A tumultuous year, 2020, some would say. Indeed, it’s been quite a challenge to keep things afloat, all this while being home and juggling with what these perilous times have thrown at us. We lost and we let go - of many things, moments, opportunities, people, a life we once lived. But most of all, we made an effort to hold on to a newer, more tranquil meaning of life, the bits and bobs we care about, and embrace a true, more honest version of ourselves.
I started this platform to bring about a change, to share stories with all of you. Simple but life-altering stories. One such story is of Tyler and his purpose project that’s helping so many children across the globe who now have a new found hope and purpose to live a full, well-rounded life, thanks to a little organisation called Village Book Builders.
Village Book Builders is a non-profit organization empowering villages around the world to drive change and end the cycle of poverty through education. They believe in education playing a big role in the development of a community and building a library is just the first step towards creating a space dedicated to learning.
And by providing tools to measure academic improvement, & continue encouraging education through online mentoring they are able to connect children to brighter futures.
“We call this HOPE through books” - is VBB’s motto and they live by it with every inch of their soul!
Tyler and I got together to discuss his journey through it all and how his passion for books and dedication towards education and learning brought about a tremendous difference to childrens’ lives everywhere.
Scroll for the full interview:
Hi Tyler! It’s so good to have you here, sharing your story with us. We’d love for you to introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi! I’m Tyler Sean Clark, the CEO and Co founder of Village Book Builders. I’m also an ardent book and cereal lover. I have three kids, a dog and the most amazing wife in the world.
Tell us about the good work you’re doing in the world through your passion project, Village Book Builders.
I would say it's more of a purpose project. My team and I help to break the cycle of poverty by giving the hope of education to rural villages. One of the greatest disasters of our time is the dropout rate of kids in school in Uganda - for example 68% of kids are sure to drop out before they get to 6th grade, this eventually leads to a poverty cycle and for girls, it means most of them become child brides. We prevent this through providing the educational resources needed to keep these girls and boys in school.
How did you come about the idea for VBB? Walk us through your initial days and your motivation to make this dream a reality.
So back when I was 19, I was a missionary for my church in Mexico where I learned to love the people and culture of the country. In my two years there, I saw the beauty of Mexico but I also saw what poverty looked like in many of these rural communities. When I got back home, I finished school and went on to start a family. Right after, when I moved onto the next step of completing my masters, a friend from Mexico asked if I could help a small rural village with a library, she told me these kids didn’t have access to any books or learning materials. Books had changed my life so I couldn’t tell her no, but I am no rockefeller or trust fund kid so it's not like I had a few thousand dollars to build a library. So my wife and I worked odd jobs to pay our own way and asked our community to help us by donating funds for books and computers. Our community was amazing and together we were able to raise enough to buy 500 books and 10 computers! We didn’t think this was a big deal when we arrived as most home libraries have more books, but when we got there the village met us with a brass band and there were dignitaries from all the surrounding villages. After the event, these individuals asked if we could come and build a library in their community. We have never stopped answering these requests, but now we receive them from around the world.
We can see how books and education have had such a major impact on your life. What do you believe to accomplish by providing the same to the underprivileged & marginalised communities of the world? Could you also share the kind of problems you’ve seen they’re facing currently due to lack of education?
Education opens your mind and helps children become innovators and leaders within their communities. There is no better way to break the cycle of poverty than education. As I mentioned earlier, dropout rates are the primary reason countries remain in poverty. There are a lot of reasons drop out rates are so high, but from our research we find that the main causes have to do with the parents not being supportive, schools being inadequate, and children not seeing the benefit of staying in school. We partner with rural schools to create what we call education beacons, a beautiful library, and a mentor program where every child has the chance to connect with a personal mentor. There is much more to our process but our basic philosophy is to do whatever we can to motivate these kids to stay in school by working with their families, teachers, and them directly. If we can just keep a girl in school to 7th grade, they will double their income and be lifted out of extreme poverty. We have seen amazing success with this.
Know more about their mentor program here.
I’m sure so many of us wish to do some good, help the needy and churn out greatness in the world. We’d love to know how you took the first step towards finding your life purpose. Was there a voice in your head that pushed you to do so? Share your inspiration with us.
Honestly, I wanted to help and when the call came to help I answered it and have continued to answer even though it has been extremely difficult. People have called me crazy for throwing away my career because of it. But can I explain to these kids why I’m giving up on them just because it is hard for me, when for many of them walking to school 20 miles each day is a life and death journey. In regards to what you are called to do, find your talents and run after it, just because you find your purpose does not mean it's going to be bliss, it only means you look yourself in the eye each morning and know you are doing what you were destined to do.
When we talk about inspiration, we also want to know the backbone of your success. Would you tell us about your support system and your family? Share with us your experiences or any such incident that made you feel all the more supported for your dream.
Family, faith, and friends are the three most essential to me. I have a very loving, supportive family that has always been there for me even when I do something crazy like start a Non-Profit. They are not just supportive, but they also push me to reach new heights. I remember this incident when we were just starting out, a friend whom I knew was not well off sent us a check to finish a library project! Such events of confidence keeps us going.
Since we’re living in such an unprecedented time – with a pandemic over us, the economy crashing and environmental injustice on the rise, how do you see the world changing when you unleash the full potential of VBB onto the world and its people?
Oh we already are, we have grown more during COVID than ever before. COVID has only highlighted the issues of lack of education in the countries we have served, and as we connect with those who want to make a difference directly with kids around the world from the comfort of their home, we have been able to increase the amount of villages and kids that we can cater to. Our biggest issue right now is keeping up with the growth in a smart and sustainable way.
Tell us about some exciting (maybe even secretive) projects your organisation is working on at the moment.
One of the things I’m most excited about is the upcoming local projects to get the parents involved and turn the library into a community center. We are going to start doing monthly community events where we show parents and kids movies like “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” and “The Queen Katwe”. There is so much power in showing parents that keeping their girls in school is worth so much more than selling them for a cow.
All good things aside, we’d also want to know the challenges you come across (or you did) on an everyday basis with setting up a non-profit like VBB? Have there been moments you thought this might not work out the way you wanted it to?
Oh, all the time! Getting funds to run an effective organization is the hardest part, I can get funds all day long to build libraries but as soon as we ask for funds to hire an education specialist or an operations manager, there are challenges. People have this false perception that NGOs don’t have any overheads. We are here to make an impact and even though we are extremely frugal and I have never been paid, we need to invest in overhead items in order to make an even greater impact. We shouldn’t only measure an NGO’s success by their overhead vs project spending but we should measure their impact as well.
2020 has been a rollercoaster! But it did make us realise the hard-hitting truths about the reality we live in. What do you think is going to change from here on now? How do you wish to see yourself and your passion project when a new year takes the front seat?
The hardest part of 2020 was seeing millions of kids throughout the developing world instantly be thrown out of school due to the pandemic and seeing child labor, sex trafficking, and teen pregnancies rise to epidemic proportions. In the villages we serve, our mentor program has been the only educational resource these kids have had available to them. In many of our sessions, kids will stand behind the lucky kid who has a mentor just to overhear what is being taught, and kids will wait outside the centers hoping to get a mentor. We have been trying to grow as fast we can so each kid can have a mentor but with such a demand it has been hard to keep up.
So much to learn, so much more to know and so much to look forward to! We can’t wait to see what’s in store for you in the coming years. Thank you, Tyler, for all that you do and for all you aim to do. :)
The organisation is also open to receiving donations - big or small. You can also volunteer to be a part of their upcoming library building expedition in 2021! Visit their website to know more.