For this first-time fundraiser, global change happens one action at a time
Before visiting Africa, Javier Barrientos had never considered himself an activist—but when he visited Tanzania with OAT for the first time in 2007, something changed. He was exploring Ngorongoro Crater—which he describes as "the most beautiful place on earth"—when the group stopped to visit the Kambi Ya Nyoka primary school in the village of Karatu. "You could easily miss this school, and most do," says Javier. "But OAT makes a point to stop."
Kambi Ya Nyoka is one of four schools in Karatu funded by Grand Circle Foundation—but even with our support, as Javier discovered during his visit, there is still much to be done. "I asked the headmaster about the state of the school," Javier says, "and I learned that there were nutritional issues and that the students didn't have toilets." He also learned that for some children, it takes a phenomenal effort just to get to school each day—up to a two-hour walk in each direction. "It was an experience I'd never had before," Javier remembers. "I felt my heart open up."
Even though he had no fundraising experience, Javier was compelled to ask one very important
question: "If I could help, what could I do?"
Looking around, it was easy to see the answer. For more than 700 students, the school had just nine classrooms. Five had been built by Grand Circle Foundation—the only renovations the school had seen since it was founded in 1962—but the remaining four were very old. "The structures were crumbling and unsafe," says Javier. "I didn't promise, because I'd never done anything like this before, but I wanted to build a classroom."
When he got back to the United States, he partnered with two friends to raise the $18,000 it would take to fund one classroom with furniture. They decided to call their project One Global Action. "We consume globally, so we have the responsibility to give globally," explains Javier. "We can change the world, one global action at a time."
Changing the world would come with challenges, as Javier learned in the winter of 2008 when he held his first fundraiser. "I bought food and drink, and everyone I invited showed up," Javier says. "I made a speech about the project, and put out baskets so that if people felt moved, they could make a donation." The results, however, weren't exactly what he'd hoped for. "When they all left, I only had $40," Javier laughs. "I was devastated!"
Devastated but not undeterred, Javier asked a tech-savvy friend to donate web design skills to the project. "I posted pictures from my visit online and wrote about the school and our philosophy." Javier emailed the link to everyone who had come to the party, with instructions on how to donate to Grand Circle Foundation. "Then the checks started coming in," Javier says. A second event, this one hosted by a friend in Quebec, also proved more successful. "My friend emailed a link to the website in advance, and we designed donation cards that told people what we needed from them," he says. "It was more structured this time around." It was more successful, too: the event raised $5,000.
Within four months, Javier not only reached his $18,000 goal, he exceeded it. All told, One Global Action raised $30,000 for Kambi Ya Nyoka. With the extra funds, the school was able to build new toilets for the students in addition to the new classroom.
When the classroom renovations were complete, Javier returned to Tanzania to attend the dedication
ceremony, along with several friends who had also donated. The group's Trip Leader organized a special visit to Kambi Ya Nyoka for the members of One Global Action—and one OAT traveler, who hadn't been involved with the fundraising effort, was interested in joining. "The Trip Leader made an exception for the traveler in the name of 'learning and discovery,'" says Javier. In the end, it was a wise decision: "The traveler decided to pledge $7,500 to build another classroom and new quarters for the teachers," Javier says.
This surprise was just one of many moments that made One Global Action so rewarding for Javier. By coincidence, one of OAT's most prolific fundraisers, Susan Rickert, was in Tanzania at the same time to attend the graduation of Banjika School—the secondary school that she had raised money to build. "Through the work of Grand Circle Foundation, I went to Africa and connected with this inspiring woman," Javier says. "And then one more person got involved. One single action had so many consequences.
What could be more rewarding than to see someone else pick up the torch?"
Today, Javier is still carrying the torch for the Grand Circle Foundation schools in Tanzania—only this time, he's working with Books for Africa to create a library for the four Karatu schools to share. Just as before, he's been taken aback by unexpected displays of generosity. "I told my story at the office," he says, "and out of the blue I got a phone call from a woman who had 'a few books' for me. It turned out 'a few' meant 'a few hundred.'" Now, Javier is raising the money for shipping.
There's no doubt in his mind (or ours) that he'll make it happen. In fact, looking back on One Global Action, the then-fledgling philanthropist says, "It wasn't that difficult." We can't think of better words of encouragement for others who want to change the world—just start with one action at a time.