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The Promise of a Pencil [Book Review]

Last Updated on 20 May 2024

Promise of a Pencil

This is a great book for those who are struggling to find purpose in their lives. Unlike many books in this genre, The Promise of a Pencil doesn't sound preachy or highfalutin.

Each chapter (or mantra, as the author puts it) can be read on its own, and it will still provide valuable lessons (except the chapter that introduced Justin Bieber). But if you read the chapters sequentially, you will be able to better understand the full context of the lessons.

A graduate of Brown University, Adam Braun left his cushy job at Bain & Company to start a nonprofit called Pencils of Promise with just $25 at the age of 24.

Braun's adventure to Palestina, a small village in Guatemala, where he taught a man named Joel Puac to speak English, changed his mindset about charity being “a simple transaction, a one-way street”. Instead, Puac taught him that his assumptions about the nature of charity had been wrong:

Hence, Pencils of Promise purposely didn't provide the entire funding for any of the schools they built because they wanted to work with people who had a hand up, ready to participate, not those who simply had a hand-out. The local community had to provide 10 to 20 percent of the funding, typically in terms of physical labour and raw materials rather than cash because the majority of families lived on a meager $1 or $2 per day and spare cash was rare.

When we give handouts to those in poverty, we do them a disservice. We create a cruel cycle of dependence.

There are many compelling stories and shareable insights throughout the book. A common thread is the willingness of parents to sacrifice their own well-being for the betterment of their children. On this, Braun wrote, “At the greatest levels of affluence, and the deepest levels of poverty, parents share the same desire for their children to have a better future.”

And if your child wants to explore the world like Braun, you should check out Semester at Sea, a multi-country study abroad programme on a ship that provided a transformative experience for the author.

Please consider supporting Pencils of Promise by providing a scholarship, training a teacher, or building the next Pencils of Promise school at It costs only US$25 to educate a child, US$500 to train a teacher, and US$10,000 to build a classroom.

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