The Supply | “Believe in what you do. If not you, who? If not now, when? Just hold on tightly to idealism.”
The Supply is a group of slum-dog millionaires. OK, far from being millionaires. But slum dogs, sorta. They are a US based nonprofit organization that builds secondary schools for slum children all over the world. Why a fascination with slums, possibly some of the most vile places in the world? Founder Eddo Kim’s simple response: “no one else is doing it.” Constantly on the move, if you don’t find them trekking across the US teaching high school and college students about the lack of education in slums, you might find them chatting it up with locals in a Kenyan slum with KevJumba who recently went out on a trip with them. The Supply might be the nicest guys you find east of the Mississippi, but when it comes to their mission, they mean business.
What takes up most of your time right now:
- John: Now that I’ve joined The Supply full time obviously that takes up most of my time.
- Shawn: The Supply of course. For the summer, it’s a lot of eating—I’m eating constantly. A lot of church stuff. Basketball—I love basketball.
- Eddo: I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic. I literally get up at 3 in the morning sometimes to do work. If I have an idea I have to put it on paper. I’m also currently finishing a Ed. M program at Harvard in International Education Policy.
- Eddo: Burritos. no beans though.
- Shawn: I like the Kardashians show. My family gets together to watch it. It’s fun I’m not gonna lie.
- John: I love eating. I think I spend a lot of my thinking about food. I love Mcdonalds chicken nuggets sweet and sour sauce (with the chicken).
- John: I have so many I cannot think of them right now. I hate PC’s.
- Shawn: I really don’t like when I open the door for people and they walk by and don’t say thank you. or if I’m walking and they open the door and they just shut the door.
- Eddo: This might offend some people, but please don’t hate me: I can not stand the cutesy K-pop wink. I can’t explain it — it’s this look that they give.
- John: Chick flicks and emotional movies. Anything emotional with the right music.
- Shawn: Smiles.
- Eddo: A nice button down. I hoard button downs and have saved like all my button downs from high college. Oxford, plaid, denim, you name it.
Favorite non-profit/charity (other than your own!):
- John: Charity Water. Scott Harrison is the founder and I heard him speak once. His last line— if not you, who; if not now, when? That really got me. he’s been a really big inspiration. Their work has been a huge inspiration.
- Shawn: One Day’s Wages. They were featured by Nick Kristof once. I really respect how the founder lived out his life—it was a representation of what he worked for. Donate one day of your wages to a good cause. He decided to donate a whole year’s worth of wages to represent what he was fighting for. I respected that a lot.
- Eddo: I’d say LiNK. I have a lot of personal ties with their Executive Leadership team. But beyond my personal relationships, I love them because they’re getting bigger and yet they’re so committed to staying grassroots.
- Eddo: Emma Watson. Hands down.
- John: Katie Holmes but Dawson’s Creek days. Then it was Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy. Finally, Kimberly, the pink Power Ranger.
- Shawn: There’s this one girl in Entourage. I don’t know her name but E’s girlfriend.
- Shawn: I didn’t grow until Junior year of high school I was 5’4 until junior year. Now I’m 5’10”
- Eddo: Eddo is not my real name. I created it in college because I despised Eddie, Edward. My real name is Edward James Kim which sounded too pretentious. I like dancing in my car driving to Lady Gaga and Enrique Iglesias.
- John: I did high school marching band. I hated it with a passion. I played those 5 drum thingies. I lived in NYC—I shared an air mattress with a large white man in Chelsea. ($300 for rent in a closet sized room.) I lived in Philly for a year on a $180/month rent.
- Eddo: for about 11 years, I haven’t worn a pair of socks…for 11 years. My reason? Albert Einstein never wore socks because supposedly when your feet get warm, you get dumber. I don’t even know where I read that. Ever since then, no socks. If I have to choose a water, I’d choose smart water. You gotta get any edge possible.
OA: What events or people inspired you to establish The Supply?
- Eddo: When I first encountered a slum. I had never seen anything like that. If I could think of a living hell, that would be it. But more importantly, what crushed me was finding out that the children did not have access to a quality education. Governments were denying access to education for these children. You see, for me and for a lot of us here in the states, education is a given. We don’t even think twice about it. It’s almost in surplus. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to progress in my education so fluidly receiving degrees from two prestigious universities, Penn and Columbia and working on my third degree at Harvard. It didn’t make sense to me that for some children [1 in 3 of the world’s urban population live in slums], education is not even an option. I had to react. One of the most powerful encounters I had was with a slum orphan who told me why he and his family are fighting so hard for an education. He didn’t want to get educated for the sake of living the “good life,” but instead he wanted to come back and transform his community. That really struck me and has become the heartbeat behind our organization. As the leader of this organization, I want my life to reflect this idea of what education is really intended for: a call to action. That’s why I’m so proud of my staff, John and Shawn, whose lives also embody this idea as well.
