When I first joined the PoP team in August 2010, our organization was still in its infancy: we had only built 9 schools and our only full-time employee in NYC was our founder, Adam Braun.
Today we’re excited to announce that, 7 years later, we’re breaking ground on our 400th school.
Within the walls of these 400 schools, there are roughly 35,000 students whose individual stories have become part of our own. Beyond that, there are thousands more community members who are part of our PoP Family — mothers and fathers grasping a lifelong dream of seeing their kids access life-changing opportunity, leaders in the field like our Laos Country Director Lanoy Keosuvan tirelessly working to improve the lives of others and a team in NYC who believed from the start that we could create a better world through education.
And then there’s you.
Whether you’ve been with us from day one, used your voice to champion Pencils of Promise, or built an entire school on your own — you’re forever part our PoP Family.
When reflecting back on the journey that has brought us to our 400th school, it was clear that all of this wouldn’t be possible without the one person who inspired this all: Eva “Ma” Braun.
Eva, Adam’s grandmother, was his inspiration for the first ever Pencils of Promise school in Pha Theung, Laos. Little did we know that Adam’s simple dream to build 1 school in her honor would transform our organization into the global education movement it is today.
In November 2016, Eva Braun passed away at the age of 86. Eva was an extraordinary woman who overcame extraordinary adversity — and her story became our story.
Eva was a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. After she was liberated when she was 15 years old, going back to school wasn’t an option for Eva because she had to work to support herself.
She met her husband, Joseph Braun, and they eventually had a chance to immigrate to the U.S. and had two wonderful children, Ervin and Agnes. To support her family, she worked 10 years in a shop making zippers for $1 a dozen, and later, in her husband’s dental lab. Eva and her husband were determined to prioritize education to ensure that their children had the best opportunity possible. In doing so, both children achieved their professional dreams of becoming dentists.
While Eva at times questioned why she survived, seeing her family blossom from that survival was one of the greatest joys of her life.
Eva was the heart and soul of the Braun family and over the past 8 years has become the guiding light of our Pencils of Promise Family. Today, not only is her family celebrating her existence, but children around the world are celebrating along with them.
With Eva’s inspiring journey came the empowerment of thousands of children who now have the means to rewrite their own destiny–to create a better future for themselves.
In my years at PoP, I’ve seen and felt the tangible legacy she has left on the world every day:
I feel it every time I look into the eyes of Nuth and Nith, our very first students in Laos. I see it in the way teachers energize a room of students in Ghana. And I feel it in the expression of awe on our students’ faces the first time they walk into a new school in Guatemala — one they can call their own.
I also see it when supporters like 7-year-old Mayer decided to start donating his birthday to PoP every year, when 16-year-old Kennedy Donnelly biked 3,000 miles across the U.S. to build an entire school and when Joel Runyon took on a challenge of a lifetime to run 7 marathons across 7 continents to build — you guessed it — 7 schools.
Eva’s spirit is the embodiment of Pencils of Promise — the willingness to push forward no matter what the obstacles, and the determination to fight for the change you believe in.
Her story proves how one life can make a profound impact. Your existence means that you matter. No matter where you’re born, your age or the status of your family, you have the ability to help another person.
Eva taught us that we all have the power to give back from where we are.
From the very first students to the thousands going to school every single day in PoP classrooms, we thank you, Ma.
This one is for you: