An educational trip to Botswana for eight Madison-area students will have some of its costs defrayed through scholarships by a Madison high school student who started a nonprofit five years ago as a middle school student with the aim of helping others travel.
Eli Pollak is providing more than $10,000 in donations from his nonprofit “Travel to Learn” for the students going to the south African nation next month. The trip, organized by Madison-based CEOs of Tomorrow, involves the students working with orphaned and impoverished teens on setting up businesses that are focused on promoting social good.
“The way that traveling has shaped my view of other cultures and the world, and my view on learning itself, it really helped me,” said Pollak, who is an incoming senior at West High School. “I just wanted to give back to other kids in my community.”
As a Hamilton Middle School student, Pollak started his “Travel to Learn” fund with the intent of providing the opportunity for low-income students to explore the world. Having been to about 20 countries himself, Pollak said “no student shouldn’t be able to go because they can’t afford it.”
Most of the fundraising happened in 2014 and 2015, said Pollak, who provided seed money he had received from his bar mitzvah.
The approximately $12,500 in the fund will go toward covering about half the cost of the trip for the eight students, Pollak said.
About a year and a half ago, Pollak was seeking out an organization to partner with and connected with Roxie Hentz, the founder of CEOs of Tomorrow — a nonprofit that teaches youths about entrepreneurship.
The trip will be the first time out of the United States for seven of the eight participants, all students of color, Hentz said.
Throughout the year, they have been working on business ideas around topics such as poverty, racism, air quality and immigration, she said. At a recent business incubator event, Hentz said the first-place pitch involved using bamboo as a replacement for disposable items, such as plastic straws.
Another student shared her story of sexual abuse and created a custom journal for others who have experienced similar abuse to write down their emotions.
“She wanted to say, ‘I see you,’ but also to recognize that there is freedom in telling your story even in writing,” Hentz said of the journal.
The organization is still doing some final fundraising before the students take off Aug. 10 for the 10-day trip.
“Because of Eli and others, our students will have the opportunity to not just make a difference in the lives of those in Africa, but to change the landscape of their own,” Hentz said.