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Books, Books, Books > Charity "Books for Africa"

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message 1: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
From the good folks at GoodReads, "Books for Africa" is the featured charity for September 2010.


message 2: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 165 comments I have to voice my skepticism. (Though I'd be happy to be proved wrong.)

Some years ago I served on the library committee of the Ghana Institution of Engineers. We accepted an offer of a container full of books for which we had to pay the freight. What we received was largely publishers' unsaleable junk, multiple copies of obsolete computer books and the like. I failed to find one useful book in the whole consignment.

I recall being told that the publishers who donated the books received tax benefits.

I suspect that many donated books imported for children may be of doubtful value or plain unsuitable. That doesn't apply only to the donated books. Yesterday, in a friend's bookstore I was horrified to see cartons full of Enid Blyton books.

The Ghana Book Trust www.ghanabooktrust.com receives and distributes books donated from abroad.

At http://news.peacefmonline.com/education/201001/37099.php there is news of a Books for Africa donation to the Book Trust.

What we need is support for African writers of children's books and their publishers. The recent Burt Award, administered by the same Ghana Book Trust, makes sense. More on that at Book Trust website.

You'll find another approach at www.worldreader.org. These well-meaning folks plan to distribute Kindles packed with books to children in African schools.

Steve Vosloo's project (http://m4lit.wordpress.com/) (Book-Poor, but Mobile Phone-Rich?) seems to make more sense, based as it is on real-world research.

Any thoughts?


message 3: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
indeed; you do a marvelous job of shoring up my own skepticism...

the donation business is tricky; people are often offered incentives like tax deductions and they donate for that purpose without any real thought or knowledge about what is really needed. a lot of useless junk (high-heeled shoes, anyone?) went to indonesia after the tsunami a few years ago. however, i am sure just as much useful items and money were donated, too. i think a lot of it depends on the donation mechanism. by posting the link to "Books For Africa" i was not endorsing it...it was meant as FYI...of course people should investigate a little before they donate to any organization. i have not investigated that group yet.

i agree wholeheartedly with what you said: What we need is support for African writers of children's books and their publishers. it's like, why does the U.S. donate so much used clothing to Africa when there are plenty of raw materials and resources for making cloth, manufacturing clothing, selling that clothing?

However, back to the books, i think there are different levels of need across the continent and i'm sure there are locales that are in dire need of basic texts for schoolchildren that could only arrive via donation at this moment in time...which brings us back to the delivery mechanism. does it really work? maybe someone who works in the foreign aid/international development field can speak to that.

regarding that dire need...one interesting example comes to mind: a friend of mine was teaching at a school for sudanese refugees in cairo. egypt does not provide schooling for refugees. my friend had to build her own curriculum and secure her own supplies. she was very creative in doing so, but having enough appropriate textbooks was really really tricky. i can't quite remember how she resolved it, but i do recall that receiving a container of donated books in egypt was *not* easy.

i've been curious about this new era of e-books and e-readers...it seems like it would be a very efficient and cost-effective way to deliver books...but what do publishers think? i'm anxious to read all your links...i wrote this without having read them... :D


message 4: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Okay, I wasn't going to say anything, as generally one doesn't like to criticize a charity, but I have to comment because I've actually dealt with this organization too. As a bookseller and teacher, I've accumulated a HUGE stash of carefully chosen books for my own school and for a public elementary school in Kenya. I though Books for Africa might be willing to help with freight costs. When I contacted them, they wanted me to donate MY books to them, and then select ( I don't know what that would involve) from their own collection and pay or collect donations for freight to ship the books to Kenya. I pointed out that this was of absolutely no use to me. I had the books and I wasn't about to give them to a third party. So they probably do some great stuff, but I backed out of that pretty quickly.


message 5: by Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (last edited Sep 09, 2010 12:08PM) (new)

Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) Manu wrote: "Some years ago I served on the library committee of the Ghana Institution of Engineers. We accepted an offer of a container full of books for which we had to pay the freight. What we received was largely publishers' unsaleable junk, multiple copies of obsolete computer books and the like. I failed to find one useful book in the whole consignment."

What Manu is saying, yay

Where I live is not poor or third-world, although a lot of the people from other islands who live here certainly are. However, the island libraries, including the high school one, mostly have books that are donated by charities, but primarily by other libraries.

The island libraries do buy books of (political) Black interest and they do buy a couple of thousand dollars worth of children's books a year, other than that, its charity books.

