The story behind the name “One Pencil” told by Helen.

I began working in Bolivia with the Tsimane Health and Life History Project as an undergraduate in 2005. When I began my graduate studies a few years later I focused studies on the relationship between early access to resources, quality of schooling, and lifetime outcomes. During each field visit our research project would provide school supplies—generally three pencils, three pens, and a notebook—to every child who participated in the project, as well as books and teaching supplies to local schools and teachers. Children and teachers would often stow away their supplies rather than use them. When I asked why they weren’t using their new supplies, students often said it was because they weren’t sure when/if they’d be replaced.

Over the last few years our educational research project expanded to Namibia where I observed similar behaviors; both teachers and students would stow their supplies rather than use them. Additionally, I was also advised in Namibia that children participating in the research program should only receive “one pencil,” rather than the full set of supplies generally given in Bolivia. It was explained to me that pencils were so difficult to obtain that it was not appropriate to give such extravagant gifts for participation.

The reality that basic school supplies could be considered “extravagant” highlighted the need to properly equip students and teachers on a consistent basis. This is why we began One Pencil.


The primary goal of the One Pencil Project is to provide annual, sustainable support to communities in need located in Bolivia, southern Angola, and Namibia. As the project grows, we hope to expand our scope and charitable giving, but we intend to be a consistent source of annual support to the schools in these communities.

Research through the University of Utah, The Tsimane Health and Life History Project, and Harvard University collaborate with One Pencil to meet our annual and long term goals.