The idea was the brainchild of Los Altos High School teacher Robert Freeman, who founded the nonprofit organization One Dollar For Life.
When the Kenyans saw their new school, "they thought it was the Taj Mahal ... and were just crying, openly weeping," Freeman recalled this week.
Freeman will be honored with the Palo Alto Kiwanis Club's first Angel Award later this month for his work with One Dollar.
Freeman founded the nonprofit because he was frustrated with "teenagers' sense of impotence in being able to make a difference in the world." So, he made a model by which anyone, by donating a dollar, could participate and change the world -- provided everyone did so.
"The point was to put the impetus onto the teenagers themselves for enlisting one another. It is a generational bootstrap to a higher level of cultural consciousness ('we're all in this together') that is necessary to meet the challenges of our time," he said.
Freeman graduated from Santa Clara University in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in economics before getting his MBA at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. He started his career in the computer industry before transitioning to teaching in 2000. Seven years later with the help of a few dedicated students, Freeman put his model into action.
When Freeman and a group of students flew to Kenya to build the school, he saw the impact One Dollar could have on children living in Third World countries and how students in America could help.
Students get a "real tangible connection" to the project because pictures of the completed projects are emailed to every participating American school. The back-office operations to man the telephone and the website (odfl.org) are paid by private individuals and foundations so that every dollar from the students goes directly to nongovernmental organizations in developing countries to build schools and finance other projects. In addition, each year, Freeman and a handful of students visit one or two project sites to help in construction.
"Our kids come back, and they are transformed people. They see people living, I'm telling you, on the threshold of existence ... people were drinking out of (polluted) creeks because that's where the water is," said Freeman, choking up. He hopes to instill in American students the five "Cs" to shape a better world: connection, competence, compassion, cooperation and creativity.
Through One Dollar, Freeman is working to get children in developing countries complete access to food, education and health care by providing transportation to schools, educated teachers and necessary nutrients. He visited an orphanage in Kenya where children grew their own gardens for food but had no source of protein in their diet. When he returned, Freeman convinced a Jordan Middle School teacher to do a fundraiser in which the students raised enough money to buy two milk cows. The milk provides the orphan children with enough protein for eight years.
In five years, One Dollar has raised approximately $209,000 from middle and high school students and has completed numerous projects including sending 250 tennis shoes to students in Malawi and buying 20 piglets to save 20 Nepalese girls from being sold into slavery.
The Palo Alto Kiwanis Club initially teamed up with Freeman and One Dollar to send 452 bicycles to Africa so children could travel to school from greater distances. One Dollar also helped six of the schools set up bicycle-repair shops to teach the students a vocational skill. Afterwards, Palo Alto Kiwanis wrote a proposal to Kiwanis International asking that Freeman be selected for the prestigious annual World Service Medal award given to individuals who have "significantly enhanced the quality of life for a noteworthy number of people." When they were turned down, Jim Phillips, chair of the Palo Alto chapter's International Committee, said: "If we can't get them to give him an award, why don't we do it?"
Thus, the Angel Award was created to celebrate an individual or organization who mentors and impacts children in the community and throughout the world.
The first annual Angel Award cocktail event will take place Oct. 25 at the Sheraton Palo Alto from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with State Sen. Joe Simitian serving as master of ceremonies. Proceeds will benefit the Eliminate Project, a partnership between Kiwanis International and UNICEF dedicated to eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus, a disease that kills mothers and nearly 60,000 newborns yearly. The Palo Alto Kiwanis Club has pledged to raise $100,000 in the next five years.
This year, One Dollar will be completing six new projects ranging from a new, $15,000 birthing center in Nepal to providing 30 netbooks to students at an all-girls school in Kenya.
"It is a change-the-world idea that is actually working," Freeman said.
"If we can get every high school student to give $1, we can build more than a thousand schools every year in the developing world — for a dollar."The idea was if everyone does the smallest bit, but everyone does it, the effect can be enormous," he said.