Molly Burke, Executive Director, Bicycles Against Poverty, Uganda

Does the amount of material possessions directly correlate with someone’s wealth?

If a man can only provide one pair of shoes per each member of his household, does that mean his family is impoverished? Or is he well-off?

These are questions and thoughts I, and many others in the development sector, might battle with on a daily basis.

There are underlying assumptions in these questions that most middle or high school students may not even ponder before rushing to the answer. I, myself, didn’t challenge such assumptions until well through college. And even then it’s questionable whether I fully understood that simply because an individual does not have multiple pairs of shoes does not mean they’re in poverty. It’s a matter of priorities, of values, of happiness—it can be choice, or it can be poverty.


Running through and challenging underlying assumptions is at the core of what the Pencils for Africa (PFA) community does. Led by a group of students at St. Hilary’s School, the PFA network is continuously learning more about communities in Africa and understanding the complexities of life on the continent.

Their questions and actions demonstrate the group is challenging assumptions—PFA students themselves candidly point out that this is part of their personal growth, which has improved since their time with PFA. What’s more is that the PFA community strives to jump past a one-way engagement with their network and rather ensure that peer organizations are able to connect and communicate between themselves.


What they’ve done is to create a bridge within an industry where too often streams push through new boundaries, but connections across them never get built. We build nonprofits, but not the right mechanisms for them to interact. The PFA community strives to ensure that organizations in similar regions are able to connect, network, and learn from one another.

To say I’ve been impressed with the students I’ve interacted with is an understatement.

Blown away. Baffled.

I might even say ’embarrassed’, because their writing is stronger than mine throughout my first year of college!

Their analysis is deep, style professional, and tone always resonates with dignity for others. I’m grateful to be a part of this giving community; grateful that I can be inspired by passionate students; and grateful that I have the opportunity to engage with others with the same passion filled space.

Molly Burke