buildOn trek to Africa allows CHS students to explore cultural similarities


Photo Courtesy Shreya Agarwal

Translator Aby Saar and Coppell High School seniors Ananya Pagadala and Shreya Agarwal don traditional Senegalese outfits as they present a closing speech. The buildOn organization raises funds and helps build schools in areas across the world that are in need. Photo courtesy Shreya Agarwal.

Laasya Achanta, Staff Writer

In the arid climate of Ndiob, Senegal, Coppell High School seniors Reina Raj, Shreya Agarwal and Coppell’s buildOn club co-founder Ananya Pagadala wrapped up their construction for the past five days. 

Wiping the sweat from their brows, they couldn’t help but smile at the school they started to build and the people they met. 

The trip to Senegal gave Pagadala, Agarwal and Raj a chance to not only help build a school, but to broaden their experience with people of different cultures. 

“Half of the days were spent building, and the other half of the days were spent interacting with the people in order to learn more about their language and all of their traditions,” CHS senior and co-founder Anjali Satpathy said. “This is very important to understand these people’s way of life.”

Satpathy did not go to Africa, but she helped plan the trip and organize the process that allowed for Pagadala, Agarwal and Raj to take the trek to Senegal.

Club members found that Senegal, although vastly different from India, is similar to their own Indian culture in terms of family structure.

“This trip has shown me how similar and different in culture theirs is to my culture, which is a mix of Indian and American culture,” Agarwal said. “The lifestyle at Senegal reminds me of India because there’s a lot of big families living in compounds with the same hierarchy in terms of obedience. It was cool how people from completely different continents who’ve never seen each other have almost the exact same ideals.”

Senegal is also unique from any of the countries the club members had previously travelled to. 

“I really expected it to be like India because it was the closest quality of life that I experienced but it was very different. Comparing it to India, it’s definitely not crowded. I was also very surprised to see a lot of sand everywhere,” Pagadala said. 

After the initiation of the buildOn club last year, Pagadala and Sathpathy found the club’s success surpassed their expectations. After fundraising money through individual donations, sponsorships, a car wash and a Chipotle partnership, the club raised a total of around $12,000.

Pagadala, Agarwal and Raj raised the minimum $2,000 that was required for them to have the opportunity to fly to Senegal and see the money they raised to build a school come into fruition. 

“At first I was hesitant to join buildOn because I didn’t know if we would be able to actually do anything,” Agarwal said. “For the first month it was slow, but it picked up during March and April when we started fundraising. When I saw we could raise money quickly, I saw this was a real possibility and was very motivated to actually go to Senegal.”

In mid-July, the CHS chapter of buildOn combined forces with the chapters from Garfield High School in Seattle and Bloomington High School in Indiana to help break ground in Senegal, a process that included digging trenches and laying the foundation for the school. After being greeted by a welcoming ceremony, the students met their host families and prepared for more work that was to come.

“One of the first things I noticed is we’re so sheltered in this Eurocentric society and we believe that third world countries are all baren, basically like the stereotypes,” Agarwal said. “I expected to see basically nothing, but the infrastructure there is amazing. The roads go all the way to the villages, and the houses are made of cement. Of course there are a few standard third world tropes, but I noticed they are well adapted to their environment.”

The worksite comprised of three main stations: digging trenches, making bricks and building the latrine.

“What I like about [this opportunity] is instead of building a school for the community, they work with the community to build a school by using their resources and methods so it’s a sustainable way of education,” Pagadala said.

The community involvement of buildOn is one of the factors that attracted Satpathy and Pagadala to choose this foundation from many other organizations. The organization has been practicing its mission statement for 28 years and to this date has built 1,500 schools around the world. 

“We build with the community just because we really want to make sure the community is the one that owns the property and the process from the very beginning, and they are going to be the ones sending their kids to school,” Aled Hollingworth, buildOn’s Community Engagement Manager said.

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