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Katharine McPhee Teams up with buildOn to Build Two Schools in Burkina Faso


137 kids in Burkina Faso, West Africa will be able to attend school for the first time because of a partnership between Katharine McPhee and the non-profit organization buildOn.

The news first broke when a representative of buildOn sent this casual tweet to Katharine on February 6, 2014:

On February 20, 2014, buildOn tweeted that construction had begun:

Soon after, the folks at buildOn put up a blog on their website and sent out an official press release with more details on the new project.

buildOn is known for their efforts to eradicate education deficits all around the world, and Burkina Faso is the seventh country where they will be making an impact. Katharine and her husband, Nick Cokas, have partnered with buildOn to fund the first two schools that they are building in the area. They are also committed long-term to support buildOn’s other U.S. domestic and international construction projects.

Explaining why it was important for them to get involved with buildOn, Katharine said this:

“Investing in education and opportunity for young people is a major priority in our lives, and we are thrilled that with the help of buildOn we can maintain our ongoing commitment to improving education for the children of Burkina Faso. We believe this is just the beginning of a long-standing partnership with buildOn that will lead to increased opportunity and improved access to education for children here in the U.S. and overseas.”

Nick added the following:

“We have spent a great deal of time researching and learning about buildOn‘s methodology, which provides people living in rural villages with the opportunity to be key players in improving education for their own children. We believe in buildOn‘s mission because it’s not about any of us saving the people of Burkina Faso. It’s about us working together to bridge the opportunity gap so people can make a positive difference in their own lives.”

Jim Ziolkowski, the founder and CEO of buildOn, had this to say about Katharine and Nicks’ involvement:

“We at buildOn are incredibly grateful for the commitment and leadership of Katharine McPhee and Nick Cokas. It’s only through solid partnerships, deep investments, and hard work that we can collectively break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations.”

McPhee has been mostly mum about the project on her social media, but shared the following picture on her Facebook wall on February 13, 2014 with the accompanying caption:

Teens from underprivileged neighborhoods in New York City helped break ground for the school on February 21, 2014.


Katharine’s new partnership with buildOn is not her first foray into charity. Although she is known mostly as a recording artist and an actress (Smash, The House Bunny), Katharine has also been a generous philanthropist, heavily involved in charitable activities since her stint on American Idol almost a decade ago. Just a few, short months after being crowned the runner-up of that show, she founded McPhee Outreach with a targeted focus on helping children stricken with sickness, poverty, or hunger. Explaining why she began the charity so soon after achieving fame, Katharine provided the following statement:

“When my life completely changed, almost overnight, I hate to admit it, but that’s when I realized that I didn’t have to do huge things or even have a lot of money to help facilitate change around me. I was exposed to people who had been given a very little amount of money but were challenged to do something, anything that would benefit society…I am not here to preach, but hopefully because I’ve been so blessed, I can in some small way inspire others to get involved.”

Katharine has been successful at what she set out to do, generously giving of her money and her time. Over the years, she has developed partnerships with Lollipop Theater, St. Jude, and Feeding America. She has also been active in events honoring wounded veterans of war with the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Katharine’s most ambitious project, however, has been her steady efforts since 2007 to expand access to education in the highly illiterate country of Burkina Faso, located in West Africa and documented as being the third poorest country in the world. Using her own money, Katharine was able to build a school in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The school was opened in 2009, and Katharine was finally able to see it for the first time in 2012 while touring Ghana raising awareness for Malaria No More, helping people to get vaccinated, and passing out life-saving mosquito nets. The woman who ran the school in Burkina Faso had contracted malaria by that time, and Katharine was eager to meet her and see that she got better. McPhee Outreach continues to provide financial support to the school to make sure its students have books and other essential supplies.

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