Books Now Literacy Later
Article follows; from personal experience I know that a young person in Liberia today can reach the 9th grade without learning to read. It is tragic. In addition to a broken down educational system, I suspect that a lack of access to reading material is a major factor.
"Books for Africa" Helps Africa Fight "Book Famine"
U.S. government, private sector and individuals fund book shipments
It only costs about 38 U.S. cents to give an African child access to a book. This is the claim made by Books for Africa (BFA), and one factor in its success.
The organization has shipped more than 10 million books to the continent since 1988 and in the past three years, has made significant progress in expanding Africans' access to books, taking its work to "the next level" in terms of scope and number of partners, said Patrick Plonski, executive director of the organization. BFA provides more donated textbooks to Africa than any other organization, he said.
Partners include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.N. World Food Programme. Some of the greatest help comes from Better World Books, which buys and sells books at universities around the United States. Its donates 15 percent of its profits to BFA, and many of its surplus books as well, allowing BFA for the first time to distribute significant numbers of post-secondary textbooks. BFA also works with other used booksellers, such as Follett and Academic Book Services.
Through donations like these, BFA manages to keep its budget low but still have a large impact. Plonski estimates the 2006 budget at $850,000, which translates into an estimated $14 million worth of books being distributed throughout the continent, he said.
The greatest cost for BFA is shipping because volunteers keep staffing costs low. The books mostly are sent in sea containers, each carrying about 22 tons of books. Transport for each container costs around $10,000. BFA will ship about one container a week in 2007, Plonski said.
Much of the organization's funding comes from African nationals in the United States, as well as individuals "who have traveled to Africa, have seen the need, and are motivated to do something to help the children of Africa. You know, people go on a safari, and then they visit a school, and their hearts are moved by the experience," said Gena Doyscher, president of the group's board of directors.
Plonski agreed. There is a "direct linkage between tourism [in Africa] and a desire to help out," he said. For example, Tanzania is one of the greatest beneficiaries, receiving 38 shipments to date, in part because of its natural beauty and the extent of tourism there. Many of these tourists sponsor donations to the country.
BFA began in 1988 with one such experience. Tom Warth, a successful publishing entrepreneur, decided to sell his business and travel. In Uganda, he visited a library with nearly empty shelves. Upon his return to the United States, he worked with Rotary Clubs, publishers, booksellers and librarians to send shipments of books to the Ugandan library and others.
"We just feel that this is the best thing that we can do to promote education for African children," said Doyscher. "We think it all starts with reading, and reading starts with having a book."
About 20 percent of the shipments go directly to Africa, from publishers donating new books. The rest of the books, from individual donations, go to the BFA warehouse in Minnesota, where they are sorted to ensure high quality - no more than 10 years old, with no marks on them, and of useful or educational content.
The great majority of the books are in English, although BFA would like to offer more to Francophone countries. A recent partnership with Nathan publishers in France aims to accomplish this, with recent shipments sent out to both Mali and Senegal.
More extensive, ongoing projects in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana are due to strong BFA partners there, which make it relatively easy to arrange shipments.
Partners in Africa, from nongovernmental organizations to Rotary Clubs and religious organizations, request their book preferences from the list of available books, receive the deliveries and distribute the books.
BFA recently began working with U.S. embassies in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti and Uganda, which help with distribution. Plonski also would like to expand cooperation with the Peace Corps, to take advantage of its extensive infrastructure.
A recent addition to the recipient countries is Liberia. Since the country's emergence from civil war, BFA has sent 23 shipments there. Most recently, a Liberian national wanted to sponsor a few containers. That effort grew, with other donors signing on for a total of seven containers. "They can put those books to good use," said Plonski, to help rebuild Liberian society.
Doyscher sees "pretty much only growth ahead" for the organization. She recently returned from Abuja, Nigeria, where she distributed English dictionaries to schoolchildren. "The teachers and the children are absolutely thrilled," she said.
Source: U.S. Department of State