Rebecca Holt and Lucia Buscemi, above, are hosting a soup cookoff, Sunday, March 18, at The Bates House in Setauket. Photo from Lucia Buscemi

By Rita J. Egan

Two Ward Melville High School juniors are asking the Three Village community to join them in achieving their goal to build a school in the African country Malawi.

Last summer, Lucia Buscemi and Rebecca Holt, of Setauket, brainstormed ideas for a fundraiser they could spearhead. They researched the nonprofit buildOn, which helps students raise funds to build schools in impoverished countries, and the pair liked the idea of helping children in need have access to education.

“What got me most excited is that I know that education is the best way to eradicate poverty,” Holt said.

Buscemi agreed and said she believes providing children with an education can be better than donating food.

“It’s not giving someone a handout,” Buscemi said. “It’s giving somebody a lifetime supply of education, and of food practically.”

When it came time to choose a country, the teenagers solicited the help of Lucas Turner, one of buildOn’s community engagement managers. After talking to Turner, Buscemi and Holt decided Malawi was the country with the greatest need.

It’s not about a bunch of kids going down there to build a school to get community service hours. They’re making sure that it’s something sustainable and will last for generations to come.

— Lucia Buscemi

Buscemi and Holt’s goal is to raise $30,000 to fund the building of the school. Turner said if a student wants to travel to Malawi where he or she will stay with a host family and help build the school, he or she must fund their own travel. The girls said they are hoping to make the trip as well, which would take place during summer vacation.

“Rebecca and I are both very excited to learn about the culture there,” Buscemi said, adding they have only traveled within the United States and Europe. “We are anticipating a culture shock when we get there because it’s going to be so unlike every single place we’ve been to.”

Buscemi said buildOn requires help from residents to build the structure, many of whom will eventually attend the school.

“When the school opens, [villagers] are not looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, these foreigners came and gave us this school,’” Turner said. “They look at that, and they say, ‘We built that with buildOn and this is something we can be very proud of.’”

Turner said while students visit a country to help for seven to 10 days, it can take the villagers 15 to 20 weeks to complete construction.

“It’s not about a bunch of kids going down there to build a school to get community service hours,” Buscemi said. “They’re making sure that it’s something sustainable and will last for generations to come.”

Friends since they were in seventh grade at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, Holt said this is the first time she will be heading up a fundraiser, while Buscemi has been involved with philanthropic efforts since she was in elementary school. For the past three years, she has organized an annual 30-hour famine fundraiser at Caroline Church of Brookhaven, where young adults fast for 30 hours while performing everyday tasks to simulate how it feels for the undernourished.

The pair is using social media and email to spread the word about their buildOn project and are currently planning a soup cook-off fundraiser for March 18 at The Bates House in Setauket. The high school juniors said so far their fundraising has been a valuable learning experience, and they hope to apply those lessons toward future pursuits. Buscemi said she is considering taking a gap year after she graduates from high school to work with refugees in Athens, Greece.

For now, the two are focused on their present pursuit, and said every single person who contributes to the cause, no matter how much they donate, will be making a difference.

“It doesn’t take two girls to build a school,” Holt said. “It takes a community and that’s why we need to work with Three Village in order to build this school. It takes a village to build a school. We need to pool as many resources as we have in this community in order to accomplish our goal.”

Holt and Buscemi have already raised $1,086 toward their $30,000 goal. For more information on how to donate or about the March 18 soup cook-off at The Bates House, 1 Bates Road, Setauket, visit or email [email protected].