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Originally published Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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Seattle-based nonprofit helps Zambians build school

It's 7:15 p.m. in Limulunga, Zambia, and Dan Wachtler has just finished another day overseeing construction of what will be a free school...

Seattle Times staff reporter

School support

Construction of the Limulunga Community School in Zambia should be completed by March.

A Seattle-based nonprofit group, Construction for Change, is seeking financial help for its Supplementary Teaching Education Program (S.T.E.P.) project in Cambodia.

For more information,

go online: constructionforchange.org

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It's 7:15 p.m. in Limulunga, Zambia, and Dan Wachtler has just finished another day overseeing construction of what will be a free school in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wachtler fires up his laptop and re-connects to friends and family back home in the States via Skype. Outside his room is a small, impoverished village, its homes made of cardboard and plywood.

By paying 23 Zambians 15,000 kwacha a day — roughly $3 U.S. — Wachtler says he's helping the Zambian economy, which suffers 50 percent unemployment.

Wachtler, who graduated last year from the University of Washington in construction management, is project manager of the Limulunga Community School, a pilot project for the nonprofit Construction for Change.

The Seattle-based organization's goals are to provide construction managers for special projects around the world and to give financial support to help impoverished nations learn to help themselves.

Construction for Change strives to make a lasting impact, Wachtler said. He and co-project manager Kyle Parrish plan to stay in Zambia for five months to help with that goal.

The two 23-year-olds arrived in Limulunga on Oct. 20 after more than 20 hours of air travel and an eight-hour bus ride from Zambia's capital, Lusaka. Stepping off the bus into 100-degree heat, they quickly discovered the differences between a world of comforts and one without them.

It is a land, Wachtler says, of infinite soccer fields, and mangos — lots and lots of mangos. Limulunga is a monsoon-prone village on the edge of the Zambezi River floodplain. Despite the hassles, Wachtler and Parrish say they are determined to use construction of the Limulunga Community School as a model to help the community improve the delivery of electricity and clean water and learn about building regulations.

"You can step outside and see an ox-driven cart, but the guy driving it probably has a cellphone," Wachtler said. "I can be in Limulunga and the electricity suddenly goes out, and the water's done for, but because I have a mobile Internet card, I can access my Facebook. "It's a bizarre feeling."

Construction for Change was created in 2007 by UW alumni and construction managers Nick Tosti, Elijah Grindstaff and Mike McEvoy. Their idea was to connect small international nonprofits and affluent people in the Northwest looking to donate.

The group already has completed more than $300,000 worth of construction, namely finishing the first Limulunga school building last March, Tosti said. It raised $115,000 in private donations in 2009.

"We felt like it was our duty to take the resources and blessings we have at home, and use them for good," Tosti said.

The Limulunga Community School project, the second of two 3,500-square-foot buildings the group is constructing for 540 students in kindergarten through seventh grade, provides young Zambians a unique opportunity to attend school for free.

Noting the nearly 70 percent of the population under the age of 18, headmistress Mbuywana Mbukusita-Lewanika, whose sister Inonge Mbukusita-Lewanika is Zambian ambassador to the United States, told Wachtler how important the process is, he said.

"She told me, when you teach a child, you're affecting their future children and grandchildren," Wachtler said. "It's not just 500 kids you're teaching, it's 10 times — 100 times — that."

The past several weeks have been particularly difficult for Watcher and Parrish because they miss their family, friends and normal holiday festivities. Over Christmas, they had a small plastic Christmas tree in the corner of their shared room, and a care package from home arrived with plenty of beef jerky.

"The African way and the African culture is about taking care of the present moment," Wachtler said. Parrish added, "It definitely rubs off on you."

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