While searching the Internet for a community project for the English Club, Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D., came across the African Library Project, a U.S. nonprofit that collects, sorts, and sends gently used children’s books to African communities. From now until March, the English Club will collect 1,000 books at the fourth- to eighth-grade levels and raise $500 for shipping.

“We selected this project because one of the things the English Club sets out to do is to be a leader in literacy on campus and in the community,” said Dr. Stanley, associate professor and chair of the Spelman English department. “Many African nations have a very high illiteracy rate, and this is a great way to lead in terms of literacy. It also gave us a great way to have a global connection, honing in on Spelman women as global leaders.”

Dr. Tarshia Stanley

Pony-Trekking in Africa

As a college student traveling across Africa, Chris Bradshaw, founder of the African Library Project, was overwhelmed by the poverty and a lack of education she witnessed on the continent. She vowed she would one day return to make a difference. Bradshaw considered opening a school, but logic and logistics made her reconsider.

Fast-forward several years and Bradshaw is pony-trekking across Lesotho in 2004. When her eighth-grade son, Ben, pulled out a book and started reading, she wondered about library access in the rural area. Bradshaw questioned her guide regarding how many libraries were in Lesotho.

Chris Bradshaw

“He thought about it and said, ‘I think there is one in the capital city.’ After noodling around on horseback for several days, I just couldn’t stop thinking about one library in an entire country,” said Bradshaw, an ardent traveler who has traveled, lived and worked in 58 countries on five continents including 19 African countries.

Thinking about the glut of books in the United States, she decided opening a library would make a profound difference in this rural area. Since 2005, the nonprofit African Library Project has opened 890 libraries in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Nigeria, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi and Ghana.

It Takes a Library to Raise the Literacy Rate

According to the African Library Project, Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world. “Much of rural Africa has no access to books, so oral tradition is how information is handed down. Without books, developing literacy is impossible.”

The African Library Project’s hosts of volunteers include 750 partnerships with U.S. schools and other organizations, and a volunteer board who is passionate about literacy and Africa, and have all traveled to Africa. Through partnerships that include U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, National Library Service staff, education districts, and African nongovernmental organizations, the African Library Project has collected 975,000 books for its libraries.

Middle-School Boys

Dr. Stanley and the English Club want to collect series books, particularly those for middle-school boys. From “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” to “Harry Potter,” the club will collect the books and pay to ship them to New Orleans where they will board a ship to Africa.

“It’s amazing how something so simple as a book can change the lives of not only a people but a continent,” said Dr. Stanley, who teaches courses in film and media studies particularly as it pertains to images of women of African descent. “Spelman proves itself to be a world leader, and we will continue to make a difference in literacy.”

A New Library Every Day

In 2011, the African Library Project opened 191 libraries and is on target to do about 300 in 2013. “I am excited about the day when we can say that we’ve done 365, and I can say we’ve done one a day,” said Bradshaw, who has worked with nonprofits serving the homeless and children of war-torn countries.

“There is so much need in Africa, and my goal is to make sure that every African has access to information,” said Bradshaw, who has a bachelor’s in sociology from Denison University with minors in African studies and studio art. “Our organization is grassroots, and we depend on the help of other grassroots efforts like the students at Spelman. The response from all around the country and the world is that people care about Africa.”

To help the English Club in its efforts, send your books and donations to the English Department,
Box 745, Spelman College, 350 Spelman Lane, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30314-4399. Make checks to Spelman English Department/Club; write African Library Project or Book Drive in the subject line. – Renita Mathis is director of Interactive Communications and associate director for the Office of Communications at Spelman College.