My daughter is taking a sociology course that requires her to put in some volunteer time at a local nonprofit organization. She chose Books for Africa and I decided to tag along with her and put in some volunteer hours of my own.
The experience was eye-opening. I didn't realize that most children in Africa have never owned even one book, and in some regions (thanks to political purges and the like) the younger children have never even seen a book before. They have to be taught how to hold them, turn the pages, and so on. Some schools have one textbook that all the children share, and libraries are few and far between. Illiteracy and poverty are inextricably linked, and Books for Africa is working to break that cycle.
I'm an author. I write books. I read books, lots of them. I've always been surrounded by books, at school and at home. But that's because I'm a middle-class American. I think maybe I've been taking the idea of literacy for granted, since it's such an ordinary thing here. But that's not the case everywhere.
The Books for Africa employee who did our volunteer orientation talked about the "book famine" in Africa, and that phrase really struck me. The books that Books for Africa ships out go to rural communities, to the schools that are desperate for books, in places where the "school" may simply be an empty building with no furniture or supplies and a Peace Corps volunteer teacher. And boy, do they ship a lot of books.
My daughter and I spent a solid day sorting and packing books to be sent to a school that teaches grades 1 through 8. Publishers and libraries donate textbooks, storybooks, and more. Individuals can donate books as well, but please pay attention to the guidelines. My daughter and I spent a lot of time separating out books that the organization can't use, and that's a waste of everyone's time and resources.
More than books, though, Books for Africa needs funds. It costs 50 cents or more to reliably ship each book to its destination (they place an emphasis on reliably - there's no point in sending stuff that's not going to reach the people who need it). We saw row upon row of boxed, palleted books in the warehouse where we were working. They load those pallets into giant metal shipping containers that are then shipped (literally, across the ocean) to ports in Africa and then delivered from there to rural schools that need them. All of that costs money.
You can donate to the organization in general, to a specific project (pick an African country and see exactly which school or library the books are going to), or in honor of a friend or family member. I encourage you to look through the Books for Africa website and consider choosing them as a charity you donate to. If you live in the Atlanta (Georgia, USA) or Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minnesota, USA) areas, please consider volunteering with them. It takes a lot of time to sort and pack the books that will be sent out, and many hands make light work.
I'm going to get back to my writing now, and maybe read a bit this afternoon if I have time. I'm surrounded by books on shelves and words on a computer screen. I'll do my best not to take that for granted anymore.