buildOn, an organization dedicated to ending the education crisis in the U.S. and around the world, has announced its partnership with Katharine McPhee and her husband Nick Cokas to expand its school building program to Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Students from underserved high schools in the South Bronx and Brooklyn joined the village of Taga in Burkina Faso to break ground on the school on February 21, 2014.

Currently ranked by the UN as the third economically poorest country in the world, Burkina Faso will be the seventh country where buildOn constructs schools. Katharine and Nick have a longstanding commitment to the country, where they provided mosquito nets through Malaria No More and funded the construction of a school in Burkina Faso’s capital, Oagadougou. Through their partnership with buildOn, McPhee and Cokas have funded the organization’s first two schools in Burkina Faso and committed to a longer-term relationship to support buildOn’s work in the U.S. and overseas.

“Investing in education and opportunity for young people is a major priority in our lives, and we are thrilled that with the help of buildOn we can maintain our ongoing commitment to improving education for the children of Burkina Faso. We believe this is just the beginning of a long-standing partnership with buildOn that will lead to increased opportunity and improved access to education for children here in the U.S. and overseas,” said McPhee.

“We have spent a great deal of time researching and learning about buildOn’s methodology, which provides people living in rural villages with the opportunity to be key players in improving education for their own children. We believe in buildOn’s mission because it’s not about any of us saving the people of Burkina Faso. It’s about us working together to bridge the opportunity gap so people can make a positive difference in their own lives,” added Cokas.

buildOn’s methodology ensures that schools are constructed in partnership with the very people who will be benefiting from them. buildOn provides the funding, engineering, materials, skilled labor, and supervision for the project. The village provides a gender-balanced leadership team, thousands of hours of unskilled volunteer labor and a promise that girls will attend the school in equal numbers with boys.

buildOn’s Founder and CEO, Jim Ziolkowski, and 12 at-risk students from buildOn’s youth service program have traveled to break ground on buildOn’s first school in Burkina Faso. The students will live with host families without running water or electricity. For two weeks, the students will work side-by-side with villagers to dig the school’s foundation, mix concrete, make bricks by hand, and engage in an immersive cross cultural curriculum. Youth from South Bronx high schools Banana Kelly and Validus Preparatory; Brooklyn high school, The School for Democracy and Leadership; as well as students from the “Back on Track” program, aimed at steering at-risk young people away from criminal activity, are participating.

“We at buildOn are incredibly grateful for the commitment and leadership of Katharine McPhee and Nick Cokas. It’s only through solid partnerships, deep investments, and hard work that we can collectively break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations,” said Ziolkowski.

For real-time updates on the construction of buildOn’s first school in Burkina Faso follow @buildOn on Twitter.

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