Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Pencils of Promise

Yesterday I came across Pencils of Promise, an organization building schools in northern Laos. Their mission is to build schools in impoverished areas around the world and are currently working in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Laos. Started in 2008, they are a young organization. What struck me while going through their web-site is how refreshing their mission feels even though building schools is anything but a novel idea. The founder, Adam Braun, was inspired by a boy in India who asked him for a pencil, the act of granting the boy’s wish ignited a spark in the young backpacker’s mind to begin a movement to build schools. After returning from his global backpacking journey he started Pencils of Promise. So far they have built a total of 44 schools with 19 in progress and 10 more in the plans. On the face of it, they are grounded by sound methodology incorporating community participation, sustainable practices, and periodic monitoring and evaluation. Their overhead is low and their finances are transparent. Impressive.

It’s unfortunate that I was also immediately reminded of Greg Mortenson who started the Central Asia Institute and wrote Three Cups of Tea. Even more unfortunate is that it turned out to be Three Cups of Deceit. How easily we can be fooled by bleeding-heart tales of do-gooding in the world, especially when taken away as if in a dream by images conjured up by the deceivers – our hearts kidnapped while our wallets paid ransom dues. I don’t pretend to have a sixth sense on these things but I remember being suspect of Mortenson’s tales as I was reading, thinking that at the very least he had embellished most of what he wrote in the style of writing a captivating historical fiction. But as disheartening as Three Cups may be, I found solace in the words of Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times when he reminded readers that in the end Mortenson did accomplish building some schools and that many children have benefited from his efforts – better than nothing at all.

And so I was happy to find the fresh young face of Pencils of Promise on the scene and hope that their mission continues to grow and benefit the many deserving children around the world.

UPDATE (15/02/2012): Thanks to AidSpeak, here is an update by NPR on the status of the civil lawsuit against Greg Mortenson et al.

Do you have a humanitarian project in particular that touches your heart? Have you ever been disillusioned by a donation that wasn’t used the way you had intended?

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4 comments on “Pencils of Promise

  1. Lisa McKay
    February 14, 2012

    I know the country director of PoP well up here in LP, so when you head on up this way I can introduce you.

    • Wanderlustress
      February 14, 2012

      Fantastic, thanks! Hope you are enjoying your parents’ visit.

  2. Jennifer Burden
    February 9, 2012

    Dee — I was just talking to my today about Greg Mortenson, and we were wondering what the claims were against him. So coincidental that the same thing was on your mind!

    Jen 🙂

    • dwharlow
      February 9, 2012

      That’s funny that we were on the same wavelength! Misappropriation of funds is the most egregious violation, disrespect of local peers who helped him along the way, and misconstruing facts and occurrences do not engender much trust among readers or donors. And trust is sometimes the only thing that donors rely on when contributing to a project that they most likely will never get to see themselves.

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This entry was posted on February 9, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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