'One person or one village at a time'
Philanthropy opens new vistas for Mountain View couple
How much does it cost to build a school for 85 children in Nepal, including five classrooms and dormitory rooms for the four teachers? Mountain View residents David and Susan Burwen, who funded the construction of such a school in Soloban, Nepal, were pleasantly surprised to learn that the price tag was just $6,000.
David and Susan began their philanthropy closer to home. After their children graduated from Mountain View High School, the couple established the Burwen Education Foundation (BEF) to provide a significant supplemental college scholarship to one student each year. Scholarship candidates are drawn from Mountain View High's AVID program, which provides support for underprivileged students with potential who, in most cases, will be the first in their family to attend college.
The BEF differs from many other programs by focusing its attention on allowing one student per year to graduate from college completely debt-free, and providing scholarship recipients with intensive mentoring and support services throughout college to ensure their success. BEF students are thus able to enjoy many of the privileges that their upper-middle-class peers take for granted.
The Burwens believe that the students should focus on their studies, and discourage them from holding jobs so that they can participate fully in campus life. They can no longer subsidize their families' household expenses during the school year, which many of them have been doing while in high school.
How have BEF students fared? The Burwens recently attended the graduation of their first scholarship recipient, Gladys Gudino, from UCLA.
"Gladys is the first member of her family to graduate from college, giving her the upward mobility to participate in the American Dream," the Burwens said. "Her accomplishment is a milestone not only for herself, but also for the Gudino family and the BEF."
Meanwhile, BEF scholar Jose Arreloa has been combating prejudice against Hispanics while studying at Santa Clara University. Faced with negative attitudes toward Hispanics on campus, he said, Jose was appalled by a "South of the Border" costume party to which students came dressed to depict their perception of Mexican-Americans: costumes included pregnant teenagers, janitors and pimps.
Jose tackled this head-on by producing a video about on-campus prejudice that Santa Clara has decided to use to educate its student body about racism, diversity and negative stereotypes.
While the Burwens are very committed to making a difference in Mountain View, where they have resided for 21 years, their travels abroad have led them to understand how much farther the dollar goes in developing countries. In addition to funding construction of the school in Soloban, the Burwens funded a micro-hydroelectric power plant for the village. Due to limited water flow, the plant can only produce 6 kilowatts of power (enough for three light bulbs per house), yet the plant has had tremendously beneficial effects for both the villagers and the environment.
Previously, smoke and fumes from kerosene led to respiratory problems and pollution. Now, the hydroelectric power plant supplies a clean, renewable source of energy. Amazingly, the ongoing cost of running the power plant is half the cost of the kerosene the villagers were using before. The Burwens have ensured that the operation of the power plant is sustainable over an extended period by training villagers in plant maintenance and management.
What's next for the Burwens' philanthropic projects? One goal is to raise a large enough endowment for the foundation to keep it going in perpetuity.
"The success of the BEF gives us great personal satisfaction," they said. "It enables us to make the world a better place, one person or one village at a time."
Jennifer Pence lives in Mountain View. She is founder of the Windmill Giving Circle and founder and owner of Academic Springboard, a tutoring group. She can be reached at email@example.com.