Most of these are ex-library books and rarely of any interest. The children's books are often musty-smelling - no one has wanted to read them in years that is why they are being culled and the kids here don't want to read them either. If these books have any effect it is to put off children from going to libraries as there is rarely anything of interest for them.

If the books don't interest anyone back home, then all the donation might be doing is enriching freight companies and letting governments back out of their commitments. Its bad enough being poor without being made to feel you only deserve third-best leavings as well.


message 6: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Perhaps it would be better for the charities to buy the books in country and donate them to schools? I know there are countries where the govt. probably can't afford to buy all the books, but there are surely bookstores and publishers as Petra and Manu have pointed out. Again, I'm pretty sure most of these charities are well-meaning and perhaps in some situations things work out well.


message 7: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
this is an awesome conversation. i like petra's point, no one has wanted to read them in years that is why they are being culled and the kids here don't want to read them either. If these books have any effect it is to put off children from going to libraries as there is rarely anything of interest for them.

this is actually something i've been interested in for a long time...many developing countries have high literacy rates, yet no one reads in their spare time, for many reasons. but one of those reasons as far as i can tell, is that most people don't have access to books because books are expensive and public lending libraries are non-existent. a friend of mine from an African country with a very high literacy rate did not ever go to a library until he went to university. he thinks reading is pretty cool, but it was not an activity he was exposed to growing up.

even used bookstores in the U.S. are very selective about books they will take. i think all those leftovers would do better going into the recycling bin.

i think it's fine to criticize charities...i think your experience is very telling, andrea, and it's incredibly important information. i'd really like to know more about how these things work (or don't work, as the case may be).

i LOVE this point, petra: If the books don't interest anyone back home, then all the donation might be doing is enriching freight companies and letting governments back out of their commitments.

and andrea's idea about convincing in-country bookstores and publishers to make the donations...what kinds of incentives would store owners and publishers need?


message 8: by Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (last edited Sep 09, 2010 02:23PM) (new)

Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) If people wanted to make donations lots of booksellers would be willing to put together a package by buying from their sources. Hurts (books that end up in used bookshops that look new) have damaged covers, bent ends, nothing much, but they go very cheaply indeed. Shipping is occasionally possible to another country, but more likely would be only in the US (and at cost), then the receiver would have to make arrangements to send it on.

Possibly 'books for Africa' type charities could ask people to sell five used paperbacks for a dollar each and send the money to the scheme. That $5 would finance a carefully-chosen book, the shipping in the US and the shipping abroad, might even be a little over to put towards a more expensive next book.


Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) Marieke wrote: "and andrea's idea about convincing in-country bookstores and publishers to make the donations...what kinds of incentives would store owners and publishers need?"

You couldn't do this as an individual unless you had an association with a charity, but bookstores sell the certain of their books that have not sold in the shops to remainder and hurts companies. I don't think they pay very much per book, a dollar or so, if that, and you have to take them by the skid. You have no choice in the books, but a bookseller like Borders would only stock reasonably popular books anyway so that shouldn't be a problem. So you could negotiate to buy a certain number of skids at the same price as they would sell them at. The problem there lies in the fact that the skids would have to go straight to a shippers (who has a loading bay at home?) and they couldn't be sorted. Also the bookseller may have a contract to sell all the hurts to a certain company.

I can buy mixed skids quite cheaply, so again, maybe give a bookseller the donated money and see what they can come up with.


message 10: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i was thinking...how difficult would it be, both logistics-wise and economics-wise, for say, a store or publisher (or a consortium) in Accra to donate books to school libraries in rural Ghana? or Benin? does developing an effective book-donation scheme to libraries-in-need (or create libraries in the first place) have to require long-distance shipping?

Sometimes Borders and Barnes&Noble in the US conduct donation drives where they ask people to purchase a children's book that is then delivered to Children's Hospital (for example)...is something like that feasible in large cities?

Manu, what is the publishing scene like these days in Ghana? besides Egypt and South Africa, where are the African publishing hotspots? i know Zimbabwe was, once upon a time...


message 11: by Wendy (new)

Wendy | 19 comments Marieke wrote: "From the good folks at GoodReads, "Books for Africa" is the featured charity for September 2010."

