May 28, 2010

The shipment of books leaves June 19!

As we left A.V. Bukani last year, principal Z. Thambo said to us, "I think it is time to build our library." We wholeheartedly agreed and said we would make that happen. Little did we know that this project would take over our lives the next year. But we've never had a more exhiliterating, exhausting, inspiring, overwhelming experience. We've made dozens of presentations all over the Washington, DC, region; visited wonderful schools; talked with businesses and individuals eager to help; and spent every free waking (and some we should have been sleeping) moment organizing, labeling, or boxing the books.

Did we bite off more than we could chew? Absolutely. More than we could chew alone. But with incredible support from schools, volunteers, and businesses, we've been able to feast on this project and share in its great bounty.

Last week we counted and weighed the boxes of books we are sending -- 598 boxes weighing 6 1/2 tons!! That's the size of a large adult male African elephant :) We haven't finished cataloging and labeling all the books, but we are estimating about 25,000+ books that will soon be on their way to a rural township filled with people who had been forbidden to educate others or read quality books just a few years ago.
We can't say enough about the amazing support we've had in this project. There are many individual moments -- A volunteer telling us about the time she spent in South Africa during Apartheid providing pro bono legal care to Blacks arrested for crimes such as reading forbidden books that might open their eyes to the rest of the world. Or watching high school students, with families from Sudan, Guatemala and Bolivia come to volunteer time after time to organize books for chidlren in South Africa.

We have an incredible group of dedicated volunteers organizing the books. Many contacted us after reading the Washington Post article. They drive, sometimes for hours in traffic, from Gaithersburg and Centerville and Silver Spring and Alexandria week afte
r week, staying until they finish "just one more box."

And the book drives! Thousands of children gave their books to other children in a far-away country, who are just as bright
and just as hopeful, but don't have the same resources. The books are beautiful picture books, with dedications from "grandma and grandpa" or a favorite aunt; or amazing non-fiction books that will open these students to new worlds. Parents, teachers, and students not only collected books, but sorted and labeled them.

We thank the following schools and organizations for their major book drives:
Fairfax County Schools Wolftrap Elementary, Dranesville Elementary, Sunrise Valley Elementary, Terra Centre Elementary, and Kilmer Middle School; Loudoun County Schools including Eagle Ridge Middle School; The New School; The senior class of The Madeira School; St. Ambrose School; Faithful and True Christian Center; and Girl Scout Service Unit 42-1 of the Nations Capital. We also appreciate the help with labeling provided by Falls Church High School Life Skills Class and the Hayfield High School Leo Club.

The books donated through book drives or directly to us have been of such wonderful quality. We are blown away with the caring that went into these donations. We are particularly grateful to a number of recently retired teachers who donated their prized personal libraries.

There are so many ways people have supported this project -- from librarian Katalin Mouyal who ferreted out all the book pockets in DC so we could make our books library-ready; to the Dranesville 3rd grade teachers and students who organized the book drive for the entire school; to parent Amy Beck who did her own personal book drive and handed over 1200 books, all sorted and labeled by her family; to 8-year-old Andrew Strasberg who secured several hundred donated books from his school librarian and then worked with his friends to make sure each one had a library pockets and blank card; to Loudoun County School librarian Lelah Sullivan who organized a book drive in multiple schools in Loudoun and then delivered 30 boxes of sorted and labeled books; to Roni Silverstein who collected books from fellow administrators in Montgomery County Public Schools; to Sunrise Valley Elementary teacher Anisha Goveas-Foti who became committed to this project after hearing our presentation and spent countless hours organizing books both at her school and at our home. Many, many others donated their time and resources in creative ways.

We've also had wonderful support from businesses, including Burness Communications of Bethesda which has supported this project through much-needed grants both this year and last. Telegraph Storage was generous and supportive by providing storage space and collecting books in the office. Ron Escopete of Cargo One has been a true source of knowledge and support, handling the shipment on its way to South Africa. And our dear friend Dan (who wants to remain anonymous so I won't print his last name) whose help and expertise in international shipping made this all possible. Please read about the businesses that have supported this project in "Our Supporters" page.
We thank our very generous contributors. While much of the labor is being donated, shipping costs will be about $15,000, including purchase of the shipping container and fitting it with doors, windows and electricity (yes, the costs do keep going up). We have raised about $9000 so far.

If you would like to help pay the cost of shipping this wonderful library to A.V. Bukani school, please see "How to donate" page

The shipment leaves June 17!! Larry, Sara and I will be returning in August to set up the library, help the teachers use the books in their instruction, and work with the families on how to get the most out of a library. This time we'll be joined with Sara's husband Alex Berens, her college roommate Cecile Kaiser, and Sunrise Valley Elementary School teacher Anisha Goveas-Foti. What a team! We cannot wait.