Lucas On The Go

#buildOn #GivingTuesday by Lucas Turner

Today is #GivingTuesday and is the perfect day to join the buildOn movement! For 3 years, I have been completely immersed in service, education and making a difference with buildOn. My journey has included breaking ground on 22 primary schools in 5 different countries, engaging in meaningful community service alongside incredible high school students in the South Bronx and speaking to large groups of motivated university students about the power of global education. Every single day, we are breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education! 

From living in villages in Nepal and Senegal, to witnessing the transformational impact international travel has on young people, to experiencing the joy an adult feels when they learn to write their name for the first time; buildOn has provided me with endless opportunities to become a student of the world, and use what I have learned to make a larger positive impact. 

It is never too early or too late to get involved with something bigger than yourself! I would LOVE to help you take your first step on that journey. Building a school with buildOn and traveling on Trek can be for ANYONE. In my time leading Treks, I have taken everyone from C-level executives, celebrities, families, college sororities, interior designers and high school students to build primary schools. YOU can fund a school, break ground on that school, live with host families, engage in cultural activities and push yourself outside of your comfort zone! 

Let's do this! There is no better time to start than today! Shoot me an email at or comment below and I'll get you started on fundraising for your buildOn school and Trek! Also, if you just want to give to buildOn for #givingtuesday, donate here!


ONE buildOn: A Collective Movement by Lucas Turner

"It’s not the place, it’s the people" … I heard this time and time again while I was going through college, while I was venturing out into the world making zero dollars in search of my passions, and while I was bouncing around cities in the USA looking for the ultimate landing spot with the perfect posse or crew. Luckily, I have met amazing people in my life from all over the globe, but unfortunately, I do not see many of them on a regular basis. 

However, two weeks ago, I experienced something I will never forget. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by a group of people who not only believed in something bigger than themselves, but who believed that they could ignite change, create opportunities for others to be amazing, and make a positive ruckus every single day - all without anyone telling them to do so. Change makers, movers and shakers, relationship builders - they were all represented. Nobody was at the buildOn Global Conference in New York City by accident. It was truly something special because 99% of the year our team is spread across the globe, and this week we we’re able to physically be together as a collective unit.

My buildOn family spans all over the world. Brooke from Detroit, Nirmala from Nepal, Ryan from Chicago, Suze from Haiti, Anna from NYC… the list runs 200+ deep. I can tell you without a single doubt in my mind that every single person on that list is making this world a better place. Co-workers is kind of a lame label, so I will refer to them as my “co-change igniters”. My co-change igniters could choose a million other career paths or have thousands of other things fill up their days. However, everyone found and chose buildOn in their own unique way. Our buildOn stories all follow the common trend of leading with one thing - the people who make up the buildOn movement.

Seth Godin, best-selling author and speaker, believes in the power of the collective and not backing down from challenges. He said, “I don’t know what the question is, but the answer is yes.” Through that statement he challenged us to find a way to say yes to the biggest of challenges in order to yield the most positive change. He said those “yes’s” are more attainable when surrounding yourself the right people.  He ended his talk with, “People like us, do things like this.” Simple, yet powerful. 

You may have seen my recent Instagram posts recapping my week at the buildOn conference in New York City. 


To many, this might seem like a silly little hashtag that is used to keep up with the growing trend of hashtagging every single event from their wedding to road trips to sporadic workouts - #gymselfie. 

However, to 200+ buildOn employees including myself, ONE buildOn is the reason we have devoted our lives to the service of others and believe in the power of education. It is why we spend countless nights ensuring our students have tools to empower themselves, it is why we break down boundaries by working with every single demographic across the globe, and it is why we lead everything we do with our mission. ONE buildOn is every student, ambassador, employee, community member and advocate - past, present and future. 

There are a million things people can rally behind; selling cars, going to music festivals, kayaking, making skyrocketing profit margins - literally anything

This week we rallied for education and will continue to do so. buildOn knows that the answer is YES when asked if we can make a difference in our communities. buildOn knows that time and time again service learning has proven to help youth bring themselves out of poverty. buildOn knows that across the world, millions of people lack access to education, but our model is working, and reaching more and more students every single day. buildOn knows that the cultural immersion and solidarity on Trek can spark a passion for a person to become a global advocate for education. 

