5 donors on the trip, so during our 5 days in Ghana, we got to visit each donor’s school and community.
Susie, the trip organizer soon told us that we were going to visit my school first…as in, right now! And spoiler alert: they were hosting a special ceremony as a thank you.
If you ever want to get rid of jet lag right after landing, just tell someone that they’re going to a ceremony in front of hundreds of people in another country…and they’re the guest of honor. That’ll do it. 😉
The ceremony was sweet and beautiful, despite my nervousness (and tiredness). The kids performed a dance (lots of drumming, singing, and sweet outfits), and they lavished all of us with gifts. It was such a warm welcome to Ghana.
Here’s all of us right after the ceremony with some of the school officials!
4. The people in Ghana are happy and community-focused.
Perhaps one of the most special things I gained from my time in Ghana was how tight-knit each of the villages we visited was.
The kids played in packs (and man, did they know how to PLAY), and the parents and elders were always laughing and smiling. It made me think of what our communities were like before we had the notion of “more.” Before we yearned for things like 6-figure incomes or dream houses. And before we connected with people on social media more than in real life.
I think that a strong sense of community and belonging is paramount to a happy life, and the people we met in Ghana seemed to have it down pat.
This was one of my favorite days:
We were visiting one of the communities and had some time to play with the students. I used to be a teacher, but that was years ago. And nowadays, I don’t find myself around kids very often. So as silly as it may sound, I had to remember how to play with kids. What do they like to do? How can I make the most impact with them in our short time together?
And then it hit me: they love it when you make a fool out of yourself. Easy, right? 😉
So, a game of Simon Says soon turned into me pretending to be a sweaty alien who chased them around in 90 degree weather, wiggling my fingers as a supposed defense mechanism. It was so fun just to be a kid, and to feel closeness without words.
Where our company is headed…
My trip to Ghana was life-changing. Raising money and donating it to a charity is a wonderful experience, but it doesn’t quite hit you until you can see the impact that money made.
And to the nearly 800 people who donated to this fundraiser, I hope you can see the massive impact YOU helped us create. I’m so confident about the work that Pencils of Promise is doing around the world, and so grateful I got to be part of it.
At the end of the day, don’t you think our world would be better off if EVERY voice had the opportunity to rise? If every child got an education and could bring their culture and unique experiences to the table in a bigger way?
That’s why philanthropy continues to be one of my biggest missions with my business. We’re planning new ways that we can give back this year and beyond, like donating a portion of all sales, starting a Foundation one day, and continuing to hold annual fundraisers.
Thank you for being part of that mission and for sharing this community space with me. I can’t wait to see what else we create together. <3
Have you thought about giving back with your business? Remember, it doesn’t have to cost anything! Leave a comment below and let me know your give-back ideas. I’d love to hear ’em! 🙂