African Library Project

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Guest blogger, Don Casperson of Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos, NM shares his experience as a book drive organizer, creating libraries for Kenya with the help of his community's youth:

It is with great joy that I undertook to help with the African Library Project under the enthusiastic direction of Sharon Allen. As a Kiwanis advisor to two of the three Los Alamos elementary school K-Kids clubs, our middle school Builders Club, and our high school Key Club, I am proud of the effort they demonstrated last year as we collected books, boxed them up, and carried out fundraisers to pay for shipping to Africa. All seven of our public schools (five elementary, one middle school, and one high school) participated in the town-wide effort that resulted in libraries for many Kenyan schools.

We will continue with the second round of this project over the next few months and will be gladdened to create even more libraries for African schools, and to enjoy the many heartfelt photos of children who are excited to receive them.

As a testament to the impact this project made on students across our community, I would like to share comments, in their own words, from students of all ages. (K-Kids are 1st through 6th graders, Builders Club is for 7th and 8th graders, and Key Clubbers are high school students in grades 9 through 12.)  

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“In the African Library Project, there’s a lot of steps. We collect books at school by putting them in a big box. We also make posters so they can have something to put in a new library. Sometimes we [create] bookmarks too. Then after the books are donated, we have to pack them into boxes and ship them to Africa. Doing all this work is definitely worth it! We help many kids learn to read and get more knowledge. Doing this makes us feel happy.” - Anabel (Aspen K-Kid)  

“The African Library Project is a very good project. It helps kids in Africa read and learn. Reading is a very important thing in life. In my experience, it takes a long time to finish a [book] drive. Kids from K-Kids remind other people to help out. In the years I have been in K-Kids, the bin overflows which is good because the more books we have the more libraries we make.” - Haylie (Aspen K-Kid)

“I have had a bunch of fun packing books for people that don’t have books. It always makes me smile when I see pictures of kids in Africa smiling, holding books. It is so fun helping kids learn from sending books to them. It is very awesome doing this fundraiser because you help people in need.” - River (Aspen K-Kid)

“When I did the African Library Project I remember watching a slideshow of all the schools we sent books to and the students enjoy them. I also remember gathering books each week and packing them. This made me happy knowing we could help some people in need.” - Takeshi (Aspen K-Kid)

“The African Library Project is a great thing. It helps people who do not have libraries get them. Kids also have fun getting books and fundraising.”  - Harry (Barranca K-Kid)

“I like helping the African Library Project. I think every kid should have a chance to read. I like seeing the pictures that were brought in from Africa by Ms. Allen.” - Damian (Barranca K-Kid)

“It is fun and it lets me know how happy those kids are about the books. It makes me feel really good inside. I think if other kids would do it they would be feeling happy inside. It helps me feel happy knowing all those kids are happy and it makes me want to do a whole lot of good. I also enjoyed packing books. I met up with old friends and saw that they were K-Kids which made me happy. But loading them in was heavy. But it was still fun.” - Destiny (Barranca K-Kid)

“That kids with a surplus of something will give time or effort to children thousands of miles away is a beautiful thing – after all, the world could always do with more kindness. Over the last few years, we’ve seen this beauty in our community through book drives and fundraisers for the African Library Project. Thousands of books have been delivered to children in need. We look forward to spreading more kindness in the future.” - Hailey (Builders Club)

“By working on service projects, such as the African Library Project, I learn how to be selfless, help others, and create positive environments.” - Ravijit (Builders Club)  

“The African Library Project has helped me and my peers become closer together as we help collect books and fundraise to ship books to Africa. There are no words that can describe the feelings that come from creating happiness within other countries in need of some hope.” - Dominic (Builders Club)

“The African Library Project was special to me because of the impact it made on the children. Receiving the letters from the kids and seeing all the pictures made me incredibly happy knowing I could contribute to that joy. It was a wonderful project. I would love to see Key Club continue working on it after I’m gone.” - Mackenzie Rogers (Key Club)

“The African Library Project was a great experience for all Kiwanis and Key Club members to come together and support a community and other kids like us. Supporting others through this project was a great way to bring people together!” - Morgan (Key Club)

 

Don Casperson

Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos, NM

 

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Dear African Library Project,

As a K-Kids member, I have been able to see how we have affected communities from here in Los Alamos, all the way to communities in Africa. The African Library Project has really helped us impact other people’s lives. To begin this project we watched a presentation that showed us where the books would be going. It was exciting to see exactly how far the books would go!

As part of this project, we collected and picked out the books we were going to send to the libraries in Africa. After picking out the books, we packed them into boxes with some posters we colored for the kids in Africa to decorate their libraries with and make them their own. After all the books were packed and ready to go we helped load all the boxes into the truck that would take the books to a ship that would then take the books to Africa, and celebrated as we saw our project on its way to Africa.

Once the books were delivered to Africa, we got to see footage of the kids there getting the books. It was so heartwarming to see the kid’s happy faces as they carried the books to their library. It showed us how fortunate we are to be able to help other people that are so far away.