ONE buildOn is the collective movement to break the cycles of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education.

Diahann Billings-Burford, Executive Director of Corporate Responsibility at Time Warner, former Chief Service Officer for New York City and buildOn National Board Member, encouraged us to “Use your ____ for good”. She also broke down service in the simplest form for us and concluded that the end goal of service is freedom. Freedom of choice. 

Finally, at the end of the week, we all wrote down our commitment statements to buildOn. Here is mine: 

I will lead my treks with the whole-hearted purpose of igniting passion, freedom and adventure to every stakeholder involved, in service of ONE buildOn. 



Photo credits: Benjamin Jarosch Photography



Haiti: Beautiful Chaos by Lucas Turner

Sunday, I left the USA again. I was bound for Haiti, the beautifully chaotic island Nation in the Caribbean. It has been over five months since I first went to Haiti to lead two treks with buildOn. As I complete trek setup and prepare to build another school with another eager team, I have so much to reflect on about my first trip to Haiti back in February '15. 

To be honest, you can never prepare yourself for your first time to Haiti. Had someone told me on my very first day in Haiti, that five months later I would be over the moon excited to return back, I would have nervously laughed and called them a moron. The corruption, chaos, crowded markets and road blocks in the Capital city of Port au Prince literally scared the crap out of me at first. Throughout all of my travels across the globe, when my family asks how things are, without fail I always say “Great!”, even if I am unsure of things. That is just my stubborn, I got this, nature. However, this time, I said, “Uh, it’s a little rough here.” I think my sister, Emily, wanted to call the embassy and have me shipped out of there on the first flight to JFK. Thankfully that did not happen.

Haiti is an interesting place to be as an NGO (non-governmental organization) worker. Since the Earthquake in 2010 that took over 100,000 lives, Haiti has received floods of people trying to fix all of their problems (Haiti has the highest density of NGO's per capita as shown in the image). The sudden stampede of aid actually hindered Haiti because of the non-empowering tactics many organizations took to solve all of the catastrophic issues. They made empty promises to rebuild and provide stability, only to jump ship and leave jobs unfinished. 

There is also a large stereotype that many NGO workers fall into - some call it white savior complex. Since I refuse to be categorized as a missionary, I felt extremely awkward arriving to the airport with all of missionaries who lead their efforts with their Bibles. For the record, Trek is not a missionary trip. I am more interested in forming human relationships that empower, ignite passion and initiate positive change, rather than placing religion on people, or reaffirming my beliefs by helping “the poor”. Can someone please define poor for me? Another pet peeve of mine is the sense of solidarity that many (not all) missionary groups lack - I firmly believe that living with people and putting everyone on an equal playing field will yield the most success and joy, unlike staying in luxury NGO hotels. Also, it drives me absolutely nuts that communities have gigantic churches big enough to house hundreds of school children, yet they do not even have a proper school to send their students. Next time you donate to help build a church, please think about that. But, with everything said, different strokes for different folks, am I right?

So, back to my two treks. It was inevitable - at first, I just didn’t feel like I belonged in Haiti. What good was I going to do here? I finally took a deep breath, opened my heart to the people and my outlook on things changed significantly. 

As soon as I entered the villages of La Glace and La Hatte, where I would be staying over the course of a month, I instantly knew that Haiti was a special place. The constant singing, dancing and positivity that filled the air was not only inspiring, but reaffirming that people are inherently happy, regardless of the physical possessions they have or how financially “poor” they are. Haitians also have a sparkle in their eyes that radiates enthusiasm for life. Their enthusiasm was received through the welcoming ceremonies full of unique traditions, through their eagerness to welcome their USA sons and daughters into their homes, and through their unending dedication to build their buildOn school. Both communities were invested in ensuring that education would never be inaccessible again. People walked several miles every day to become involved in something bigger than themselves. The experience was truly a collective effort. 

