Jonathan Tam heard how much a gift of a pencil and notebook could mean to a Nicaraguan child and quit his business job to volunteer with SchoolBox, an Almonte-based charity that builds schools in thaty country.

He said he left his job in 2009 when he was told about the difference a simple gift could make.

"He told me about this moment, he was hiking through northern Nicaragua and he handed a child a pencil and a notebook," Tam said. "He was talking to the father who was just so awestruck by the moment because his child could go to school now."

Now hundreds of Ottawa residents and people from across North America head down to build schools – 25 made so far.

Tam said he now spends most of his time in Nicaragua, living out of two suitcases – a stark contrast to his life of comfort from his old career.