|Dear PoP Family,
I’ve always felt a deep connection to humanity. Even as I grew up in Queens, New York, around people and families from different backgrounds with different stories, I often felt like there were multiple realities–one where people could achieve all of their dreams, and one where people could not.
Our family’s story wasn’t unique, at least not to Queens: my father was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the son of renowned Negro Leagues baseball player, George Scales. Escaping a dysfunctional relationship and dreaming of opportunity, his mother, my Abuelita, fled to New York with her two sons and little else. She didn’t speak English, but she’d heard Nueva York had a tight-knit Spanish-speaking community. She was going to find a job, start over, and build a good life on her own terms.
Instead, when she landed in East Harlem in the 1960s–Spanish Harlem or “El Barrio” as it was then known–there was little opportunity. They went from being affluent and well-known, to being among New York City’s poorest. She had a hard time keeping food on their table, and hope was scarce.
Somehow, my father, despite being poor and without resources or direction, went to college, met my mother, the daughter of a successful business-owner, and became a registered nurse. They married young and I was born the eldest of their three daughters. He did his very best for us, supported my mother as she built a professional career and landed us squarely in the middle class. He’d done it. He’d broken the cycle of poverty.
That wasn’t the case for my whole family, however. We visited my father’s family often–his adult siblings and their children all crammed together in a tiny public housing apartment in Coney Island. I knew that my sisters and I lived a very different reality from our cousins—we had plenty of space, green grass, and playgrounds. While we had choices for our futures, my cousins did not. They were never ever able to escape the cycle of poverty.
It all seemed very unfair. I knew I had done nothing to deserve the circumstances I was born into. I went to good schools and I was encouraged by everyone to follow my dreams and talents. I learned that the presence of resources and opportunity would define the perception–and reality–of our outcomes.
As I grew up, I dreamt of changing the world from a place of multiple realities to a world of just one–where the promise that we were all born equal and free was realized. Where we all had hope and choices, where all our dreams were curated and fulfilled. Fueled by the gratitude I felt for the opportunities I was given, I made a promise to do everything I could to create this reality, to remove barriers and help so many of us explore our talents, achieve our dreams, and fulfill our life’s purpose.
After years of travel and work in many countries across the globe, my dream led me to Pencils of Promise (PoP). I was drawn to PoP because of our shared values–to help build and sustain a better world for people everywhere. To remove barriers to hope and achievement. To help rewrite history and support those who have been traditionally overlooked create and implement better systems, built to empower people everywhere. PoP’s approach of building an ecosystem of support works to achieve sustainable prosperity for all.
At its core, PoP helps to create a world where all children learn in safe, healthy, engaging environments with well-trained teachers. We build and enhance schools so that students, and especially girls, are able to thrive in happy, interactive spaces where dreams are born and nurtured.
We know what works. At PoP, our leaders are our strongest asset. Leadership and staff in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos were all born and raised in countries where PoP works. For PoP, this is both aligned with our values and highly effective. Who better can center the needs of students, teachers, and communities, build relationships with country governments, and adapt quickly than those who are deeply connected to and immersed within the areas we support?
Along the way we learned that having a school building is not the same as learning. According to UNESCO, many children attend some iteration of school but fail to learn basic foundational skills. We know this is for a variety of reasons. Students are being taught by inadequately trained teachers, they lack the resources and materials they need to learn, and are in environments where there is no running water, private bathroom facilities, or hygienic precautions to keep them healthy and safe. As for girls–where economists say the best investment in education is made–schools often do not accommodate their needs when they start their periods, so they don’t go, fall behind and potentially drop out.
While PoP initially focused our efforts on building adequate infrastructure, we have evolved over the years to amplify the importance of resources within these classrooms so students are learning while in school.
Since its founding in 2009:
Click the graphic above to visit the Pencils of Promise Data Hub
Though we have had many achievements this year alone, we have also navigated many challenges, mainly the impact of COVID-19. While the global pandemic continues to remain in the backdrop for our countries and communities, PoP has not stopped supporting students, teachers, and families. We learned to move smarter. Our team’s deep knowledge and understanding of the communities we support enable us to adapt, evolve, and innovate during these uncertain times.
We have achieved a lot, but we have a long way to go. We have a strong vision for our global community. In the next few years, we will:
Data supports that our model works and our team is very optimistic for a hopeful future. For example, students who study in schools with PoP programming consistently outperform their peers on learning assessments that assess reading skills. We also know that teachers enrolled in PoP programming are better classroom managers, have stronger relationships with their students, and are more motivated to be in the classroom.
We do this work as a labor of love and as a global family. I want to thank all my incredible global colleagues on the front lines–your unwavering promise to children inspires me everyday to stay the course, no matter the challenges.
Thank you to our Founder and Board of Directors for appointing and supporting me in my leadership. Many of you have been with PoP since the beginning and remain energized and engaged in PoP’s trajectory and in your promises to our communities–I am grateful to learn from you.
Finally, thank you to PoP donors, partners, influencers, followers, and advocates. I see you building a movement to transform the landscape of education equity and dream achievement for all people in the world.
Together, we will change the world and achieve the promise of equality and freedom for all so people everywhere can achieve their dreams.
With sincere gratitude,
Chief Executive Officer
Pencils of Promise