After watching the footage, we heard about all the other things other people were doing to make the African Library Project possible. Volunteers were going to Africa to train teachers and show them how to teach their students to read and take care of the books. We heard about how the kids thought they had to read a whole chapter book during their break time because they didn’t know what the bookmarks were for. It was surprising to see how the kids had to learn everything from reading to using a bookmark!

Being a part of the African Library Project not only allowed us to help others so far away, but also opened up our eyes to just how fortunate we are to have everything we have.

Thank you for all you have done to make this possible.

Sincerely,

Uxue Sansiñena

President of the Chamisa Elementary School K-Kids

Los Alamos, NM

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In March 2009, our friend Kay left to serve in the Peace Corps in Lesotho, a small African country that I had not heard of before then.  A few months later an e-mail from Kay invited me to join the African Library Project (an organization I also had never heard of) to create a school library for children in Lesotho who had no books.  To continue their education beyond primary school, the children must pass an exam in English, their country’s official language, but not the children’s primary language. As a kid growing up in rural Kentucky, I remembered how precious books had been to me and readily agreed.  My wife, meanwhile, had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I was her caregiver. But gathering books and asking friends for financial support was something I could do while still being available to support her. With the help of a friend, I collected hundreds of books, but some were not appropriate for a school library.  I talked with a local, used bookstore owner and learned I could swap adult books for others that elementary-aged children would enjoy. So by September 2009, I had over 1,000 books and about $500 to pay for shipping to Lesotho.

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Many years before a friend had shared her three rules for happiness: someone to love, something to look forward to, and something meaningful to do. I found sending books to children, who had little access to reading material, was truly “something meaningful to do.” I smiled when Chris, ALP’s founder, posted on Facebook a picture of the shipload of containers heading for Africa. And, I have to confess I teared-up when I saw photographs of people in Lesotho unpacking books that I had sent. The warm feeling of helping beautiful children have a better life inspired me to create another library and then another.

In 2012 I fulfilled my dream of traveling to Africa and meeting the volunteers working with the schools in Malawi.  I also had the opportunity to visit several schools and see the precious children, many of whom had been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. I also met teachers, who, before receiving books from the African Library Project, taught their “learners” (I love this word) to read without books. I quickly realized the true value of the books I’d been sending. Looking at these beautiful faces, I was filled with love and gratitude for the opportunity to help improve their chances for a better life.

Now, almost ten years and 25-30 libraries and about 30,000 books later, I still find helping place books into the hands of children who have none is “something meaningful to do.” I have moved twice in the interim and needed to find new sources for books.  Fortunately, I have a school principal daughter and other teacher friends, who can pass on books that have been replaced, and another used-book store that is supportive.

Sending books to children who truly need them has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Also, age is not a limitation for making a difference in the world. I’m 81 years old and I just signed up to help create another library in Malawi in June of this year.

Coy Cross

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Did you know March is Women’s History Month? Though technically celebrated only in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, we believe it's important to raise awareness of how women in other countries have contributed to society in ways that can - and should - be celebrated internationally. Before this month ends, we want to stop and consider some of Africa’s most prominent women who have challenged the status quo and changed history because of it.

 

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf gained international recognition as a formidable politician, activist, and economist. She was born in Liberia and studied at Harvard University, later becoming the first democratically elected female head of state of Liberia. As a global leader, Sirleaf has worked to promote peace and social and economic development across the African region.


Wangari Maathai (Kenya)

It isn’t the first time we’ve celebrated Wangari Maathai, and it certainly won’t be the last. Born in Kenya, Maathai was an environmental political activist, a 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, author of four books, and the founder of the Green Belt Movement. Alongside her many accomplishments, Maathai was the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and a professor after she became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

Her list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. Most known for her outstanding contributions as an activist for democracy and human rights and educator, Maathai truly had Kenya and her fellow African people in mind - and in her heart - as she built a legacy that would eventually go on to make her one of Africa’s most internationally recognized women.

 

Yaa Asantewaa (Ghana)

Asantewaa was known as “Queen mother of Ejisu” or modern-day Ghana. An inspirational and historically relevant female figure, she is recognized for playing a large role in “confronting British colonial rule” during her period in the early 1900s.

 

Joyce Banda (Malawi)

Winner of Forbes’ “Most powerful woman in Africa” and named the 40th most powerful woman in the world, Joyce Banda is the first female to be elected president in Malawi. As the founder of the National Association of Business Women, Young Women Leaders Network, and the Hunger Project, Banda has fought for human rights and education across Malawi.

 

Dahomey Amazons (Present day Benin)

Okay, so this may be a cheat but this list wouldn’t be complete without a group of fearless women. Dahomey's Women Warriors was comprised of a group of revered all-female fighters from the Dahomey Kingdom who played an essential role in the endless war that ragged across the country. They were also known to take on prominent government roles in the kingdom as well as serving as the king’s royal entourage.

The stories of their fearsome battles and lethal combat and structure are told all over the world. Some even speculate that Black Panther, the 2018 best-selling action movie, was influenced by the well-known force.