Mission High junior Yasmin Bhatti (left) and fellow buildOn participants show off recognition certificates given to them by the Board of Education (Photo Provided by Ashley Shult)

Before poring over numerous resolutions and hashing out this year’s budget at its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Education recognized students who participated in service learning trips to Nicaragua and Mali with BuildOn.

“These students have helped transform lives in developing countries brick by brick,” said Margaret Chiu, assistant superintendent of high school Leadership Education for Administrator Development (LEAD) programs in the district.

Formerly known as Building with Books, BuildOn is a national nonprofit organization that has been challenging urban youth to volunteer in their communities and abroad since 1991. Mission High School junior Yasmin Bhatti, who addressed the board, was one of 16 Bay Area students chosen to help build a school in Nicaragua this summer.

“I was selfish going on spoiled,” Bhatti said after the meeting. “I wanted to redeem myself. I needed a change.”

Bhatti attended an all-girls private school before enrolling at Mission High. But she did not put much effort into her studies, nor did she appreciate the opportunity for education she had been given, she said.

Bhatti was eager to speak of the wonders the service program worked in her own life. “It removes the ‘I’ in your world. Instead, it’s a different kind of ‘I’; it’s ‘What can I do to help?’”

The two-week trip, which started June 18 and ended July 3, cost about $2,500 but was free for participants.

Bhatti’s host family, who lived on only $3 a week and treated her like a daughter, “lived very modestly but they were always smiling” — which the teen said inspired her.

In addition to building schools and increasing students’ global awareness, BuildOn gets students volunteering in their own neighborhoods. Students regularly help the Department of Public Works’ Graffiti Watch program with painting in the Mission, and tutor elementary students through a partnership with Mission Graduates.

Ashley Shult, one of two California program and trek coordinators who started BuildOn at Mission in the fall of 2007, said she was “blown away” by the students’ motivation to get up at dawn for some of these projects. “Why do they do it? It’s because they’re great kids!” she said.

No longer dwelling in her “bubble of ignorance,” Bhatti said she wants to continue to travel the world.

“A tourist sees what he wants to see, a traveler sees what there is to see,” she said.

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Born in the Sunshine State of Florida (but raised in Philly), Sade is happy to now be living and reporting in the sunniest neighborhood in San Francisco. When the high school education beat is not keeping her busy, she loves to frugally satisfy her inner food glutton (the Mission is a great place for that!) and sing (both in the shower and on stage).

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  1. This article is a bit disjointed and incomplete. I understand she helped biuld a school. What, exactly, did Ms. Bhatti do in Nicaragua? Where did she work? What was actually accomplished – not the emotional enrichment or change, but did she help build classrooms, a library or dig a well? How many rooms? What is the name of the school? The name of the community or barrio? How many hours per day did she work? Were there Nica students helping to build the school?
    There is a lot of missing information that would have made this article fascinating and perhaps peaked interest in others to become future volunteers.

    1. Yes, you are right. We could have done more with this piece and I think in the rush to keep it connected to the board meeting, but without seeming dated, I erred on the side of putting up something that could have been more complete. Thank you for pointing this out. The blame is mine, the reporter would have willingly done more work on it. Best, Lydia Chavez

  2. Mission High School should be very proud of Yasmin Bhatti. I found her views on her venture to Nicaragua and its people to be refreshing. This program truly enriched this girl and I’m sure the other participants in the program.