There are so many great organizations out there making a real impact on our world, and many generous people wanting to give back. I think part of the struggle is narrowing down where to donate our resources when there are so many options! And unfortunately, I think it sometimes keeps us from taking any action at all. Today I want to highlight a non-profit I recently learned about that is doing big things when it comes to improving access to education, better health and creating collaborations around the world.
I had the opportunity to interview Ben Honeycutt, the Executive Director and one of the founders of Open World Cause. Here’s a peek into what the organization is all about, and how people can get involved if their mission is a passion of theirs.
How did you get involved in the organization?
I hadn’t really done anything in my life that I was proud of by the time my senior year rolled around (Fall of 2010). On my first day of school I walked into an assembly where a teacher challenged me to create a legacy. That challenge resonated with me. Over the next months I got connected with Govinda Panthy in Nepal. Govinda taught at a school serving a vulnerable population and had a dream to bring the world to his students. With my friends Jake and Connor, we raised $5,700 on social media platforms and brought two laptops, internet access, and books for a library to Govinda’s school.
At the time, we didn’t really have solid plans to continue our initiative after high school. However, a month after graduation we got news that Nepal had a particularly rough monsoon season and destroyed one of Govinda’s classrooms. Once we got that news, Connor and I realized that while laptops were an awesome tool, they weren’t going to serve much of a purpose if Govinda’s students didn’t have a school to go to. With that we started the Open World Cause as a student organization at the University of Kansas and made it an official non-profit 501c3 in 2015. We now strive to provide educational access to students around the world.
What is most important to you about Open World Cause’s mission?
Our mission is centered on educational access, and we operate by partnering the TriKa school in Nepal and the HIPAfrica school in Kenya with K-12 classrooms around the world. Since becoming a teacher, I have worked to give my students the opportunity to start their own legacy projects in my classroom. It’s been a powerful thing to watch my students realize that they can make a difference in the lives of someone else. In the past, students have started initiatives to provide Sawyer Point-One Bucket filters to our partnered communities in Narayanpur, Nepal and Kimilili, Kenya, and last year, 50 classrooms of students around the world came together to fund the construction of 3 classrooms to save the HIPAfrica school in Kenya.
What are you most proud of about the organization?
We have helped fund the construction of the TriKA school in Narayanpur community in Nepal and the HIPAfrica school in Kimilili, Kenya. Through volunteers and the help of our own students’ legacy projects, we helped oversee successful fundraisers that helped construct both schools. Both of these initiatives illustrated the power that students have to make a real impact for people around the world.
What does the organization need most? Resources, volunteers time, etc?
It means a world of difference when anyone is willing to volunteer their time to help get the word out about us. None of the directors of our organization earn a salary. We are all volunteers and are entirely reliant on the good will of others. So any teacher who’s willing to have a class project where students get involved, any employee who’s up to have a fundraiser at their business, or anyone who wants to help in other ways (honestly, there are a myriad of ways to make an impact) are always more than welcome to join our efforts. We also are directly connected to both of the schools we support, so anyone who wants to help can organize Skype calls and meet the people they’re partnering with personally.
What do you feel makes this organization stand out?
This is a very unique non-profit for many reasons. We have a lot of student involvement from our own classrooms and teachers we’re partnered with across the U.S. and around the world. These students are able to get great entrepreneurial experience and volunteering hours that they can take when applying for jobs and universities. K-12 students have helped by making videos for The Open World Cause, starting community shoe drives, pancake feeds, dinners at school events, and volunteering programs that help their local community as well as the communities in Kenya and Nepal.
Meanwhile, we work to abide by the Fair Trade Learning Standards in an effort to avoid falling into the pitfalls commonly associated with voluntourism. So instead of trying to implement an Americanized curriculum at our partnered schools, sending American workers to construct school classrooms, or sending volunteers who can only teach in a classroom for a week at a time, we work to leave all administrative decisions to the incredible individuals who oversee TriKA and HIP. 97% of our funding since 2015 has gone directly to the TriKa and HIPAfrica schools. This has allowed the schools to hire local contractors, shop for school lunches at local markets, and help boost the local economies in their communities. Open World Cause is also connected with educators all over the world through Microsoft Innovators in Education and through our published lesson titled, “A Day in the Life” that is on Microsoft’s education website.
What does the future look like for Open World Cause?
That’s a phenomenal question. Right now our focus is to try to address the structural barriers that face both TriKa and HIP. Both schools are in rural areas of their countries, and thus struggle to keep talented teachers at a long-term level at their schools. We are working to increase teacher salaries and utilize the K-12 teachers we’re partnered with to develop digital lessons that the students can use in Kenya and Nepal.
Another massive barrier is nutrition, during our research at both schools we found that stunting was a major problem for students at both the TriKa and HIP schools. We observed that over 10 students had descended stomachs on a Monday school-day at HIP, and teachers estimated that 10-15 students got the majority of their meals at school. Figuring out how to not only provide nutritious food at the schools, but the communities the schools serve, is becoming a top priority. In Kenya, the high percentage of starches that the students eat has also caused every student to have at least one cavity at the school. Right now, we’re hoping to take our research to apply for renewable grants and start campaigns that can help us be more sustainable in our approach and address these issues.
Anything else you want to touch up on?
I always ask my students, “What legacy will they start today?” It still amazes me that a project I started my senior year in high school has become a non-profit that serves students all over the world. It’d mean the world if you got involved in our organization to help make an impact for the communities we serve.