As promised Miranda is back to guest post here again. This time to talk about her venture into her Project called “1 Million Books for Gambia.”
An Unfinished Story
By Miranda Paul
Stepping into a new classroom is a nerve-wracking venture. When I entered my first classroom as a student teacher in Maryland, I was sweaty. I’d made piles of three-ringed binders to prepare. My 1200-page Literature textbook was stickered with Post-It Flags. I scanned the room. Audio CDs? Check. Encyclopedias and dictionaries? Check. Projector cart? Check. Everything was set, and I couldn’t wait to meet my students.
A few months later, I found myself about to enter a completely different classroom–on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I’d missed the first day of school because of a four-day flight delay. When I finally arrived in The Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country, the airport’s electricity was off and it took several hours to get my baggage.
Racing to the school in an overcrowded bus-taxi, I met my new principal. She handed me a one-page curriculum (in typewriter font) and a few pieces of chalk. Everything was set, and my students were already waiting for me.
I greeted class after class of 50+ students–and realized maybe a quarter of them had a “textbook,” which looked more like a mini-collection of stories with review questions. It didn’t take long to find out that the majority of my tenth graders couldn’t read or write English fluently. And those who could would probably test at a fourth or fifth grade level.
What was going on? After a couple of months, I realized: no one has books. Even the school’s “library,” which was grossly understocked was “off-limits” to students, for fear that books might go missing. My host family’s house was filled with children, but devoid of picture books. Thus, there was no bedtime story tradition. No libraries in my town, and no bookstores.
After that teaching stint, I came to learn a statistic that there was only about one book for every 1,000 Gambians. And then I discovered something just as surprising–only in a good way. A twenty five year-old girl who lived in Minneapolis was starting a project to send a million books to Gambia to fight the “book famine,” as she called it.
One Million Books for Gambia.
I was in.
I began collecting books and bucks from friends just after Megan Meyer, the young woman who thought up the project, built her first library in The Gambia. It was a 7,500-book medical library installed in a rural hospital. Seeing her project so well done inspired me even more.
Since it only costs about fifty cents per book to get it to Gambia, and the official language is English, collecting books and bucks was easy–people could measure their results. I booked some school visits and got kids involved in helping African kids by collecting books and bucks. And what I did was only a teeny-tiny part of the effort–because the effort attracted several corporate sponsors.
The best part of my efforts thus far came in February and March of 2012. I got to travel with several of the sponsors and volunteers to Gambia. 44,000 books, 31 libraries, and thousands of smiles later I got back on a plane knowing we’d changed the ratio of books to people. And, we had about 950,000 books to go.
But perhaps the most important thing I discovered through this phase of 1 Million Books for Gambia was that there are Gambian teachers and parents who are just as dedicated to literacy in their classrooms and households as I am in my own home. They told stories of rebuilding libraries four times after flooding rains. Shared dreams of their children being able to read, or maybe even write books one day. And left behind all their responsibilities to walk for two days from border to border, promoting literacy.
I realize how rich my life experiences have been–and wonder what kind of person I’d have turned out to be if I hadn’t learned to read at age four, or hadn’t grown up with a mother who took me to my city’s free library every week.
As a result, I think about money in a different way now. Since discovering 1 Million Books for Gambia, I measure money in books. And books built literacy. Which equals opportunity.
Fifty dollars supplies a classroom, fifty opportunities.
And libraries fill the future with opportunities.
You can read a lot more of my story here. But my story’s never finished. I hope you’ll join me and be a part of it.
If you’d like more information on how to donate books or bucks to 1 Million Books for Gambia, please visit BooksForAfrica.org and click “Donate To A Project” to locate this project in The Gambia. You can also lear more about Megan Meyer and her health and literacy organization at www.HandinHealth.org.
Checks can be mailed to:
1 Million Books for Gambia Project
Books For Africa,
253 E. 4th St.
St. Paul, MN 55101