Tag Archives: buildOn

Michael “The Bricklayer” Benedek on Building (hopefully) the First of Many Schools

by Team Dayā Member Michael Benedek

The flight to Senegal for a Team Dayā school build with Jay Sears & Hasan Arik was a short flight at the end of a long journey that began years ago when I read about Jay Sears’ vision to give back and launch a charity— Team Dayā–backed by corporate and individual donors from the adtech / martech world to build schools in the developing world.

It Seemed Far Fetched

The vision spoke to me at the time but it seemed so theoretical and far-fetched—- how would I and others like me do something like that?  I was focused elsewhere–my work at Datonics, my family, my co-op board, and my involvement as a co-sponsor (the less important one) in launching a charter school in Manhattan–a well-intentioned project that ended up getting rejected by the State of NY’s bureaucratic, charter-granting body despite numerous meetings with state and local representatives, community board meetings, and more.

Education & My Family

The importance of equal access to education has always been top of mind for me. My grandparents, who had their later school-age years stolen from them, never attended college but made up for it with street smarts and ensured that their children, who grew up in Canada, went to college.

Mike talks about the purpose and meaning of the school build.

My father arrived in Canada as a teenager from Romania, speaking neither English nor French, but graduated with a PhD in engineering from McGill University about 10 years later.  My mother studied French in college & worked as a teacher in her early years; my wife taught in progressive schools in New York City & now runs a middle school in Manhattan; and my own company Datonics has played a leadership role with a charity called Futures and Options for many years–providing gifted and talented high school students from historically underrepresented communities with the opportunity to intern with and work for technology / financial services companies in New York City–opening students’ eyes to opportunities they might not have been aware of.  Education is and always will be part of my DNA.

Team Dayā 

When I read Jordan Mitchell’s heartwarming post about Team Dayā’s Nepal school build  and his sentiment that “I’m not sure I will ever find the words to describe the experience (and I tear up when I try), but I hope that everyone I know has a similar experience at some point in their lives ”, I knew this was something I had to do.

LUMA Meeting

Brickmaking with The Bricklayer

A bit before COVID-19 hit, I saw that Luma Partners was hosting a Team Dayā info session in New York led by Jay Sears.  I put that in my calendar, but work got in the way and I did not attend.  But I remembered meeting Jay at IAB Leadership Summit in Palm Springs a couple years prior and getting a great vibe, so I gave him a call and gave him my best pitch about why he should accept me as part of his team and let me get involved. 

Thankfully, he accepted me, telling me “Welcome aboard— as soon as you raise $10,000 you can go on a school build.”  And off to the races I went, during COVID-19, benefiting from generous corporate/personal donations from old friends, new friends, family, and from Datonics’ own adtech giveback initiative with agencies and brands that helped me reach our goal–but how were we going to build a school during COVID-19 in developing countries where most are unvaccinated?  The school build was inching closer but still seemed so far away!

Senegal Quick

In January 2022 I get a call from Jay–“Mike, our school building partner, buildOn, told me we may be able to build a school in Senegal starting in mid-March–are you in?  I want to get this done ASAP to build momentum and make up for lost time due to COVID-19–so that we can then do the next builds in Malawi & Guatemala.”  This is a man with a vision–he was planning for Senegal to get done as a path to the next two!  I loved it and said, “Let’s do it!”.

Only two months later, after countless vaccinations, multiple COVID tests & the promise of 2-3 tests more before we arrived to & during our time in the village–we met at JFK on a Friday night for our flight to Dakar.

Senegal Welcome

All Team Dayā members are required to dance. No experience is necesary.

Three days later, after receiving our names in Wolof (mine was “DIEN GAI”) along with valuable language/cultural instruction, we arrived in the community of Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal accompanied by two translators, and were met by galloping horses, pick-up trucks with cheering children, and a parade of dancing women and children. There were drums & local dance moves, and a ceremony in honor of the school groundbreaking. The whole community (I would estimate 200+ adults, with 150+ children were at this celebration) then signed a covenant to build the school with us, and we delivered speeches of thanks in response to their speeches of welcome and thanks, putting the first shovels in alongside the Village chief, village imam, and women leaders. 

Team Dayā being greeted as we enter the village for the first time.

