Did you know that most African children grow up without ever seeing or working with any books, that this continent has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world and that by adulthood most Africans lose their ability to read due to lack of available materials?
Chris Bradshaw of Portola Valley, California, was unaware of the enormity of this issue when she embarked on a long vacation to Africa in 2005. While homeschooling her two young children (ages 10 and 13 at the time), she brought them to a remote village in the small country of Lesotho in Southern Africa. Chris was astonished to hear from their tour guide that there was only one library in the entire country, in the capital. She says she couldn't stop thinking about all the American bookshelves overflowing with books.
The Portola Valley resident decided to make an offer to the village leadership that if they would provide the space, furniture, staff and a library committee, she would provide the books. Two months later, the building was half way done and the leadership had decided to assign a Peace Corps Volunteer to the project, who turned out serendipitously to be a retired librarian. Together this team started the first five libraries of the African Library Project.
Chris and I were introduced because of our shared love for Africa. When we first met, we took a hike. I was immediately impressed with her quiet and unassuming manner. It's that gentle style that helps her to run and spread the success of the African Library Project. Chris realized that the simple act of establishing libraries with used books would have a profound effect on increasing literacy.
She and her team focused on working closely with local teachers and community leaders on the ground to begin and sustain the African Library Project (ALP). This organization follows the basic model that was set up during Chris's initial visit to Africa -- each local community ponies up the infrastructure and ALP provides the books by coordinating book drives throughout the United States. As ALP has grown, partnerships have developed with African NGOs or governments to vet the local projects and provide ongoing support.
To date, ALP has:
- Completed 561 libraries in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Nigeria, Botswana, Swaziland and Malawi;
- Created 475 partnerships with U.S. schools and other organizations;
- Donated over 612,000 books.
Recently, the founder nominated one of her tireless volunteers, Tatiana Grossman, a 15 year old from Palo Alto, California, for the International Children's Peace Prize. Tatiana, the first-ever American finalist for this award, is being recognized for working with the African Library Project to help start 18 libraries serving 25,000 people in 78 schools and villages in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Tati gave tens of thousands of African children gifts that will last a lifetime -- education, hope, and inspiration. They benefit both from the books and from knowing that Tati, a child their own age, is committed to promoting literacy," says Chris.
At age 12, Tatiana learned that as many as three-fourths of the kids in some sub-Saharan nations never learn to read. She started collecting books and raising money to ship them to Africa as part of the ALP.
"Just being nominated is such a surprise and honor," Tatiana said. "I hope that others who learn about this year's prize will collect books and support literacy. Libraries are so important to the children and communities that receive them. They change lives, generation after generation."
Tatiana is one of four finalists for the International Children's Peace Prize to be awarded Nov. 29 in The Hague by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum.
The International Children's Peace Prize, an initiative started by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Committee and the Dutch organization KidsRights, honors exceptional children between the ages of 12 and 18 who devote themselves to children's rights and make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.
The finalists were announced on Nov. 13 during the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima by the KidsRights Foundation, which awards the prize annually and gives 100,000 Euro ($140,000 USD) to the winner's cause.
Kids who have won the annual prize in past years have made remarkable efforts to improve children's lives around the world, working to end child slavery in India, stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and protect kids from violence in the favelas of Brazil. The Amsterdam-based KidsRights Foundation and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Committee launched the award in 2005.
ALP is a completely volunteer-based organization. For more information, look at their website. Thank you Chris and your team for making a difference in the world. Congratulations to Tatiana for all her GREAT work.