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BYU-Idaho student gives back to home country by building a school

Raymond Steven breaks ground on a new school in Sierra Leone that is being built by his nonprofit, The Ray Foundation. | Courtesy photo
REXBURG — Growing up in the West African country of Sierra Leone, Raymond Steven didn’t have access to the same luxuries he now sees American kids enjoying. In many ways, the Brigham Young University-Idaho student is worlds away from his homeland as he works to obtain an education in East Idaho.
Steven says the people of Sierra Leone value education but lack the resources Americans benefit from. He aims to do his part to improve the lives of those in his home country by building a school through his nonprofit, The Ray Foundation.
“I come from a family of eight kids, and I’m the first person to come this far in life,” Steven says. As the recipient of a scholarship from the Hall Foundation that helped him get to BYU-Idaho, he’s now earning his degree in Public Policy and Administration. He hopes the degree will help him improve lives in his country.
“One of the reasons for our underdevelopment and corruption is that we don’t have good policies to fix these problems,” Steven says. “I’m doing it for the collective good to provide welfare, clean water, electricity, etc.”
He says he’s interested in learning public policy because he wants to experience “how decisions are made and see how we can work collectively together to solve our problems … That’s what BYU-Idaho is giving all of us. Graduates who go and make a difference.”
The Hall Foundation awards scholarships to students worldwide to improve their local areas once they’ve completed their education. According to their website, “The Brad and Andrea Hall Foundation started as a scholarship-based foundation that focused on helping individuals from around the world get an education so they could lift others upon returning to their home country.”
Steven is taking that mandate seriously, and he’s not waiting until he completes his education. Through The Ray Foundation, Steven is already hard at work raising funds, making plans, and starting construction on a new school in his home country for others to benefit from.
“We want to start something instead of complaining about how horrible the conditions are and that kids can’t go to school,” he says. “It’s better we start somewhere.”
“Ray” is a play on Steven’s first name, Raymond, combined with its meaning as a source of light.
“For me, education is a light,” Steven says. “I believe every family, every community, every country needs that light.”
Steven says he has found wonderful support from the Rexburg community, including Mayor Jerry Merrill inviting him to share what he was doing with other locals, which generated some donations for his school-building project. He’s also got a board and volunteers comprised of local Rexburg residents and BYU-Idaho employees who have been a great support to what he’s doing, Steven says.
It’s already making a difference in Sierra Leone. Steven says with the funds they’ve raised so far, The Ray Foundation has been able to acquire land, hire workers, and start building the school. The foundation’s current fundraising goal is $30,000, which will go toward roofing and painting the building and providing clean water and restroom facilities.

The new school being built by BYU-Idaho student Raymond Steven’s nonprofit will serve elementary-aged students in Sierra Leone. | Courtesy photo
The primary school will serve elementary-school-aged children from nine different communities. He says the area currently doesn’t have a sustainable facility where parents want to send their kids. He hopes the new school will provide a safe place to come and learn together.
Steven works closely with Tiffany Stanger of Rexburg, who serves as the secretary of The Ray Foundation. Stanger and Steven decided they wanted to give children in Sierra Leone a Christmas like they hadn’t experienced before.
“Growing up, I never got a Christmas gift,” Steven says. “I got my first Christmas gift here in America. This December, we hosted a party for these kids.”
Steven says they budgeted for 500 kids and got an even bigger turnout than expected.
“We brought Christmas to them,” he says. “We brought music, we brought food, we brought gifts.” He says it was all Stranger’s idea and was a special new experience for children in Sierra Leone.
“She has been the mother behind The Ray Foundation,” Steven says. “She has been the pillar holding all of this together.”

Hundreds of children in Sierra Leone attended a Christmas party put on by The Ray Foundation in 2023.| Courtesy photo
Steven says he’s already working with the government of Sierra Leone to prepare to hire teachers once the school is ready. He and his team are also working on getting grants to help complete the project.
He says people can contribute for free by spreading the word to those who might be interested in donating.
“Kindness is not expensive,” Steven says. “There are a lot of people who have needs. If someone is looking to give back, or if somebody knows someone who might be interested in what we are doing, businesses who want to give back to society, send them to our website … We are open to donations. A dollar will make a difference. It will buy a book for a kid.”
For more information, to get involved or to donate, visit the foundation’s website here.
The post BYU-Idaho student gives back to home country by building a school appeared first on East Idaho News.

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