Our Days in Nguiddine Keur Sara Village

Over the rest of the week, we connected deeply with members of the community–a community without electricity or running water. We slept on the floor in a grain shed adjacent to their homes under a mosquito net (normally we would have stayed in their homes but to protect them from COVID-19, we stayed in the grain shed), walked through their fields, played soccer with their children (and I even taught them how to play some card games), danced to Senegalese music, and worked hand in hand with them, day in and day out, for five hours per day in 109 degree heat.

Days started with stretching and that led to brick-making, cement mixing, digging the foundations of the school and the latrines, and more. Like Jordan experienced in Nepal, we wore work gloves and earned blisters, while the community worked with their bare hands (with no blisters)!

Each afternoon we spent on cultural exchanges–meeting the Village Chief and elders, meeting the representatives of the women, meeting the principal & teachers, learning how to prepare millet, learning how to build a chicken coop, tame a bull, and just hanging out with the kids and their animals–donkeys, sheep, chickens, roosters.

What’s Next

My takeaways were like what Jordan experienced in Nepal. First, WOMEN RULE!!!!–the Senegalese women, dressed to kill, often with babies hanging from their arms (and breasts), outworked the men–mixing and carrying cement, rallying the men to work longer and harder, and dancing at the work site.   

The second key takeaway was–something that should be obvious to all–that money and material things do not bring happiness (though your donations do help build a school!). This community had very few things, yet they had everything they needed and were very happy. The only thing they lacked easy access to was “education”–with their kids walking 5 miles to school in some cases, and in other cases having classes in a thatched hut.

When it was time to say our goodbyes, the whole community again came together to dance and sing, and we all shed many tears that will bind us together forever. The world is a small place and while I arrived to give, I received far more in return–happiness and fulfillment that cannot be described.  

I pray that with the support of Team Dayā and our generous donors–you and others like you–Senegal was only my first school–Malawi, Nicaragua and Guatemala here we come. I can’t wait to get started with your help!

Mike’s remarks at our closing ceremony in Nguiddine Keur Sara

A Thank You from Nguiddine Keur Sara, Senegal

Team Dayā on the worksite with Nguiddine Keur Sara community members.

After a long pandemic hiatus, Team Dayā successfully kicked off its second school in Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal.

The new school will be used by first graders (35 students), second graders (35 students) and third graders (34 students), replacing the two current classrooms built from sticks, leaves and cardboard.

You – our donors – make this possible.

Team Dayā members Michael Benedek, Hasan Arik and Jay Sears worked in 107 degree heat alongside community members digging the foundation, hand-mixing cement, making cinder blocks, carrying gravel and sand in bucket lines and bending rebar.

A thank you from Chief Khokhan Nolong.

Team Dayā with Chief Khokhan Nolong after signing the covenant governing the school building.

“If we had the word that expressed more than thank you, we would use that,” said Chief Khokhan Nolong at a closing ceremony with Team Dayā and Nguiddine Keur Sara community members. “We pray for you, the way you come in peace here. May you also go in peace in your country.”

Watch his full comments:

Chief Khokhan Nolong of Nguiddine Keur Sara

Your donations will allow a project leader and skilled laborers from our NGO partner buildOn to assist community members to complete the school building over the next few weeks. We will continue to share stories of our time in Nguiddine Keur Sara and updates on school construction over the coming weeks.

Please consider a donation so Team Dayā can continue its work.

Three Ways You Can Help

  1. Make a Donation Online
    • Example investment opportunities:
      • $100 Five shovels for excavating the school’s solid foundation
      • $250 All the nails, nuts, and bolts to build a roof for the school
      • $500 In-country mason during the entire construction of the school
      • $1,000 Paint for a school
      • $40,000 Fund an entire school
  2. Spread the Word
    • Share our mission with your friends, your company and your industry
    • Invite us to speak about our mission to your network
    • Follow us on our website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  3. Join the Team & Travel on a School Build
    • If you have a combination of fundraising chops, an adventurous spirit and the belief each of us has the capacity to be Building Change, get in touch with us and have a conversation.

Thanks again for your continued support,

All of us at Team Dayā

Team Dayā member Hasan Arik during math class in Nguiddine Keur Sara.