This email stream is very interesting and timely for me. As you may recall, I sponsor a child in Lusaka, Zambia through Children International. I have also made a request and am waiting to hear about sponsoring his brother. Anyway, I have been in touch with CI about the school my child attends and have gotten a report from the school on their needs. They had 3 areas of need. The first was to raise $ for some more teachers salaries. The second was for computers. The third was for books. Currently, the children (these are kids through about a U.S. grade 5 equivalent) have a 4 to 1 ratio on sharing books. The teachers would like to get to a 2 to 1 ratio on sharing books. I've been sent a spreadsheet of the costs this would entail - and the current thought is that I might help to raise the $ so CI could buy the books. I've been mulling this over - how to do it. I would love to hear from any of you on fund raising, or your thoughts here. Please feel free to email me directly at jawspope@charter.net. I know this is a bit off topic - but it seems like many of you are like minded and have some experiences collectively that I'd really like to tap into!
Manu - thank you for the website's, I will be looking into them. I've often felt that if some of these non-profits spoke with each other, they could be more efficient and helpful!
Wendy


message 12: by Anne (new)

Anne (awarf) I find this whole thread about book donations very interesting. I previously mentioned my 2-week volunteer trip to Zambia in 2007, for Alliance for Children Everywhere. ACE periodically arranges for containers to come over from the U.S. for donated items. They pay shipping, but ask donors for help. In addition to the cost of the shipping, they have to pay the costs for the container and the rental location to store the container, while waiting for the container to fill (sometimes 6-12 months). Donors ship boxes, a few at a time from around the U.S. (I should note that ACE works with donors from other countries as well - I am only familiar with their operations in the U.S.) Once full, the container ships and goes to a storage facility with customs in Zambia, until it is approved for release. I understand customs sometimes just lets it sit there untouched for several months.

I learned about all of this because of a book collection that our church took upon itself. Our church's original intent was to start a library for one particular school and community that ACE helps. There was so much more to this than I ever expected. We collected books for about 6 months (before and after my trip). Before sending the books, a group of us went through every single book for appropriateness. Although we gave donors a list of considerations in choosing books, we ended up discarding about half of the books for all of the reasons mentioned in this thread. We were able to send quite a few new books, as some donors went in search of African children's books at local book stores. Donors also contributed a dollar with each donated book, to help defray shipping costs. In the end, we collected a rental truck full of books (and a few other boxes of school supplies, and such) to ship over. Our church found a couple of volunteers to drive the rental truck across country to the container storage site. Once the container filled, shipped, cleared customs and arrived at the intended site, it was over a year later.

Of course, before starting all of this, we found ourselves in discussions with ACE about the logistics of how to use the books once they arrived. We originally wanted to set up a library for one particular community, because of an African friend we had from this community. (He was a graduate student in our city for 2 years, and became acquainted with us while attending our church.) Our good intentions ended up being a HUGE learning experience. We found that the concept of a "library" is just not known in many of these communities. ACE was hesitant to accept our donation because of some negative experiences they had had in trying to set up libraries in the past, and bad feelings that resulted with donors. (This was one reason we were advised to read "African Friends and Money Matters"). People were just not used to the concept of checking out a book as "theirs" and taking the responsibility of returning it. When people have "luxury" items sitting in their home, it is often thought of as community property. If a neighbor comes in and asks to use the item, it is very rude to turn the neighbor down. It is easy for the book to get passed on, then passed on, and so forth, until it soon becomes "lost". Someone who doesn't know where the book originated might sell it to feed their hungry children that evening. It is not thought of as "stealing". It is thought of as community property and neighbors do what they can to help each other out.

Then, there is the issue of lighting. Most of the people (even many children when they are not in school) are out trying to earn money for basic food during the day. They come back in the evenings and have no lighting. They might be able to read by candle light, if they have candles. Otherwise, it is difficult to find a place to read.

Because of all of this, ACE explained that the libraries they have tried setting up in the past, usually lose most of their books within a year. Our "simple" book collection suddenly seemed very complicated.

So, after many discussions (and with advice from our African friend), we decided to set up a "reading room" with children's books only. This actually made it easier for us to collect books -- we were able to give donors direction in the type of books to collect. Only one of the 10 or 12 schools that ACE partners with had electricity, so it was agreed that a room would be set up in this school for reading. Children from any of the schools (not just the one we originally intended to help), would have access to the books. The books (at least initially) would not be checked out. Since most of the children had no lighting at home, this seemed like the perfect solution. I believe adults or children could use the room in the evenings. The children would have a place to read and adults could gather if they needed a place with lighting. Last I heard, the "reading room" has been successful. I have to admit, with this discussion, I am thinking I should follow up on it.

I have a couple of additional thoughts about other comments from the thread...