OA: What was your own journey through education like?
- John: For me it was a normal track of life. I got a job in energy trading and it led me toward the American dream path. That was what “education” was “for” but I took a big turn in understanding the world.
- Shawn: Honestly I battle with this a lot. You go to school, you learn, you do what you want to do. I had a hard time with it. You end up going to college. During your 4 years you don’t know what you want to do. Even after college I was still confused. However, I was so blessed. I went to Rutgers and through that, I learned so much from the people around me. One of the biggest reasons why The Supply grew so much is through the connections I made at Rutgers. I’m able to connect them to a place where they can start using their blessing and talents to give back. One of my friends at Rutgers is in finance, but he loves what I’m doing right now, and he pulled me over one day and said I noticed you guys don’t have a camera, and he donated one to us. I feel like education is more than just books. It’s street smarts, how you’re going to use relationships you have to do good and help others. I know a lot of people are confused about what they want to do, but I want to tell them that it’s more than just a resume.
- Eddo: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’ve had a successful “educational” career. But what that means to me is equating that with what am I gonna do with that. I’ve received the best education possible, but now I’m accountable for helping solve the most complex problems of my communities and my world.
OA: How did you begin this beautiful partnership with Lenana?
- Eddo: It’s a godsend. We went to Africa for a vision trip last year and our field contact there randomly took us to this community called Lenana. When we got there we felt this overwhelming sense of generosity and giving. We met the school director Muscort, and his story really assured us that this was the right community to work with. He got sponsored through some agency to advance to college. He could’ve taken his degree to city center Nairobi and go land a nice job. Instead, he came back to start a primary slum school for these orphans. He makes very little money and the level, yet his dedication to these children is inspirational. His life story fit in line with who we are as an organization. We love the community. Some amazing things will happen in that community.
OA: Tell us about the documentary you filmed in Lenana about the 8th grade class. Is it true $10,000 worth of equipment was stolen while you were held at gunpoint last year?
- Eddo: We wanted to film this documentary to show how hard these slum orphans were fighting for education despite all their challenges. We just didn’t realize how hard it would be to finish the project. We initially went out to Nairobi at the end of July 2010 to film. We fell asleep on a bus after a long day, and our camera got jacked. So we went back in October, had another setback [Shawn will tell you what happened in October] and finally finished the project in January in 2011.
- Shawn: In October, we were filming. One of the nights we were filming really late into the night following the story of one of our older orphan boys, Peter. While waiting for a matatu (bus) 3 people approached us and ambushed us with pistols and machetes. I had never seen any of those weapons in my life before. They took all of our stuff — $10,000 worth of equipment and more importantly all of the footage. I remember at that moment, walking to the side and thinking, “why am I here risking my life? I’m too young for this.” But beyond my personal struggles, my heart broke for our organization. We had nothing to show our faithful supporters again. However, that night, when we went back to Muscort’s house and I witnessed him praying for his children and asking tough questions about why these muggers had to attack us or why his students get beaten by their drunk alcoholic fathers, things started clicking for me. Crime, alcoholism, all of that stuff was a result of the lack of education in this village. Ironically enough, it took this horrible incident to start making me believe in the work that I do. When we got back to the states, we didn’t have a video to show, but we had a story to share and so we went around to colleges, churches, high schools, telling our story and fundraising. There was no way we were going to give up on this documentary. We raised enough to go back and finish our project in January.
- Eddo: Just to add to that, a lot people can take that story and say wow, you guys are heroes. But, I cringe whenever I hear that. We’re not heroes at all. The real heroes are teachers not getting paid, but are passionately teaching the kids. In my eyes, those are the true heroes.
OA: Given your unconventional career path and the possible dangers involved, how supportive is your family of your decision to pursue this?
- Shawn: My family had no idea what I was doing. They just knew I was going to Africa, What helped a lot were the YouTube video pieces. My dad is a Facebook stalker. He sees my videos on Facebook and he loves it. He loves the idea that I’m doing something and mobilizing others to take action with their education.