Building Change for these Senegalese Students

In one week Team Dayā heads to Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal to work on our first school build since before the global pandemic.

None of this work is possible without you–and the myriad of our supporters from across the technology, advertising and media sectors.

Meet the Students of Nguiddine Keur Sara

Your donations will be building a school used by first graders (35 students), second graders (35 students) and third graders (34 students).

The current school, started in October 2019, is built from sticks and straw.  It has two temporary classrooms used by three local communities.

We welcome your donations for our Sengal school build. You can donate to Team Dayā overall or to any of the three members traveling to Senegal:

  • Donate to Michael “The Bricklayer” Benedek. Michael is the president and CEO of leading independent data marketplace Datonics, with over 25 years in the Internet, financial services and healthcare fields based in New York and in Tel Aviv.
  • Donate to Jay “The Instigator” Sears. Jay is the founder of Team Dayā and a longtime ad tech executive. He has worked at Mastercard, Rubicon Project, Pulsepoint, ContextWeb, EDGAR Online and Wolff New Media.

We will be telling each of you more about the Senegal school build in future updates.

Three Ways You Can Help

  1. Make a Donation Online
    1. Example investment opportunities:
      1. $100 Five shovels for excavating the school’s solid foundation
      2. $250 All the nails, nuts, and bolts to build a roof for the school
      3. $500 In-country mason during the entire construction of the school
      4. $1,000 Paint for a school
  2. Spread the Word
    1. Share our mission with your friends, your company and your industry
    2. Invite us to speak about our mission to your network
    3. Follow us on our website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  3. Join the Team & Travel on a School Build
    1. If you have a combination of fundraising chops, an adventurous spirit and the belief each of us has the capacity to be Building Change, get in touch with us and have a conversation.

Thanks again for your continued support,

All of us at Team Dayā

Senegal $10K Challenge; Building Change with 5,000 Bottles & Cans

In three weeks Team Dayā heads to Nguiddine Keur Sara in the Fatick region of Senegal to work on our first school build since before the global pandemic.

None of this work  is possible without you–and the myriad of our supporters from across the technology, advertising and media sectors.

Senegal $10K Challenge

We are pleased to announce a $10,000 matching challenge from U of Digital and its CEO Shiv Gupta for our Senegal school building. 

Donations between now and Friday, March 18th will be matched and designated for our Sengal school build. You can donate to Team Dayā overall or to any of the three members traveling to Senegal and your gift will be matched:

  • Donate to Michael “The Bricklayer” Benedek. Michael is the president and CEO of leading independent data marketplace Datonics, with over 25 years in the Internet, financial services and healthcare fields based in New York and in Tel Aviv.
  • Donate to Jay “The Instigator” Sears. Jay is the founder of Team Dayā and a longtime ad tech executive. He has worked at Mastercard, Rubicon Project, Pulsepoint, ContextWeb, EDGAR Online and Wolff New Media.

We will be telling each of you more about the Senegal school build both leading up to, during and after the build.

Building Change with 5,000 Bottles & Cans

It is not everyday you meet a high school student running a non-profit. Early in the pandemic we met Mark Copple, the founder of Nickel by Nickel. 

Now a senior at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, California, Copple collected and redeemed 5,000 cans and bottles in order to raise $250 for Team Dayā. We are excited to share our interview with Mark and to put his investment to work during our upcoming school build in Senegal, West Africa.

“Education should be everyone’s top priority,” Copple told us.  “A society cannot function without an educated population, and it is great that you are building schools and providing people with education.”

Mark–we agree and are humbled by your generosity and the bravery it takes to be someone Building Change.

Three Ways You Can Help

  1. Make a Donation Online
    1. Example investment opportunities:
      1. $100 Five shovels for excavating the school’s solid foundation
      2. $250 All the nails, nuts, and bolts to build a roof for the school
      3. $500 In-country mason during the entire construction of the school
      4. $1,000 Paint for a school
  2. Spread the Word
    1. Share our mission with your friends, your company and your industry
    2. Invite us to speak about our mission to your network
    3. Follow us on our website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  3. Join the Team & Travel on a School Build
    1. If you have a combination of fundraising chops, an adventurous spirit and the belief each of us has the capacity to be Building Change, get in touch with us and have a conversation.