1) As for "kindles", this sounds very well-intentioned, but not realistic -- at least not in the communities I visited. Kindles need power. Individuals with regular power are more likely to already have access to books. (As an aside, before I traveled to Zambia, a friend asked if she could donate an electric sewing machine she no longer needed. When offered to ACE, I heard reluctance in the voice without understanding why. They ended up accepting it, saying that they would use it in one of the crisis nurseries, to make clothing, diapers and such for the children. After arriving in Zambia and visiting many of these poor communities, I understood the reluctance. I noticed a random sewing machine sitting here or there on a front porch. I assume they were outside for lighting purposes. All of the sewing machines were the old "foot-pump" Singer sewing machines from the early 1900s, that many of us in the US now have sitting around our homes for decoration.) Back to books...

2) I really like the idea of donating money to commission African authors to write books. I'm sure there are many considerations that go along with this as well. I visited a couple of book stores in Lusaka (Zambia's capitol) and looked specifically at costs. A typical paperback novel that may cost $15 in the US cost somewhere around $25 there (taking into account the conversion rate at the time). So, if cost is the primary consideration, one needs to consider (i) the costs of commissioning an author, publishing costs (I have no idea how these may differ), and raising enough funds to pay for the more expensive books to be purchased in that country, or (ii) purchasing less expensive books (at least in countries where they ARE less expensive) and using the excess funds to pay the shipping costs. I don't know which would be more cost-effective.

Then again, I'm thinking like an American. Maybe cost shouldn't be the primary consideration. Perhaps it should be making work available to the African authors, store keepers and such. I do think this is an important consideration, and maybe more important than cost effectiveness. If only the solutions, were simple!


Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) If anyone is interested and can get their act together quickly, then these books are all new or remainders, no hurts. Its a nice company, but going into liquidation. Its a $100 min. plus shipping.

"This is just a friendly reminder about our 50 cents per book sale, that is going on at a1overstock.com. Every book much go, so please hurry up and fill your baskets."

If anyone wanted to buy from them and they wouldn't let you because you are not trade, let me know and I could probably sort it out.


message 14: by Muphyn (last edited Sep 12, 2010 06:49PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Wow, what an enlightning discussion thread this has turned into!!

I need to think about some of these things a bit more (though a lot resonates) and I do have misgievings about making kindles etc. available for precisely those (and other) reasons that Anne mentioned.

I've never thought about the concept of a "library" being foreign in other cultures, but, of course, it makes perfect sense! Thanks for bringing that up, Anne!

My background is in sociolinguistics, so I think my main concern about shipping books to developing countries is the language factor. Language is such a contentious issue in many African countries (and, of course, right around the world) - I assume that most of the donated books would be in English. This may or may not be a problem in some countries but can involve a number of issues, right from across early literacy, language maintenance/shift from minority languages, dominant languages (which may not necessarily be 'official languages') and power, etc... (I'm probably not getting my point across very clearly, it's too early in the morning but let's just say that it's complex. Happy to elaborate...)


message 15: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Interesting discussion. I've seen several school libraries in Kenya that were open to the public, but they were all "reading room" type libraries rather than "lending" libraries. I didn't see a lot of adults actually using them, but elementary to high school aged students seemed to enjoy a quiet place to read. None of the ones I saw had electricity. They were smaller, single story buildings with windows on both sides of the room to let in sunlight. The design plans for our school call for all the whole building to be the width of a single classroom with windows on both sides and angling the building on site to take maximum advantage of afternoon sun (it doesn't get very hot at 8000 feet, even in the afternoon.). Natural light in classrooms is apparently the common thing even in relatively well to do schools. At this time, we've pretty much decided that we will ship the books we've collected, which are a careful selection and includes my own books, with our personal effects ina a shipping container. So we will be paying for the books along with our own tools, furniture etc. It seems like the easiest way to do it. As usual, I am a bit off topic. I just get carried away.


message 16: by Anne (new)

Anne (awarf) Wendy wrote about Zambia textbook needs... Currently, the children (these are kids through about a U.S. grade 5 equivalent) have a 4 to 1 ratio on sharing books. The teachers would like to get to a 2 to 1 ratio on sharing books. I've been sent a spreadsheet of the costs this would entail - and the current thought is that I might help to raise the $ so CI could buy the books.

Wendy, while in Zambia, I did learn that school textbooks must be purchased in the country for both privately-run or gov't-run schools. Government regulations are strict as to what is taught. The books that we sent with our donation were only for casual reading. (Wendy, I realize I owe you an email on another matter... sorry, I got a little caught up in this thread this morning.)

Manu wrote... As a sociolinguist, I think my main concern about shipping books to developing countries is the language factor.