- John: For me, full support. My parents are not traditional at all. They really give a lot of freedom to my decisions. That’s their style. Actually they’re one of the biggest support structures for me. They’re pretty unconventional.
- Eddo: Honestly, there was a lot of resistance at first. However, day by day, as they see my passion, it’s been awesome to see those walls slowly break down. Actually, what’s funny is that my mom found out we were building this secondary school and she started recycling. Today she made 12 dollars and she told me “this 12 dollars may not mean much here, but it goes along way in Kenya.” Their attitudes are changing from a do it later approach to you can make a difference right now. In some ways, I sometimes think The Supply was intended for my parents.
OA: The gratefulness attached to the mere gift of a pencil to a student in Lenana certainly shows an economic gap between their world and ours. How did your trip to Kenya enrich your perspectives of the world?
- Eddo: We are not different. Skill level, income level…yeah, we are different. But everyone is fighting to fulfill a personal dream. What’s beautiful about the dreams out there is that their dreams are not about personal wealth. Everything is about community, doing things together. My dream is becoming their dream. I’m learning to dream like them. I’ve been out there 7 times and they consider us family. We’re the same people. The world has become that much smaller.
- Shawn: We are so blessed. Everyone needs to understand we have so much. We complain we have so little but someone else always has less. We are so blessed. How can we use our blessing to help x, y, z. these students too—they get education, come back to help their community. We can always complain about what we don’t have or we can look at what we do have and do something with it.
- Eddo: Let me actually tell you about something I witnessed on one of the trips. So, because of the lack of resources, each class has one textbook for all the students to share. So, what do they do? They’ll take turns writing the textbook on the board. That community mindset is so beautiful to me. I even asked one of the classes: What if Jeff makes millions of dollars playing football for Manchester? Jeff without batting an eye said “no, everything I make, I will always remember my friends here suffering with me.” They understand this idea that they rise together and they fall together.
- John: After going to Africa, you come back to the US, go to a grocery store, and you get angry. It doesn’t make sense. Your mind has shifted from seeing their life and ours. For me, going to Africa taught me what it means to live in the US. The American dream is not only given to you, it’s shoved down your throat. When I see Americans and even myself especially, I’m pissed off I don’t have the newest apple product. They constantly teach me how live.
OA: Establishing an entire non-profit from ground up, especially one working with a community across the world, is no easy feat. What has been the biggest challenge in this whole journey? Rewards.
- Eddo: We’ve had our share of bad moments. 3 months in we got kicked out of our office because we could not afford rent. That meant lawsuits, going to court, etc. Right after, the $10,000 mugging incident happens. Finally, when we started, we committed the first year to not take a penny as far as salary goes. It’s been 16 months and we have not taken a penny for ourselves. Obviously that can get tough.
- Shawn: However, what’s awesome is that as much as it’s stressful, we’re never mad or stressed.
- John: Yea, it’s the Kenyan spirit in us. Along with that, there’s so many random things that fuels the fire. We don’t need the checks in our inbox, we need the people here doing stuff. So many times Eddo walks into the room and tells us about a girl selling cookies in some state and here’s $500.
OA: What do you find the most rewarding in what you do?
- Eddo: For me, it’s a personal reward when I see my mom, the traditional Korean mom becoming this radical supply soldier fighting on the front lines.
- Shawn: David, one of the bible study kids I teach. He always hears about my non profit stuff. One time when I came back from Africa, he came up to me with this pink pencil case. I opened it, there were a bunch of coins. This 6th grader went around his school and raised $100. He came up to me, and I just wanted to cry but I was like good job. I didn’t say anything and he did it by himself.
- John: I’d say our intern staff. Those guys, they are doing the grunt work. We’re not giving them anything except a place to work. Honestly, it was a blessing to see those guys really believe in the cause and give up their summer. They were the real guys that did the labor intensive fundraisers. The intern staff is an inspiration for us too. And they’re so fun too.
OA: Explain the inspirational meaning behind the name, “The Supply.”
- Eddo: OK, I’m the geeky one, here it goes. Why I love “The Supply” so much is that in economics, the supply meets demand. I think with charity, that’s how a lot of us think of it: the poor African kids who need something and there’s the Americans who can supply them with something. However, the reason we’re called the supply, is yes, we are supplying secondary schools for these slum children who do not have access to them. However, more importantly, education is an an equalizer. These students are not only demanding, but through education they in turn become the supply. It’s a chain reaction.
