updated 11/27/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 11/27/2013 AT 3:05 PM ET
On Oct. 27, the 19-year-old traveled to a remote village in Guatemala with the organization Pencils of Promise, a charity he’s long supported that builds primary schools in developing countries like Nicaragua, Laos, Guatemala and Ghana.
And he didn’t just watch: He helped sift concrete, lay down cinder blocks, and spent time playing with the children who will one day attend the school.
“He developed a genuine connection with the kids there,” says Adam Braun, the charity’s founder and brother of Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun. “The children didn’t even know who he was, which was part of the beauty of the experience. He got to be himself.” Adds photographer and videographer Nick Onken, who documented the trip: “The kid loves people and deep inside, wants to help make the world a better place.”
One school costs $25,000 to build and Pencils of Promise has raised $10 million since being founded in 2008.
“This experience changed my life forever,” Bieber says of the trip. “It isn’t about me, it s about the kids, plain and simple. I’m sharing this story in hopes that the world will help me end the education crisis. I hope I can use my reach to change these kids’ lives in return.”