Manu, I can't speak for other African countries, but in Zambia, English is the primary language. Prior to the British settling in the country, there were 72 different tribal languages. People lived in villages scattered throughout the country. When the British arrived, they began settling in the area now known as Lusaka (the capital city). Villagers began traveling toward and settling in and around the British communities to find work. The Zambians all began learning English, in order to speak with the British. Because there were so many different tribal languages, the Zambians began using English to communicate with each other as well. To this day in Lusaka, you see scattered wealthy neighborhoods surrounded by tall concrete walls and barbed wire. These neighborhoods are, in turn, all surrounded by numerous impoverished compounds, where a multitude of native languages and English are spoken. I believe Zambia gained their independence from the British in 1963 (anyone out there want to correct me? I might be off by a year or two in one direction or the other). Anyway, because English is the only language widely spoken throughout the country, it is the official language for textbooks and in schools.


message 17: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Yes, Kenya requires books written by Kenyan educators to fit the national curriculum also. The ones I have seen are really outlines of material in sentence form, not what anyone would choose for pleasure reading. But there are small and medium size publishers in Kenya who publish novels and non fiction books, so buying books in country would certainly be a good way to help local businesses and save money on freight.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Here's an interesting approach from Sasha Alyson (founder of Alyson Publications and now involved with literacy in Laos):

http://www.amherstbulletin.com/story/...

http://www.sashaalyson.com/


message 19: by Muphyn (last edited Sep 12, 2010 06:48PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Anne wrote: "...Anyway, because English is the only language widely spoken throughout the country, it is the official language for textbooks and in schools"

Not at all disputing that English (or French) are used in primary and secondary schooling, mainly because they are the official languages of the country, not necessarily because they are widely spoken. I certainly take your point, Anne, but often language issues are complicated in Africa (and outside Africa, of course) as English or French may be associated with being the language of the "oppressor", the "coloniser" etc. even though they are the "official language". It might be quite the reverse in some countries (e.g. South Africa where English is hugely popular precisely because it is NOT the language of Apartheid and is seen as a medium to advance further socio-economically (e.g. being proficient in English as a requirement to higher ed/better paid jobs etc. etc.). However, this does have implications for primary schooling, rural areas and minority languages (again, in South Africa, the situation is complex as SA has 11 official languages but that does not reflect language use accurately).

I don't know enough about the situation in Zambia to comment but I suspect that English is the official language, used in education, government, media (?) to large extent. Question is whether that reflects home usage (which it may in some cases but I suspect perhaps not so much in the rural areas ??), i.e. are children growing up speaking an African language at home and are educated in English? Do they learn to read and write in English first (and only English?) and never in their mother tongue? (Sorry, getting carried away here... :) )


message 20: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (last edited Sep 12, 2010 07:09PM) (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote:"Question is whether that reflects home usage (which it may in some cases but I suspect perhaps not so much in the rural areas ??), i.e. are children growing up speaking an African language at home and are educated in English? Do they learn to read and write in English first (and only English?) and never in their mother tongue?"

this is getting slightly off topic, but these are important questions when it comes to literacy and making reading an important part of a person's life. it's also very charged and will definitely differ from country to country, culture to culture. access to meaningful literary works...besides logistics, i think these (languages) are interesting variables.

so that kind of leads into a question i've had at the back of my mind...if individual nations have curricula requirements which dictate that schools purchase books from in-country publishers, where are donated books going? especially if libraries are not a common feature of african communities and reading rooms are a relatively new idea? i mentioned earlier the schools for refugees in egypt, but what other groups are receiving donated books?

and if reading rooms are becoming more popular (i've read plenty of stories in various newspapers about how much children like to read), are there enough publishers africa-wide that groups setting up or maintaining reading rooms (whether in schools, religious houses, or community centers) could purchase books from an african publisher, not necessarily the same country, and save costs? or would that actually not be cost-efficient for some reason?

shoshana--i'm looking forward to looking at your links!


message 21: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments The "reading rooms" I saw mainly contained textbooks and Kenyan published children's books. Some of them also had newspapers and popular magazines.

In Kenya, my husband grew up speaking his ethnic language at home and mainly English and some Swahili at school. There are not many books in his language, Kalenjin. We have a Kalenjin Bible, but he finds it very hard to read. He says the translation uses a lot of specialized religious terms that are not longer in daily use and is written in a slightly different dialect than he speaks.