- John: The cool thing about this idea of “The Supply” is that everyone, Americans, slum children, everyone can confidently commit to becoming the supply — people who understand that their education is a call to action. Take me for example, I stopped working at a finance firm to join this org. This one kid collecting money in 6th grade. Then you see Muscort starting DYC school. It’s all the same. We’re all touched by the same concept. We’re all giving back. It’s not just us making four walls. We’re instilling this idea in them. The same idea that started this org.
OA: The Supply recently worked with Kevin Wu aka KevJumba in Lenana by successfully calling out to him on YouTube with the Kenya Challenge. How significant of a role has social media played in driving The Supply? What collaborations can we look forward to, and who would you love to work with?
- Shawn: I’ll talk about social media since I deal with that. Social media is beautiful. I had no idea until the whole Kevjumba thing happened. Our first video the Kenya challenge—it blew up. We never thought Kev would see it but wow. My iPhone was going nuts. I realized this is perfect. This is how you are going to attract people. that’s why we did the documentary too. People can connect. Then on our next trip, I made sure we created videos that can showcase Kenya and why education was so important. Then we came back and did our soccer videos. People loved it. They sent us more jerseys. Then we started using Facebook. That’s such an easy way to update people—status on school, fundraisers, etc. then we started using twitter and it’s so easy to use. That’s how we got connected with other YouTube stars. Ted from Wong Fu saw our videos and tweeted us out. We are now trying to connect with as many YouTube stars as possible.
- Eddo: It’s pretty profound how social media is changing the fundraising game. We’re witnessing how tools like twitter and YouTube can build a school. For example, people started watching Kev’s videos and started giving. We raised $7000 on Kevjumba’s birthday campaign. And let me just note that Kevjumba is such an awesome dude. He was an amazing ambassador for our org. He in his own way was the supply. He used his talents and gifts and brought gifts to our organization and to our Lenana community.
- John: We love the whole YouTube community. Even Harry Shum JR. saw Kev’s video and loved what he was doing. So we would love to see other people get involved.
OA: The Supply is based in New Jersey, but its efforts are of an international scope. Are there any chapters established elsewhere, and how can those who share your vision start their own?
- Eddo: Actually chapters are spreading all over the world right now: Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, Colombia, and all over the country. Right now, we have a lot that are interested and this will be our big first academic year that our chapters play a large role in our organization. We’re trying to ramp up the program because this is really a great way to mobilize young people and to connect them with our projects. The best way is to contact our staff to get started.
OA: What is the long-term plan for The Supply?
- John: I’ll talk about the operational stuff. We have plans to build—within a 3 year scope—between 10-15 secondary schools in slums across the world — start with Kenya then reach into India, Bangladesh, Brazil. In the larger scope, we just want to keep defending children where they are denied education. We can come in and be the agents of change and equip these people to continue what we started. It’s not an exact numeric number but the 3 year plan is 10-15 schools.
- Eddo: Lenana is 8000 people. In our first project, we’re currently investing in 27 slum children (the current 8th graders at DYC school). Through our secondary school and our service learning program in these schools, we believe that these young men and women can start making a difference for these 8000 people. So multiply 8000 by 15 schools and we’re hoping to make a long term impact on hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers.
- John: That’s just on the international side. For our grassroots awareness efforts, we have grand plans here. We are trying to redefine education and what education should be in its purest form. Any places where education is flourishing and to really encourage students to critically look at what education is really about. There are children suffering in this world and being denied a basic education. Our generation can change that. We are the supply.
- Shawn: for me in 10 years, I can’t wait to see where our first batch of Lenana students are. We understand that education isn’t instant. In 10 years, hopefully, we’ll see that change. We may not see the fruits of our labor right now, but in 10 years we will. I am so excited.
OA: Words of wisdom for aspiring do-gooders:
- Shawn: I’d say believe in what you do. If you don’t people are gonna see right through you.
- John: It goes back to what I initially said, if not you, who? If not now, when? It’s so personal and challenging and everything uncomfortable but it directs right at the heart about who you are and what you believe and what you’re meant to do on this earth. It’s so pure—it motivated me to action.
- Eddo: Just hold on tightly to idealism. If you want to call it romantic and unrealistic, so be it. MLK, Gandhi, they held on to this idealism that the world could one day be a better place. You have to wake up every morning and cling on to that.
OA: How to stalk The Supply
Interview by Julie Zhan
Photography by Melly Lee
Trackback from your site.