Thanks again for your continued support,

All of us at Team Dayā

Student Redeems 5,000 Bottles & Cans for Team Dayā Schools

(PHOTO: 5,000 Bottles & Cans Were Redeemed to Generate this $250 Donation for Team Dayā schools.)

It is not everyday you meet a high school student running a non-profit. Early in the pandemic we met Mark Copple, the founder of Nickel by Nickel. 

Now a senior at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, California, Copple collected and redeemed 5,000 cans and bottles in order to raise $250 for Team Dayā. We are excited to share our interview with Mark and to put his investment to work during our upcoming school build in Senegal, West Africa.

Please meet Mark Copple:

Team Dayā: Introduce Yourself.

Copple: My name is Mark Copple and I am 17.  I am a senior at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, California.  

Team Dayā: You founded your own non-profit called Nickel by Nickel Corporation – tell us about it.

Copple: My nonprofit works to collect bottles – aluminum, plastic, and glass – and redeem them for the CRV value.  This is then donated to various charities, Team Dayā is one of them, in order to make a difference.  I started this charity about five years ago with my father, and I work on it mainly on the weekends.  

Team Dayā: What inspired you to start Nickel by Nickel?

Copple: I used to go door to door in the neighborhood collecting bottles in my toy wheelbarrow.  I then figured that I could make a difference doing this, which is how Nickel by Nickel was born. 

Team Dayā: Where do you find all the bottles and cans to collect, redeem and recycle? 

Copple: I save them from home, collect them from various people I have agreements with, and also collect them from my school.  

Team Dayā: Recently Nickel by Nickel donated $250 to Team Dayā – thank you! Your gift will pay for all the nails, nuts, and bolts to build the roof of our next school. What appeals to you about Team Dayā and its mission? 

Copple: Education should be everyone’s top priority.  A society cannot function without an educated population, and it is great that you are building schools and providing people with education.  

Team Dayā: For one of your peers, or for an adult, what advice would you give to someone who has dreamt of starting a non-profit project to give back? 

Copple: I would say that it is important to note that it is a lot of work.  If you are not willing to do the work, it will be very difficult.  However, if you are willing to do the work, it is very rewarding to give back.

Team Dayā:Thank you Mark!

Make a donation Team Dayā.

Dhayapur, Nepal Completes Schoolhouse, Help Us Do It Again

(PHOTO: School is in session in Dhayapur, Nepal.)

Just four months after breaking ground in Dhayapur, Nepal, the local community, in conjunction with Team Dayā and its supporters, and our non-profit partner buildOn, has completed the construction of a beautiful yellow, maroon and white three-room schoolhouse. The students and teachers are already at work in the school.

On behalf of Dhayapur, buildOn and Team Dayā, we want to send a very big Dhan’yavāda (thank you in Nepali) to all our supporters. Doing this was a dream before we began the group in November 2018, and now we can point to our first successful school completion.

See photos of the completed school just below.

We hope you will continue your support of Team Dayā as we keep building change. We have scheduled two school groundbreakings in 2020 – the first in just 60 days (late April) in Malawi (East Africa) and a second in October in Guatemala (Central America).

Let’s do it again! Please consider making a contribution.

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Team Dayā Malawi Groundbreaking

Some of you might consider getting more involved or even traveling with the team to a school groundbreaking in 2020 or 2021. We are holding two information sessions at the LUMA Partner’s New York office in the coming weeks–on Wednesday, March 4th from 4pm – 6pm and a second session on Thursday, May 7th from 4pm – 6pm (please RSVP).

We hope to see you soon and thank you again for your support. And the best part – photos of the new school in Dhayapur, Nepal:

And the final weeks of construction:

Please donate to Team Dayā ( दया) to help us build primary schools in Nepal, Malawi, Guatemala and other impoverished places.

School Building Progress in Dhayapur, Nepal

When Team Dayā left Dhayapur this past October, we had successfully completed the school groundbreaking, working with the community to dig the foundation and organize various materials (stone, brick, rebar) that would be used for the school construction.