Among his nieces and nephews today, some of his sibling do not speak Kalenjin to their children, only a mixture of English and Swahili. Those children are not very fluent in Kalenjin. But in other families, Kalenjin is still the main spoken language at home. Many of the older generation, now in their 70s and up, never learned to read and don't speak any language except the ethnic language. Grandparents and grandkids, therefore, don't seem to talk much.

I wonder if my husband would have been a more avid reader if he had learned to read first in his own language. He reads well but slowly and usually only for work or to read the news.


message 22: by Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (last edited Sep 13, 2010 07:30AM) (new)

Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) Andrea wrote: "I wonder if my husband would have been a more avid reader if he had learned to read first in his own language. He reads well but slowly and usually only for work or to read the news. "

I can't speak for Kenya, of course, but from what I know of the Caribbean and reading, I see no reason it wouldn't be the same in most places, whatever the language.

On the island of St Martin/St Maarten which is half French and half Dutch but has no borders, all the black children learn English first at home, and either French or Dutch at school (school is not taught in English), a lot them speak all three. The Dutch children also learn Papiamento. The white children who are born there generally learn the language of their parents or grandparents original homeland first and English in school and on the streets, second. Bookshops are few and far between, libraries the same and full of outdated, musty books. So who reads books and in what language?

Nothing to do with language, its the children of families that have books that read them, essentially the middle class and not all of them by any means. Families that do not buy books do not very often have children that will read outside of required reading, comics and the local news.

This applies to all the Caribbean islands I know, whether they have English, French, Spanish or Creole as a first language. Its very difficult as a bookseller trying to break through that culture but it probably exists as much in London and New York as it does anywhere, just the numbers disguise it.


message 23: by Anne (new)

Anne (awarf) Shoshana, Thx for the links... very interesting! It does sound like it would be worthwhile to get local publishing companies involved in this area.

Muphyn, You make some excellent points. Sorry if I over-simplified a complicated topic. My explanation of how English became the official language in Zambia was basically what was described to me (someone without linguistics expertise). I would imagine the explanation was over-simplified a bit, to help me understand. I also realize that Zambia's history is very different than many other countries on this vast continent. Zambia is a very peaceful nation, one that has never had a civil war in its history. Contrast this with SA and many other African nations, and I'm sure there are significant differences in how languages developed and are currently viewed. Again, as Marieke mentioned, I hate to get off-topic, but I agree that this all plays a role in why it is so difficult to find a cost-effective means to bring books into the continent, in general. The individual countries have such diverse histories, that each likely has its own issues.

Also, Muphyn, I'll try to answer, as best I can, your questions about English usage in Zambian homes. Our African friend who studied in my city, told me that he and his wife originated from two different indigenous tribes, so they have to speak English with each other to communicate. Their children are learning all three languages (plus a few others). He also clarified that this is not necessarily the norm. He is fairly well educated, and may be an exception. I did have a discussion with some of the employees of the crisis nursery where I "dormed" and asked them to teach me a few words in their language. I simply asked for the most common African word for "thank you" in the community where the nursery was located. This resulted in another good laugh. Each employee had their own word and debated which was most common. Once they agreed on the translation to teach me, I asked for a spelling to help me understand pronunciation, and they debated this as well. When they spoke to each other, I heard a mix of African words and a few English words here and there. You mentioned English usage in the more rural areas. I do believe it is less common in those areas. As for children learning to read and write in rural communities, I'm under the impression that it is not common, due to the difficulty of obtaining the materials necessary to do so. On our one drive into the rural areas, I had a few individuals trying to barter some beautiful hand-crafted items with me, in exchange for something as small as a pen or pencil. I hope this helps with your questions, at least a bit.


message 24: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i don't know if the Camel Library still exists, but i think the concept is amazing and the few articles i've read in U.S. newspapers indicate that it was (is?) a successful endeavor. i've never seen this particular blog before and i'm not done looking through it, so it's unclear to me how they procure their donated books, but logistics-wise and concept-wise, this is pretty amazing.

I think we might want to read this!
The Camel Bookmobile


Petra X on hiatus (or trying to be) (petra-x) Marieke wrote: "I think we might want to read this!
The Camel Bookmobile "


Its on special offer on Bookcloseouts.com. One day I am going to be an affiliate, I recommend them so much.


message 26: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I am going to look for a copy of "The Camel Bookmobile." Just sent a letter to the builder yesterday about blueprints, including my personal description of what the library should be like. Very exciting, but actually, maybe not as exciting as owning a camel. I expect that's something I'll never do!