Haiti has an incredibly unique culture that prides itself on tradition, good food and family. I was lucky enough to experience cooking bread from scratch with the local bakers. Our team engaged in deep conversations with Voodoo priests, who alleviated the negative stereotypes surrounding Voodoo. We attended a beautiful funeral ceremony that lasted the good part of an entire day because they literally celebrated life. I watched my students bust a move in dance-offs with enthusiastic children. I witnessed trek members teach games, like Jenga, to their host families late into the night; the amount of laughter that ensues when playing Jenga for the first time is indescribable. Finally, I consoled my students as they emotionally expressed that they did not want to leave Haiti because they felt a stronger sense of family with their host family than they did back in the Bronx. 

My time in Haiti made me realize that joy is derived from the collective and that as humans, we have to depend on each other in order to thrive as a community. Throughout the month, the sense of community we created had the strongest emotional grasp on me. It was the phenomenal people that I lived life with who made the largest lasting impact on me. 

Meet some of those astonishing people…

Meet Obry - Obry is my colleague within buildOn. He is the Haiti Trek Coordinator and is one of the hardest working and most passionate people I have ever met. He grew up in a village in Haiti and beat the odds by getting an education, attending university and now is devoting his life to ensuring that communities, just like the one he grew up in, has hope for the future. I admire him so much for using his skills with buildOn to better his home communities - something I would love to do someday. Obry is one of the kindest, funniest and most inspiring people I know. 

Meet O’Shea Ben - O’Shea Ben is the coolest little kid ever. Not only is he incredibly cute, but he doubles as a shadow. No matter where our team went, O’Shea Ben was right there by our side. My high school students all fell in love with his dance moves, his outlandish singing and his heart-warming hugs. It was no surprise to us that O’Shea Ben is excelling in school and is one of the top students. There was not a dry eye in the bunch when we had to say goodbye to our little buddy. 

Meet Nancy - At first, Nancy seemed like an annoying teenage girl that liked to flirt with our team. She did not have a shy bone in her body and was never scared to dance like there was no tomorrow. On the worksite, she was always the first to initiate the drum circle or singing. Nancy taught our team to live life without reservations, to be yourself and that there is nothing a little dancing can’t solve. She definitely lives by the YOLO (you only live once) mantra. 

Meet Nassir - Nassir exemplifies being the perfect buildOn student. When I interviewed him for trek, he was incredibly shy, he had just moved to The Bronx from Guinea, and was very apprehensive about going on trek. His home life could have been better and his experience in the USA public school system could have been more inclusive. Even though he is a man of few words, his thoughts are magical when he finally opens up to you. He has the biggest heart and wants to make a difference in the world. He has a way with kids where they instantly connect with him. Nassir absolutely thrived in Haiti and would have been 100% content to live in the village for the rest of his life. Nassir is a student that I will never forget. 

Meet Verose - Verose was never happy with the gender roles that were forced upon her throughout her life and marriage, so she initiated a split from her husband. Since then, she has taken on leadership roles in her community, is going back to school and is the strongest advocate for gender balance in the schools. Her smile is equally as beautiful as her personality. (Click link to read more).

Meet Emerson - At first glance, Emerson has a huge presence about him; he’s a good looking, tall, towering man with a deep voice that would intimidate anyone. But, do not let that fool you, Emerson is one of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever met. He does not settle for the status quo - he literally worked his butt off to rally his team around fundraising the funds for their buildOn school. In the village, he was not scared to start conversations that most would consider controversial. He makes anyone that he interacts with feel like the most important person in the world. Lastly, he worked harder on the worksite than anyone I have ever taken on trek - he’s seriously a beast at mixing concrete. I am incredibly honored to call Emerson a friend. 

So many great memories were made on these two treks in February and March. Words cannot even begin to describe how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to be able to work with such fantastic people in phenomenal places across the world like Haiti. buildOn has truly made such an impact on my life and I cannot wait to see how my next trek unfolds this week in Haiti and the many more treks to come across the world!