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Indy-based "social profit" organization building schools in Uganda 

Currently, 41 million sub-Saharan African children go through their lives without attending school, but one Indianapolis organization is working brick by brick, school house by school house to make education a reality in the region.

"It's safe to say we all were challenged physically by the labor and heat, but we were repeatedly humbled and impressed by how skilled, efficient, strong and persistent the Kyeitabya (a Ugandan community) community members were," David Deitz said.

"They taught us how to perform each task and it was always clear that no matter how hard we worked, they could always do more, faster, and better."

Deitz is a rising senior at DePauw University — where he helped form a chapter of Building Tomorrow, a social-profit based out of Lockerbie Square. The organization raises money to construct academies in Uganda.

So far, the organization's coordinated efforts have built five schools in Uganda in which 1,500 kids receive an education every day, according to founder and executive director George Srour. Five more schools are under construction, with each costing about $50,000 to build and about 14 months of labor to complete.

Building Tomorrow (BT) bills itself as a social profit — emphasizing the work the organization does to define its impact, Srour said.

The organization can be described as a vast network with a tight nucleus orchestrating the action between two continents, multiple college campuses, some high schools and the city of Indianapolis. Building Tomorrow utilizes two full-time workers, four interns and a staff of five people in Uganda (the primary nation BT works in) in order to coordinate their efforts with 25 college campuses across North America. On top of that, a social investment council plans and coordinates events in and around Indy, including the BT Chip-In golf fundraiser sponsored by PriceWaterhouseCoopers at The Trophy Club in Lebanon on Aug. 20. There is also a board of trustees in the loop.

But the differences between BT and other philanthropic organizations are not unique solely because of its cause. The capital for construction is given to Ugandan communities on the promise of 20,000 hours of their labor. Furthermore, the college students that help fill BT's school budgets have the opportunity to see their work come to fruition.

College students who help organize a campus chapter of BT like Deitz has, participate and help raise money for the Building Tomorrow academies can pack their bags and go to Uganda to turn the work they have done in the United States and the cash they have raised into the end product.

Deitz experienced many challenges while helping build an academy. He practiced one of Uganda's 54 languages, encountered the phenomenon "Ugandan Time" in which being an hour late was considered punctual (he said the entire trip ran about an hour behind schedule) and had no running water.

Facing these challenges is Building Tomorrow's goal to help others receive equal education and learn in a better environment. While helping provide a better learning experience for others, Deitz learned much himself. He said it was extremely rare for westerners (his group's opportunity was a rarity) to participate in construction so the organization could "minimize the cultural and economic footprint of BT's work in the community, and ultimately leave behind a schoolhouse that the community feels ownership of."

Local Ugandan materials are put to use by community members, as well as local skilled laborers, Deitz said.

But he saw firsthand the power of the American dollar, where in Uganda a buck bought nine bricks, and he was taken aback by the community's level of optimism.

"Kids who were probably too young to even be around a construction site couldn't be turned away because they were so excited about the prospect of going to a school nearby them where they could actually afford to go," Deitz said.

Just by making the trip, Deitz was working to overcome one of the organization's challenges that not-for-profits that work on U.S. soil donÕt have to strategize around. "We aren't like Habitat for Humanity who can get you to a site close by and show you the house and say 'here's what you helped do,'" Srour said. "We have to bring the story home to people."

One story Srour likes to tell involves shoes — a big pile of shoes, to be exact. On a visit to an up-and-running BT academy, he observed a large collection of shoes sitting outside of a classroom. He points out that the classroom floors are simply concrete slabs. Srour asked a colleague what was going on, and the children, by their own volition, chose to not wear shoes in the classroom to keep it clean and tidy.

"In a lot of ways that story says a lot about students' perceptions in school," Srour said.

But schools where stories like that originate did not just materialize without setbacks and hurdles to jump.

Srour said getting different Ugandan communities to buy into BT was a problem early on.

"Trust is another big challenge, in the sense that you have to earn it with the community you work with.

"We faced a number of situations initially where communities believed we would not make good on the promises that we make."

He said once communities saw results, the people there were quicker to garner support for BT, as well as donate land — one of the most valuable possessions in Uganda.

As their efforts move the new schools toward completion and communities across the ocean rally around BT, the Indianapolis community has shown its support.

The social-profit's investment council, comprised of young professionals, plan fundraisers — from ugly sweater parties to happy hours at The Rathskeller on Mass Ave, as well as the upcoming Chip-In, Srour said.The council has become the dedicated workers fighting for the cause, according to Srour.

"Often times you need people to help you. You kind of need foot soldiers, people who are willing to wave the flag and say 'yeah, this is a cause that I believe in. Forty-one million children in sub-Saharan Africa don't have access to education. Count me in as someone who wants to make a difference and change that.' And that's what our social investment council has become," he said.

The biggest BT event to be found in Indianapolis throughout the year is "Build a School Night," which takes place annually in April. Srour said the event, which includes a silent auction and a live band, raised almost $30,000. That's right around two-thirds the cost of a single Building Tomorrow academy, but monetary capital is not the only resource that furthers BT's goals.

Stretching out from this nucleus of philanthropy, college campuses are adding their cash and talents to the pool of resources BT draws upon to keep moving in a positive direction. Srour said their contributions to the program are not just about capital for purchasing the bricks and beams a school requires.

"Often times the perception of philanthropy is about how much money you can give, and that's totally not the case.

"I think one of the real life applications of Building Tomorrow is that philanthropy is about being able to apply your time and talent and treasures towards something for which you're passionate."

Srour said different schools contribute what they can to the social-profit. If a school has a particularly gifted architecture program that can work with BT to design an academy, they do. Have a talent for film and documenting? The ability to tell a story and reach out to an audience is more than welcome. Some colleges manage to dig really deep into their pockets to help fund BT's schools, raising $70,000 in a year, Srour said.

"We're nowhere near content in terms of what we've done," Srour said.

He said Building Tomorrow is continuing to work on the education itself, within the classrooms it builds, possibly by setting up an "enterprise" in which the education pays for itself and continues to improve communities. Ask Srour, and he'll say BT's crowning achievement is yet to come.

"One of the things I'm always looking at is how can we innovate to continue to enhance what we do."

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