message 27: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i'm reading Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness about a young man from Burundi who had been a medical student before fleeing after his family died in the catastrophe of 1994. He fled to NYC speaking not a word of English but manages to meet people who help get situated and eventually enrolled in school again. one of these kind people took him to the main branch of the New York Public Library and showed him how to use the catalog and request a book. He reminisced about the libraries back home:

Deo remembered the two libraries in Bujumbura. The country's largest was at the university. Most of its collection had been donated, as he recalled, by Muammar Khaddafi, the dictator of Libya, back in the early 1980s, and he thought it probably hadn't received any books since. The other was a one-room library in the center of Bujumbura, which was open to the public. He had preferred the smaller one, but both were like shabby used-book stores compared to the place that Charlie showed him.


message 28: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Just wanted to add that a couple days ago I reconnected with an old friend who is setting up a school in Kericho, Kenya. He used "Books for Africa" because he didn't own any books for the school and they agreed to donate a containerful of books. He had to pay the shipping. The shipping and "taxes" came to 10,000 dollars. Some of the books, but not all seem to be suitable for his school. We expect to rent a container for less than that to ship our books and our personal effects. I really feel like this program may be well-intentioned, but is not really doing a service.


message 29: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Wow...where do these taxes go?


message 30: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Haha, you're joking, right? I'm guessing either into the black hole that is the Kenyan national budget or into the pocket of the port authority employee. But the shipping charge was the really outrageous part to me. My friend said he didn't have any say in what company was used for the shipping, he was just expected to pay the bill.


message 31: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Actually I'm kind of dumb when it comes to taxes...like, would any of that somehow get paid to the U.S.?
I can easily imagine what happens on the Kenyan end. ;)

What are typical shipping charges? Something doesn't seem right with this if he is expected to pay an outrageous charge over which he has no control. If he has no say, and a charity is facilitating this, you'd think someone would see about getting good shipping rates, even getting them reduced...otherwise I am thinking something stinks and someone is getting kickbacks...or am I too cynical?


message 32: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I feel a little badly that I don't really have all the details. All the charges had to be paid by his brother, who picked up the container at the port in Kenya. We've found quotes for shipping containers that size for about 5000 dollars. One possibility is that it had nothing to do with the charity, and his brother just got a really bad Kenyan ports authority person who demanded a lot of money. For me, I'd rather shop around more for myself, so that's my big objection to the way Books for Africa does things.


message 33: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (elizabethinzambia) | 73 comments If the receiving organisation is a registered charity in the country, sometimes they will have tax exemption status. If not, sometimes they can link up with a group that does, like the UN or Rotary. It can be very time consuming and a pain int he neck, but for a small cash strapped organisation, it can be worth it.


message 34: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Good information, Elizabeth. Thanks!


message 35: by Mwanabibi (new)

Mwanabibi Sikamo | 11 comments Hi Everyone! I have read your comments with great interest. I know a lot of this conversation happened quite a while ago but I hope at least some of you are still interested in the idea of improving literacy in African countries.

I am Zambian and so have obviously found some of the discussion about my country interesting. Its always kind of weird 'seeing' your homeland through someone else's eyes.

This is not the reason I joined the thread but I have to say Anne was right. There are too many languages in Zambia so we had to focus on English in order to get along and not sideline any particular group. It was probably one of the main reasons why Zambia has remained so peaceful. The mantra after Independence was 'one Zambia, one nation', we had to be united. As a result the vast majority of people can speak or understand at least the most basic english.

I am not an authority but I suspect this is the case for a lot of Southern Africa (not including former Portuguese territories).

Anyway the reason I was so interested in your discussion is because I have also been seriously considering the idea of donating books to Africa (Zambia in particular. I have sent out questionnaires to possible recipients such as youth groups and NGO's. The same issue that you guys raise come up. Books are needed but they cannot accept donations due to shipping costs.

I think I found a way of circumnavigating the cost of shipping by reducing numbers. Most people think of sending huge quantities of books. That is not what I would envision.

I'll explain my idea in as succinct a way as possible.

The idea came about as a result of watching your interaction on Goodreads about the books you've read and a scheme known as World Book Night. It was an initiative in the UK to get people to give their favourite books to others. You can read more about it on the website www.worldbooknight.org .

Anyway I thought to myself there must be a way of getting people to have a sort of global exchange. At its most basic the idea was to get reading groups in the west to donate books they've read to groups in Zambia and then share their experiences of reading with each other. The books would then be passed on to another reading group within the same organisation, that way the same books get around and we don't need to send hundreds.

