School builders: RHS students travel to Senegal

And they’re off.

Ridgefield’s buildOn chapter left for its 10-day service trip to the Sessène Ndiarao Village in the Thiés Region of Senegal on July 15.

The 13-person group, which includes nine Ridgefield High School students and two New Canaan High School students , will be building a new primary school in the village while experiencing its culture.

Team captain Emily Furfaro, a rising junior at Ridgefield High School, spoke to The Press last week before the group left and said she had been raising money since October.

So far, the chapter has collected $69,914 in donations — more than any team globally, with Columbia University’s chapter coming in second with $39,236.

“I am so proud of everyone, of everyone on the team,” Furfaro said. “We had bake sales, partnered with local businesses, tag sales, etc. We were so happy and amazed by the generosity of Ridgefield. People are so willing to support this amazing cause.”

buildOn’s has helped erected more than 1,000 schools in various countries in need, and sent over 100,000 students to those schools.

My dad works in the same office as the buildOn people and told us all about them and their mission, and I knew I wanted to get involved,” said Furfaro. I looked into the work, and found that buildOn is very dedicated to literacy, to education, and to equality between girls and boys.”

However, buildOn is about more than simply raising money and building a school.

“Literacy has the power to break the cycle of poverty, especially in villages where it could mean life or death,” Furfaro said.  Also, buildOn ensures that half of the students are girls, because typically girls are not considered equal to boys in these countries and in these villages, and if anyone is sent to school, it’s the boys.

“I think it is incredibly important to build schools in these countries.”

The Ridgefield team will returns Tuesday, July 25.

Furfaro told The Press she’s excited about staying with host families and experiencing how they live.

“The village has no plumbing or electricity,” she explained. “Mostly, we are helping to construct the school that we helped pay for.

“We’ll be digging, carrying bricks, all sorts of construction work,” Furfaro said.

“We’ll be working alongside the village and the villagers. They have agreed to help us in the construction, which is important to buildOn, because it won’t work unless [the villagers] are involved and excited and invested in the school as well. They need to want it and take ownership of it as part of their community.”

Along with construction, the team members will be spending their days in cultural workshops and spending time with their host families.

However, nervous energy and excitement permeated the attitude of the team going into the trip, for things both known and unknown.

“I’m most excited for the welcoming ceremony. It’s a big celebration with music and dancing, all the kids will be there, and from the people I’ve talked to, they say it is completely unforgettable,” Furfaro said. As for the challenges that will come with this trip, “I’m nervous in a good way. It’ll hit me when I get there, that it is actually happening, that we are going to be doing this.”