It’s the summer of 2017 on an exceptionally hot day in the Nyamata sector of Rwanda’s Bugesera district. Construction for a new building is underway and the presence of a few unfamiliar faces has triggered the curiosity of the locals, who are not accustomed to having many visitors. The towering silhouette of a man can be seen from a distance. He’s taken off his shirt and picked up a shovel to dig a hole where a water well will go. With beads of sweat forming on his brow and gargantuan arms covered in dirt, you might easily mistake this imposing figure as a goliath; but upon closer inspection, you can see that the look on his face is not of vexation but rather one of pure, unmitigated passion.
When Ray Youssef and Artur Schaback founded Paxful, they dreamed of a world where every single person would be offered a way out. Their vision of wanting to help others reached far beyond the scope of cryptocurrencies. Youssef always knew he wanted to find a way to bring sustainable education, water, agriculture, and more to the places that needed it most. He sought out to create real, sustainable change—it was only a matter of how and when.
Just two years after Paxful’s launch, bitcoin experienced its first major surge, reaching a peak of nearly $20,000 per bitcoin in late 2017, and the man who created opportunities for so many finally heard it knock at his own door. He understood the pain of struggle and the value of hard work—that was the heart that led to the creation of Built with Bitcoin. Youssef wanted to illustrate that bitcoin was more than just a digital currency; it was a vehicle that would bring about real change.
Elsewhere in the world, Yusuf Nessary was bringing his own vision to life. Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Nessary is the son of two refugees from Afghanistan. Like many immigrant families, they worked hard to build a life for themselves in an unfamiliar land. Nessary experienced the hardships of growing up in a low-income community but never for one moment felt lacking in love from his parents.
“We were brought up in love even though the circumstances of our surroundings were dire. I believe that regardless of what’s going on in your environment, you can still have a positive experience.”
That feeling resonated deeply with Nessary and with a desire to create hope for struggling communities around the world came the birth of Zam Zam. Their mission was, and still is, to fight poverty by providing access to clean water, education, and sustainable farming to impoverished villages everywhere. For both Youssef and Nessary, compassion led to action and with an almost inexplicable synchronicity in their visions, a serendipitous partnership was formed.
Nessary was first introduced to Paxful when Youssef made a donation to Zam Zam in May of 2017. Surprised at the large amount and unsure of what, at the time, sounded like an imaginary country called Estonia, Nessary reached out and introduced himself. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” laughs Nessary. Previously, Nessary had never even heard of bitcoin but soon enough, Zam Zam found itself partnered with Paxful to build a school funded entirely by the elusive cryptocurrency. By July 2017, construction began in Nyamata, Rwanda for a school consisting of three classrooms, four restrooms with a portable irrigation system, and a 15,000-liter water tank.
As is often the case in the region, the structure’s roof was built using bamboo, a sturdy and cost-effective option for construction. One week before the school’s opening, however, Nyamata was hit with heavy rainfall and the roof of one of the classrooms collapsed. Nessary recalls feeling an immense amount of guilt and fear, wondering what might have happened if there were students in the room at the time. He recalls having to make a very difficult phone call to Youssef to let the Paxful team know that the initial design had failed and that they needed additional funding to rebuild the roof with stronger materials. Less than a day later, the Paxful team transferred over the necessary funds.
When the school finally opened its doors, Nessary met Emmaculée, a mother whose children had been attending the school for the past year. Surprisingly, she asked if she could have a moment to express her gratitude and so they handed her the microphone. Immediately, Nessary could feel the power in her voice as she explained the difficult circumstances in which Nyamata’s children previously attended school. Concerns over commuting, traveling costs, safety, and quality education were now a thing of the past. As the joy in her voice intensified, a palpable excitement spread across the room, with fellow parents nodding in accord knowing they no longer needed to worry. It was an uplifting speech that led to an unexpected and unforgettable gift.
To Nessary’s surprise, Emmaculée brought out two chickens. Unsure of how to receive this gift, he stood there momentarily speechless. Emmaculée spoke once again and explained how valuable chickens are in rural Rwanda. They provide eggs, meat, and protection for their land from other small animals. It’s something that meant a lot to her family. Much like Youssef and Nessary, who were driven by passion into taking action, Emmaculée was moved to make a gesture that she felt was worthy of the happiness she felt from being able to give her children an education. With one hen and one rooster, she said that she hoped the two would be able to build a family similar to the one Zam Zam and Built with Bitcoin had built for the community in Nyamata. It was a moment Nessary and his team would never forget.
Nessary remembers that on opening day, a massive rain cloud appeared over the school. They had planned to hold the ceremony outdoors but as it began to pour, they moved the crowd inside. After Emmaculée addressed the room, Zam Zam’s Project Manager, Don walked over to Nessary and asked him if he realized which room they were in. Confused, he looked around and realized it was the very classroom where the roof had collapsed. He looked up and thought to himself how funny things turn out. Just a week ago, he was standing there feeling hopeless and now, the room was filled with nothing but hope in every corner. “I thought to myself that Built with Bitcoin is protecting us from the rain,” he said.
Zam Zam returned to the same school on its first anniversary the following year to a thriving community. It wasn’t just a school they had built—it was a space for family and friends to gather, a place for town hall meetings, a venue for birthday parties. Bitcoin, as a tool for good, had given the people of Nyamata a chance to bring out the very best of themselves.
Emmaculée’s story and countless others are the fuel that keeps Built with Bitcoin moving forward. What started out as an idea has grown into a movement that brings opportunity and, most importantly, hope to emerging markets around the world. This is just the beginning of Ray and Artur’s goal of building 100 schools and there’s no doubt that they’ll continue to see their vision through to the very end.