You see I believe the value of a book is not just in reading it but in what can be learnt from it, how peoples perspectives differ and the sharing of ideas. I feel that it would benefit both sides the giver and receiver to see things from each others point of view. It seems to me like a way of encouraging Africans to think differently, to have new ways of doing things.

Anyway i've been told that the logistics are too much of a problem and that the best thing to do is support Book Aid or some such organisation, but as you guys have pointed out this has its own drawbacks.

One of my ideas for fund raising was to organise monthly events (wherever people are interested). I called them Culture Nights. Where you'd have poetry, readings from authors, music, that kind of thing, maybe get people to buy the book to be donated that month. It has to have an African theme so that the overriding aim of a cultural exchange is met. I'm brainstorming.

Anyway i'm really passionate about this idea and I just know there is a way to make it work (right?!).

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions would be greatly appreciated.

I've looked into donating to mobile libraries but they tend to have 'contracts' to work with specific organisations.

A lot of people don't understand this idea. I don't want to just donate the books ! (had to put that out there before someone suggested it)


message 36: by Sea (new)

Sea (sgsr) Mwanabibi wrote: "Hi Everyone! I have read your comments with great interest. I know a lot of this conversation happened quite a while ago but I hope at least some of you are still interested in the idea of improvin..."


I think that's very interesting and it can be a way of learning about other cultures instead of it just being a donation of books. It would probably be interesting to also see how people from the western countries and how people of African countries perceive different things from the same books. Like discussing them and seeing what you learned from them and comparing. I'm sure this would also be useful to learning about cultural differences and might help open people's minds up about different cultures. This would actually probably be a great idea for high school students because it might help them to be more open minded! I think this is a great idea you have and personally I don't think that there is a better gift then a good book and the discussion that ensues. :)


message 37: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Mwanabibi, i think that is an amazing idea...are you thinking established face-to-face book groups would "pair up" with African book groups?

Savannah's idea about high school students would be great, too... or even college students. i first got interested in African literature when i was in college and i would have loved if our class had a partner class (or classes) somewhere in Africa, kind of like pen pals, but more sophisticated! :D


message 38: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I like the idea because it provides some incentive for people to actually read the books and it promotes conversations not just about the books, but other issues too.


message 39: by Mwanabibi (new)

Mwanabibi Sikamo | 11 comments I'm so glad you guys appreciate what it is I'm trying to achieve. Its the same as when we discuss issues here. We started off talking about book donations but now you all know a little bit more about Zambia's history!

Like you say Andrea it hopefully means that you don't have books just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Once I started thinking about who the recipients could be the possibilities where endless. You could even pair primary schools. The important thing is getting books that are age appropriate.

When I was in high school we had a link with a school here in the UK. It was a brilliant experience!

I approached youth groups because there is less of a consideration involving curriculum. As a lot of you have noted schools tend to want/need text books.

I also thought about pen pals, Marieke. I like the way you put it 'more sophisticated' :)

One of the issues is trying to figure out the best way of getting two groups to communicate, especially considering a lot of the recipients won't have regular access to the internet.

It needn't only apply to face to face groups. The challenging part with a group like ours, for example, is getting all the books to the same place for them to be shipped off to Africa. But yes, the idea is to have groups pair with each other. I think that makes the conversation easier somehow and eventually the recipients could end up with a whole library of books, except that it would have been achieved over a longer period of time.


message 40: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Mwanabibi wrote: "I'm so glad you guys appreciate what it is I'm trying to achieve. Its the same as when we discuss issues here. We started off talking about book donations but now you all know a little bit more abo..."
I'm not sure about younger kids, but almost all of my college age neices and nephews in Kenya have internet access through their phones and most of them use facebook pretty regularly. I've found FB to be a faster, more reliable way to communicate with them than email, which they usually don't use.


message 41: by Mwanabibi (new)

Mwanabibi Sikamo | 11 comments You are right a lot of kids have internet access through their mobile phones. In fact apart from workplaces this is the most common way that the internet is accessed in Zambia as well.

I was also thinking in terms of an FB group because of the reasons you mention Andrea.

I'm only a little sceptical because it may mean that you limit accessibility to those residing in urban areas who are more likely to have mobile phones.

There are organisation such as One Laptop Per Child http://one.laptop.org/ and Computer Aid who work in Zambia. It'd be interesting to see if they work in any rural areas and if (rather ambitiously) there is a possibility of collaboration.

In fact finding partners like mobile libraries (Book Bus are interesting http://www.thebookbus.org/ )may be a good way to surmount some of the logistical issues. Of course, as has already been mentioned, some of these have strict policy about where they get books from.


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