Fifteen large boxes filled with books were stacked in the lobby of Broadway Court Estates retirement community Thursday morning, surrounded by residents who had worked to collect 1,000 children’s books and $500 to send them to Africa to create a library.
The residents were enthusiastic about their contribution to the African Library Project, a nonprofit organization based in California that has established 1,165 libraries in African countries since 2005.
“We’re so excited,” said Nancy Wilson, a retired school librarian. She and her mother, retired school superintendent Marguerite Simon, recently moved into the facility and approached the residents about creating a library. The duo previously teamed up to establish two libraries in Malawi in 2009 after Wilson read about the African Library Project in a magazine. “I had a room full of children’s books,” she said. “We decided it was a worthwhile venture.”
The libraries are established at schools in areas where books, even textbooks, are rare. The schools often have no electricity. “A book is a very precious thing there,” said Simon.
Each school agrees to provide space for the library and to train someone to staff it. The books the residents collected are going to the Manthabakwe Primary School in Botswana, which has more than 1,000 students in preschool through fifth grade.
Broadway Court residents asked family members to send them books, combed through thrift store shelves and hit yard sales to collect a wide variety of books. The Spokane Valley Library gave residents first crack at the children’s books it had received for its annual book sale. When resident Kay Russell got involved in the project she called her son, Freeman School District Superintendent Randy Russell. He brought over three boxes of books. “I was so tickled about that,” Kay Russell said.
As they collected the books, Broadway Court residents were reading and discussing books they had read as children. “There was so much interest sparked by this,” she said. “It gets them out of their rooms, away from the TV.”
The residents also sent letters and photos. They will receive letters from the children in return. Simon and Wilson said they still get letters from children impacted by the libraries they helped create in Malawi.
The group of residents is well on its way to having another 1,000 books for a second library. Raising the money to ship the books overseas has been the hardest part of the effort, Wilson said. Several fundraisers were held and more are likely on the horizon.
On Thursday a group of residents boarded a bus to escort the boxes to the post office. “We’re going to get them weighed and wave goodbye,” Wilson said.
But Wilson and her mother may see the books again soon. They are planning a trip to Botswana next year to see the library they helped establish. They are sure to return with pictures and stories to inspire their fellow residents to collect more books.