Isabella Schumacher ’21 believes in the power of education. She has learned firsthand the joy a simple pencil and pad of paper can give a child, and through her nonprofit, aptly named Pencils & Paper, she brings that joy, as well as much needed school supplies, to students in need. Her work has taken her around the world – from Cuba to Nepal to Tanzania – and we can’t wait to see where she’ll go next.
We asked Bella to tell us a bit about how she got started, what motivated her and the impact Pencils & Paper has already had – not just on the students she serves but, on her life, as well.
Tell us about your nonprofit Pencils & Paper.
The mission of Pencils & Paper is to support the education of underprivileged youth around the world by providing supplies that can help and benefit education. Pencils & Paper understands that we cannot help every child, however, I personally have been blessed with the resources and support behind me that I can impact some children. And these children may just end up changing the world someday.
How did you get started and what motivated you to begin?
I started Pencils in Paper after discovering that I had a passion for improving kids’ lives through education. I completed my first project at a local school in Havana, Cuba (Barrio Habana Community Project). Then, I went on a service trip with my family to Nepal, and made a second donation to a school in Nangi, a rural Nepal village. Most recently I made one of my biggest donations in the Olmoti Clinic in Tanzania. For each of these schools, we donated essential school supplies, such as whiteboards, markers, crayons, pencils, and other supplies the kids did not have. You can’t understand the impact a simple pencil or pad of paper can have until you see the look in a young girl’s eyes. I have seen, first hand, the look on a girl’s face when writing with a pencil for the very first time, and it is powerful and beautiful!
You’ve done some traveling for Pencils & Paper. Tell us more about that.
So far, I have completed three projects that involved me traveling: a local school in Havana, Cuba (Barrio Habana Community Project) (https://www.facebook.com/barriohabana.org/); a school in Nangi, a rural Nepal village; and, most recently, in the Olmoti clinic in Tanzania (https://www.olmoticlinic.org). For each of these schools, we donated essential school supplies, such as whiteboards, markers, crayons, pencils, and other supplies the kids did not have. Each of my trips gave me something special that greatly impacted my life.
How do you decide the schools/countries to help in?
I mostly pick places or schools that I have a personal connection too. The first school, in Cuba, was decided when my family traveled to Cuba, and explored some of the schools around the area. When exploring these schools, I had opportunities to engage with students in the area. I decided that I wanted to raise supplies to give these students more opportunities to learn. The next donation I made was in Nepal. I traveled with GivePower on a trek installing solar power in a hospital and a school in Nangi, a village in Nepal. I donated school supplies because I was traveling there and I heard of a school that needed supplies. The most recent donation I made was in Tanzania. I went on another trek with GivePower, where we worked to install solar power in a maternity hospital, as well as a school. There I made the greatest connections with the Principle, Mary, as well as the children who attended the school. When I returned I knew I wanted to make a donation, so I started raising money to purchase whiteboards.
Tell us about the GivePower Foundation and how you connected with them.
I have done two treks with GivePower, where we installed solar power in hospitals and schools. These treks showed me what helping others looked like, and I’ve since tried to model my nonprofit off of what GivePower has done and how they interact with people. They have been a huge support and resource to me as I started my journey to provide school supplies to kids around the world.
Most recently, they have offered to let me partner on their upcoming project in rural Western Nepal. GivePower Foundation is going to install solar power and computer labs in 15 schools, which will improve not only the lives of the students, but also the lives of the surrounding villages. Once these computer labs and the internet have been installed, a system of E-learning will be set up so that these children will have access to education in times such as these. Additionally, Several Nepali teachers from Kathmandu are being hired to help assist as we set up E-learning in these 15 schools. Pencils & Paper is partnering with GivePower to provide school supplies to each of the 15 schools to assist in their learning. As an example, we are raising money to purchase portable whiteboards, so that students can more effectively learn from home.
Tell us a favorite memory from your work with Pencils & Paper.
I have had several memories that I will never forget. The people who I have met throughout this process have shaped me to be the person I am today. However, I would say my favorite memory was in Tanzania. During a homestay, where my family and I stayed in a Boma, we were exposed to the entirety of the culture of their village. We ate meals with them, we slept in the same houses, and we hung out with the kids in the village. During one of the afternoons that we spent in the village, I witnessed a six-year-old girl drawing with a pencil for the very first time. Her face lit up into the biggest smile I have ever seen. This is one of my favorite memories because I saw pure joy, and when I saw that smile on her face I began to smile as well.
What has been your greatest takeaway from your work on Pencils & Paper?
My greatest takeaway from my work is that everyone can have an impact. I am only 17 years old, but I have been able to impact children around the world. I believe that in order for change to happen, you need to start with one life at a time. If I can do my part, then I have the potential to change the lives of young people. It doesn’t take billions of dollars to positively impact someone’s life. It could take something as little as a pencil. It is hard to explain the emotions one experiences when they see that something as small as a pencil can have such an impact on a student.