The Dhayapur community, along with skilled labor provided by our non profit partner buildOn, has made amazing progress on the three room school house and the accompanying girls and boys latrine since the October groundbreaking. Here are a few photos of the work through the first week of January.

Your donations made this happen! Please consider making a 2020 donation to Team Dayā so we can continue our school building work.

If you scroll down below this new album, you can see a few photos on what things looked like in October during the ground breaking, just 90 days ago. We expect the community will complete the school between now and the end of February or so. We’ll continue to provide updates.

-Team Dayā

PHOTO, below: Team Dayā member Jordan Mitchell at the groundbreaking ceremony in October.

PHOTO, below: The first days of activity were a lot of intense, manual labor – all the foundation was excavated by hand using hoes and shovels.

PHOTO, below: After the first week of work, the foundation was excavated and the footing and column work was underway.

The Covenant, Thumbprints, Shovels and the Future

I knew it would be remarkable. Still, nothing properly prepared me.

The six of us traveled a long way to finally arrive in the village of Dhayapur in the remote lowland Terai region of Nepal. We arrived to great celebration ahead of the school groundbreaking that would happen the next morning. The community celebration included three hours of music, dancing and speeches. And the signing of the covenant.

We had been told about the covenant signing–an agreement between our NGO partner buildOn and the community that memorializes the commitments of all parties. Community members agree to provide all the manual labor needed to build the school house, as well as equal school access for girls and boys.

Illiteracy rates are strikingly high in areas such as this. Many, especially women, are unable to sign their own name and instead use an ink pad to leave a thumb print as a signature. People line up to sign the covenant and then you see it–women leaving their thumb prints, agreeing to put their own sweat equity to build a school house that will break a cycle of illiteracy and poverty for their daughters, sons and community.

The next morning we were shoulder to shoulder with those same women, digging the foundation of the new school house.

If you are looking for evidence of hope, optimism and conviction the future can be a better place, go look in Dhayapur, Nepal.

Please consider making a donation to Team Dayā to help break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty in a community.

Winnie Yang on a Journey to Build Change

by Team Dayā member Winnie Yang

Arriving from Kathmandu at the Dhangadhi Airport, we were picked up by buildOn. After two days of immersion studies (including visiting a school built three years ago), we drove for two-hour bus ride to Dhayapur – a village one mile from the border of India.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with garlands, music and an entire agenda of introductions, speeches from the mayor, dances, covenant signing and blessings. Since we are building a government school, the mayor of the district came to welcome us and assure his and the community’s sense of ownership to the initiative. We were then introduced to our host family (pictured with our bua).

Our days started at 6am, where the whole community would come together to practice yoga. Led by the guru, each day’s class got a little harder. By the last day, he showed us how to levitate.

Before each morning’s work, we’d get together in a circle; one member from Team Daya and one member from the community spoke briefly about what this build meant to him/ her. Before we would break, the speakers would scream ‘Ha Mi’ (‘we are’ in Nepali), while the rest of us screamed ‘buildOn’, three times – this got us revved up before the day’s work!

Each day we’d build from 8am – 1pm, when the sun became a little too intense.

Day 1 of the build we dug out the foundation. buildOn’s engineers and builders were onsite, directing us to dig varying depths. As an agricultural community, they came prepared with their own shovels and hoes.

Occasionally, we’d hide in the shade and dance (someone brought their boombox).

The next couple of days consisted of forming a lot of human chains to pass dhongas (‘stone’ in Nepali), cement and brick. We also made rebar which is harder than it looks. Rebar helps to safeguard columns and roofs against earthquakes. Previously built schools not required to have rebar risk concaved/ leaking ceilings after an earthquake or general age of the building, forcing schools to be canceled during the monsoon season.

Cultural immersion afternoons were my favorite times of the day. Here we’d have chat circles with the community to discuss gender equality, education disparity, modern day slavery and general day-to-day life. We’d reflect amongst ourselves of the purpose of our voluntourism trip, the concepts of wants versus needs, and what it means to be truly happy.

Grandma is telling us about her arranged marriage, how she came to know about it and live a boisterous life with her husband of now 65 years.

