Pencils of Promise chapter provides educational resources

By Jenni Kallenback, Staff Writer

Many children in developing countries lack access to quality education.  Pencils of Promise is a non-profit organization that builds schools and provides educational resources for children in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos and Nicaragua. This cause resonated with Palak Patel, sophomore in DGS, who decided to found a chapter of Pencils of Promise at the University.

After seeing how the stress of the pandemic negatively affected students mentally, financially and academically, Patel wanted to create an RSO that would help young students succeed. She said she has always had a passion for volunteering, and she wanted to do something for students in underrepresented countries.

“Education is an important factor in our lives because it helps us become brighter individuals and helps us succeed without financial worries. Even a little amount of donation can help make a big difference in these students’ lives so that they have access to resources and they can become successful in the future,” Patel said.

The University chapter will hold various events and activities to raise money for the broader organization, who will decide what programs to distribute it to. One program is called WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene), which aims to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools in addition to educating students on good hygiene practices. 

Elizabeth Barajas, sophomore in LAS and current vice president, says this kind of information is especially relevant because of COVID-19.

“If this child does not have access to the proper way to learn how to have hygiene, that’s obviously something that is a barrier and if we are going to, as an organization, have that opportunity to even contribute just a little bit, I think that’s really important. It’s very inspiring and makes you feel like you can make a change,” Barajas said.

Barajas also said coming from a low-income household has made her aware of how difficult it can be to seek out resources.

“If I’m going to be able to help someone with even how to wash their hands and I can do it from here, from my home, by creating an organization, that is one of my goals,” she said.

According to the Pencils of Promise website, 250 million children lack basic reading, writing and math skills, and “up to 75% of children in more deprived regions of poor countries can’t read a single word even after several years in school.”

This is what inspired Natalia Kmiec, sophomore in LAS and current secretary, to join the RSO.

“Being so privileged and so lucky to have an education here at the University of Illinois really prompted us to, we just wanted to spread education and we know that there are so many children that don’t have that opportunity like we do,” she said.

Patel reached out to Barajas and Kmiec over the summer and registered the RSO this fall. They are currently focused on recruiting as many interested students as possible. Meetings and activities will be starting up next semester.

Future fundraising ideas include partnering with local restaurants, registering the RSO with the Amazon Smile program; where Amazon donates to charities on behalf of shoppers, and selling t-shirts and e-cards.

Pencils of Promise encourages students to contact members directly if they are interested in joining. The officers are planning on hosting a virtual game night after winter break for new members to get to know each other.

“Having more students join our club, we’d have more opportunities and more voices to contribute to fundraising events,” Barajas said.

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