Reggie Gaskins


 

 

Books For Africa

Being a voracious reader, I cannot imagine a world without books and even more so, I cannot imagine walking into a library where there are no books, just empty shelves. Yet in many African countries, that happens everyday, too many children are living in a world without books. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 40 percent of school-age children in Africa do not attend school. Forty-six million African children have never set foot in a classroom.

However, there is hope. Books For Africa (BFA), a non-profit organization based in St. Paul Minnesota is on a mission to end the book famine in Africa. They collect, sort, ship and distribute books to children, adults and libraries in Africa. They are the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent and since 1988 has sent over 26 million books to children and adults in 46 African countries. They also send computers and school supplies.

Founded in 1988 by Tom Warth, BFA’s mission is to simply end the book famine in Africa. Warth, a former bookseller, visited Uganda after meeting a Ugandan woman who was in the U.S. visiting her children. While in Jinja, Tom went to a local library and was astonished to see that there were no books on the shelves. Upon returning to the U.S., he met with publishers, booksellers and librarians from the Minnesota Book Publisher’s Roundtable and Books For Africa was born.

“Thus far, my vision has been realized and Books For Africa has succeeded beyond what I could’ve imagined. My theme has to be that sending 26 million books to 340 million children is like a drop in the bucket, we can’t rest on our laurels.” says Tom. “It’s very gratifying when you go in a library and find a book from a small town in Minnesota that you know some student has touched the book and his name is in it, then you find it in a school in a library in Africa, so that’s pretty exciting”

BFA’s main office is located in St Paul, Minnesota and is under the direction of Executive Director, Patrick Plonski. A warehouse in Atlanta was opened in 2009 and recently expanded its’ capacity to 50,000 square feet. “The decision to open a warehouse in Atlanta was driven by economic and issues of efficiency so we came to the conclusion that we needed a larger warehouse to send more books to Africa.” says Pat. “We looked at a number of communities on the eastern seaboard and compared a number of factors.” “We made the decision with the advantage of having a major metropolitan area with a lot of volunteers, infrastructure, and books available to be donated locally was important. We put it all together and Atlanta came out on top. It’s been a very good decision for us that’s really increased our efficiency and has helped us to collect more books. We just crossed a goal this year; we sent 2 million books in this fiscal year which was a record. In terms of millions, the goal would be to 3-5 million books in a year.”

It costs 10,000 to send a container shipment of books to Africa. A container holds 40,000 pounds of books which is approximately 22,00 books depending on the size of the books. Corporate sponsors, partnerships, individuals, service groups and volunteers are all an important part of BFA’success. BFA relies on volunteers to help sort and pack the books for shipment. The Atlanta warehouse accommodates anywhere from 10-80 volunteers on a daily basis.

Looking to Books For Africa’s future, Tom and Pat both agree that more corporate and business sponsorships are needed. “I would just ask that they consider it and that they give it a try.” says Pat. “We think that if a company is interested in international development and philanthropy, we welcome that and we would like to be considered. Also you know especially in Atlanta, so many of the Atlanta area corporations are sending volunteers to our warehouse so we have a buy in at the grassroots level from a lot of these corporations and I would encourage corporations to sort of follow the lead of their employers who are already donating their time and efforts to pack up those books and to help out and maybe help to deliver some of those books to Africa. It would also be nice to have BFA be a household name. Things like co branding with some national corporations. We are very interested in doing that. I think it would be beneficial to both BFA and the corporation that we work with.” Another goal that Pat has is to see how BFA can use technology to help send books to Africa. “There are things that can be done with e-readers, probably not now but down the road and we want to prepare for that.”

As for Tom, “the future is we need to find sponsors who are probably businesses in Africa to sponsor the printing of their own editions of dictionaries because people can print dictionaries for .30 each so you can deliver a massive number of books to Africa if we could find sponsors who are willing to step out and do the job. You know Coca-Cola comes to mind and wouldn’t that be a great dream for every household maybe starting where there would be a dictionary with all that information and then on the back cover would be the Coca-Cola emblem.” “A million dollars supplies 3 million books and 3 million households would be great advertising.”

” There are millions of children in Africa who’ve never touched a book, they haven’t touched one. They’ve learned to read and write from the blackboard and at the desk but they haven’t actually held a book. I went to a school and there were 12 year olds who knew how to read and write but they hadn’t held a book so we gave out books and they’ve never held them, you could see how excited they were.” Tom recalls.

“We would like to see it occur where there would be books available for anyone that wanted to use them and we would have them readily available says Pat.

Fifty-cents can send one book to Africa. To find out more about Books For Africa and how you can make a donation and/or volunteer, please visit their website at www.booksforafrica.org

 

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