Hospitality is the cornerstone of Nepali culture. Our family welcomed us as their new son and daughter; they gave us their one-bedroom, cooked dal bhat (stewed vegetables from their farm, lentil soup over rice) that we still dream about, as we shared cultural and familial similarities every night. The two boys Niraj (11th grade) and Hitesh (8th grade) went to private schools nearby, they were getting ready to celebrate Diwali.

The dancing continued, along with speeches of gratitude and shared kinship for new friendships bonded. We’re all Facebook friends!

By the time we left, the foundation was about done, and rebar columns were up. A photo received a couple of days ago from the community shows much progress. As part of the signed covenant, the community made a promise to finish construction within 106 days from breaking ground.

Around Dhayapur

Jordan Mitchell on Building a School on the Other Side of the World

by Team Dayā Founding Member Jordan Mitchell

This morning I returned home to Seattle after a 2.5 week trip around the world. The destination was Nepal; where I was so very fortunate to play a small part, with both a fabulous team, generous donors and an incredible community, in building a school to support education and literacy. I’m not sure I will ever find the words to describe the experience (and I tear up when I try), but I hope that everyone I know has a similar experience at some point in their lives.

PHOTO: Upon arrival to Dhayapur, Team Dayā participated in a community ceremony to celebrate and welcome the new three room schoolhouse.

We arrived to the community of Dhayapur to a parade of men, women, children and music — with local dances, garlands, tikka applied to our foreheads, and a ceremony in honor of the school we were about to break ground on. The whole community (I would estimate 100-150 adults, with ~150 children) then signed a covenant to build the school with us, and we put the first shovels in alongside the mayor.

(PHOTO: The school build site in Dhayapur was a beehive of hard work.)

Over the rest of the week, we connected deeply within the community. We stayed in their homes, walked through their fields, harvested and ate their rice, played with their children, danced to Nepali music, and above all we WORKED. Days started at 6am with yoga to stretch and warm our bodies for the hard, physical work in the hot, humid sun. Along with about 100 helpers from the community, and a handful of skilled laborers, we dug the foundation by hand, laid gravel and rocks by hand, bent rebar by hand, and mixed concrete by hand. We wore gloves and earned blisters, while the community worked with their bare hands (with no blisters).

Each night our aama (mother within the homestay) cooked us dinner. All our meals were prepared over an open fire, and eaten, within a hut made of cow-dung, mud and sticks. We ate with our hands while sitting on a straw mat. There was a single light bulb which frequently went out, along with the power for the entire community.

PHOTO: Team Dayā members were adopted by host families in Dhayapur during the school build. October 2019.

Our homestay was surrounded by rice fields and had 3 generations within it already, though they generously opened up one of the two rooms for me and my two friends Jay Sears and Hasan Arik to sleep in. Baje (grandfather) and baji (grandmother) wedded 65 years ago when she was just 10 and he 15; she explained that marriage prior to menstruation was known to bring good fortune to the parents. When I explained one evening around the fire (using a translator) that we came from the other side of the world, where the sun had not risen yet in my home even though it had already set there at theirs, they seemed confused — they didn’t know the world was round. (I didn’t bother showing them Google maps at that point, choosing to simply enjoy their company and talk about the porridge they were cooking for the family cow.)

There were two huge takeaways for me personally. First, the Nepali women were unbelievably impressive — I will never forget their warmth, strength and inner beauty. They out-worked every man there, wore brilliant colors, and were the critical glue holding together the community and farms while the men often travelled elsewhere for work. They taught us Nepali words, and laughed and danced while we all worked. Gender equality there is …. well, let’s just say it’s still early in development.

This said, the second key takeaway was a solemn reminder that civilization, “progress”, money and material things do not bring happiness. This community had very few things, yet they had everything they needed and were very happy. One afternoon we asked a group of them what’s the ONE thing they don’t have which they wish they did … it wasn’t a new cell phone, money, a stove, refrigeration, tractor or building tools; all of them answered “education”. What an honor and privilege it was to help build them a school, where both adults and children could learn to read and write!

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. Again the whole community came together and many tears were shed with the words that separated short, happy Nepali dance sessions. Team Daya will always be welcome there, and many of us plan to return some day. We left forever changed, all feeling so incredibly fortunate to have had the experience, while also knowing that they too will remember our visit for the rest of their lives.