ANN ARBOR, Mich. – From Ann Arbor to Africa one local student raised enough money in two months to build a school more than 8,000 miles away.
The student’s mission of building the school was made possible through a viral social media video he created.
“I guess you could say that this goal is very outrageous, but it was the first thing that came to my mind. I was like we should try to build a school in a developing country,” said Simon Kim, a University of Michigan student.
Kim picked Malawi in east Africa.
“It’s endearing to see how closely they hold the values of community,” he said.
In the spring of 2020 he discussed the goal with his mother and father.
“I remember sitting down and talking with my parents. I’m like we’re going to build a school. We’re going to make this happen. And they looked at me like I was crazy. Obviously,” he said.
His determination was infectious.
“My weird confidence in being able to make this happen, that has just really convinced people to say hey, we can do this. It really started a snowball effect,” he said.
By early May of last year, he and a team started an organization called Keep it Wholesome and created a series of TikTok videos that took off.
“Something just clicked where it was like presenting the person watching it the opportunity to really make a difference in the world just by liking the video, something so simple,” he said.
The first video went up May 8, 2020. Then by July 13 of 2020 a total of $30,000 was raised.
“Yeah, it definitely surprised me. It caught me off guard. It was very all at one time, things were happening very fast, but I’m very thankful for everyone’s support,” he said.
It basically took two months to raise the funds for the school.
Once the money was raised, a partnership formed with a non-profit called Build On, which has experience in Malawi.
The school was built in the city of Mphasi.
“What made me the happiest person in the world is seeing how involved the community is and how excited everyone is,” he said.
It serves 800 students and employs two new teachers providing more educational and employment opportunities.
“That’s really cool because now there is two extra teachers who can be involved in the community. I’m sure they love the community and are members of it getting to teach and bring up this next generation of students,” he said.
So far, he’s only heard of the results and seen proof from afar. Now, he would like to visit.
“I’m so eager. I’m so excited. I can’t wait,” he said.
There are no plans for an African trip yet. But by the time Kim graduates in May of 2025, a student at the Malawi school can potentially visit him first as a freshman at the University of Michigan.
“That would be incredible. That would be insane. Oh my gosh. I mean that would be awesome. I never thought about that. That would be crazy. I hope that happens,” he said.
“I just feel amazed about what the internet can do and what a bunch of kids on TikTok can do.”
Kim and his team were also motivated by the power of spreading positivity on social media and the internet rather than negativity.
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