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Pencils of Promise: Nonprofit Spotlight

Updated by staff writer Yona Williams.

Unsafe, unsanitary, and ill-equipped classrooms create barriers for teachers, students, and communities in developing countries—conditions that lead to low enrollment and poor school attendance. According to the anti-poverty nonprofit One Campaign, 70 million 10-year-olds in 2021 alone could lack basic literacy skills expected at that age.

Another hurdle to overcome: the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 12 million of those 70 million children are estimated to have missed out on nearly a sixth of their expected lifetime education due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s crippling effect on education. Moreover, the majority of those children live in some of the world’s most impoverished countries.

Today, we’re shining a spotlight on an organization with innovative intervention strategies and a COVID-19 crisis response that gets more kids in school to receive a quality education.

Pencils of Promise makes a difference as a “for-purpose nonprofit” on a mission to reshape the landscape of education by building schools, training teachers, and funding life-changing programs in underdeveloped communities worldwide.

What is Pencils of Promise?

What is Pencils of Promise or POP

Pencils of Promise (PoP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that believes every child deserves access to quality education. PoP builds schools and provides teaching resources, training, and programs to underserved communities like Laos, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Ghana. PoP also improves local water quality, infrastructure, and sanitation to aid in students’ growth and development and ensure they can safely benefit from school programs.

PoP is driven by data and actively monitors the effectiveness of every program and project to consistently improve its reach, message, and impact on the communities it serves. To this day, 100% of all schools with PoP-supported build projects are open and operational.  

Pencils of Promise History

3 kids writing

Already settled at one of the world’s leading consulting firms, Adam Braun was on his way to an esteemed career on Wall Street—until his travels led him to a life-defining encounter with a struggling child in India. When a small boy’s answer to “What do you want most in the world?” was simply a pencil, the future founder of Pencils of Promise was touched. 

Something as simple as a yellow #2 came to represent the need to unlock the potential of children lacking a suitable learning environment. While backpacking in over 50 countries across six continents, he gave thousands of pens and pencils to children he met.

Seeing the enthusiasm of children, parents, and teachers, Adam decided it was his mission to make his mark in global education. So he started a side project to build a school for kids in a developing part of the world. Within five years of that first pencil, Adam founded the nonprofit organization Pencils of Promise (PoP) in October 2008 with just a $25 deposit.

The first PoP school was completed in Laos (September 2009), followed by the first school in Nicaragua (April 2010). Eight months later, Pencils of Promise became a $1 million organization. By January 2012, PoP had successfully broken ground on 50 schools. 

Today, Pencils of Promise improves the quality of life for students and communities it serves through clean water and sanitation programs, teacher support, and new school builds. It has since grown into an international movement with tens of thousands of supporters who are collectively responsible for building over 550 schools worldwide.

How Pencils of Promise Gives Back

While on a mission to expand access to quality education in underserved communities globally, PoP gives back in the following ways:

1. Building Schools

POP Building Schools from the ground up

Pencils of Promise partners with the communities they serve to build schools from the ground up, plus provide ongoing support to ensure the longevity of each school. Depending on the country, it takes 3-8 months to build new classroom blocks. Government entities and community members own and operate PoP partner schools, which provide quality public education to primary school students.

Before building a new school, PoP does the following first: 

  • Collaborates with local Ministries of Education to identify communities with the greatest need for improved infrastructure
  • Works closely with each community to pinpoint their specific needs
  • Helps communities secure an up to 20% contribution to the project (labor or materials)

2. Teacher Support

Teacher training

Building a school doesn’t stop at four walls. Pencils of Promise also provides essential resources to educators through its Teacher Support (TS) program to ensure student success, such as:

  • Workshops that create professional networking amongst educators
  • Innovative methodologies and age-appropriate, engaging materials
  • One-on-one coaching sessions to support them in between workshops
  • Classroom resources like projectors, e-readers, and video content to bring daily lessons to life.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, PoP equips teachers with workshop videos and phone coaching sessions to continue their learning, plus works with community leaders to spread the word about PoP programs with parents at home. In 2021, PoP continues developing new strategies to reach and help more students, parents, and teachers benefit from its programs.

3. The WASH Program

Teach hygiene practices

Water and sanitation-related illness not only leads to the loss of 443 million school days annually, but Water.org also estimates more than 500,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and contaminated water. To make sure students can benefit from their programs, PoP implements the internationally recognized WASH program to promote healthy water, sanitation, and hygiene practices.

Through the WASH program, PoP impacts communities by:

  • Distributing water filters for clean access to water
  • Teaching youth in Ghana how to make reusable sanitary pads
  • Providing the necessary infrastructure (including toilets and private bathrooms)
  • Educating students and communities on healthy behaviors (like handwashing)

The result: decreased risk of illness, plus higher school enrollment and attendance rates.

Pencils of Promise Impact

Pencils of Promises efforts

To date, Pencils of Promise has impacted the lives of over 208,000 students. Through PoP’s Teacher Support and WASH programs, they have helped communities in the following ways:

  • 2,528 teachers trained
  • 546 school build projects
  • 849 water filters installed
  • 703 handwashing stations built
  • 12,573 coaching sessions held

Since 2009, Pencils of Promise’s efforts have led to increased literacy rates, improved training and support for teachers, and better access to quality education for children residing in some of the most underserved communities in countries where the organization is active.

Pencils of Promise reports on average, a $1,000 investment in PoP’s WASH programs in 2020 helps bring clean water, workshops, and infrastructure to about 50 students for a full year, and is estimated to generate a $4,300 return in time savings, averted healthcare costs, and more.

Future Plans for Pencils of Promise

Pencils of Promise: Nonprofit Spotlight Image 1

Pencils of Promise assesses feedback it gets from students, parents, teachers, and community leaders to develop new and creative intervention strategies that increase its community presence and impact on students’ education at home. Pencils of Promise has plans to:

  • Train community leaders and develop a parent coaching network
  • Repair and maintain infrastructure and the furniture at PoP partner schools
  • Conduct in-person and phone interviews to teachers, students, and parents, plus literacy assessments for students, if feasible
  • Improve and expand its COVID-19 response with new intervention strategies such as Student Guides, PoP Cars, and informative campaigns.
  • Increase the number of annual WASH engagements and TS program workshops, coaching sessions for school principals, and teacher projects

How to Support Pencils of Promise

A few ways you can show support:

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