When you are a teen and first learning about the challenges facing the developing world, what can you do to make things better? 12-year-old Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne of Newton, MA jumped at the chance to help start an African library: “I’m an avid reader, so books are a huge part of my life.”

This spring, many American teens channeled their compassion into conducting a book drive for the African Library Project. Some worked with school clubs or scout troops. Six of them undertook a book drive as part of their bar or bat mitzvah.

Many Jewish teenagers undertake a service project as part of their bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls), the ceremony marking their full participation in Jewish life. Usually they pick a project that is personally meaningful to them in some way.

The bar or bat mitzvah takes on primary responsibility for the project, but they are encouraged to involve their whole community. Book Drive Organizer Jacob Ganz of San Francisco found that others were eager to support his book drive: “It was not that hard to do. My family, my school, our local bank, and even my little brother all pitched in to help.”

“People were really generous,” said Sarah W. of Middleton, WI. Sarah held a fundraiser at a local restaurant and asked for donations from friends and family for her book drive for Malawi. While promoting education in Africa, the teens learned a great deal: “Before doing this book drive, I had never even heard of Swaziland,” said Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne, “I’m glad I had the chance to help.”

“We’re thrilled to have these dedicated teens commemorate their coming of age by starting a library,” says Chris Bradshaw, “While we have had a few Bar and Bat Mitzvahs start libraries in previous years, 2011 has already set a record for us, and we hope to have even more Bar and Bat Mitzvahs join us.”

For some teens, once they do their first book drive for ALP, they are hooked. Tatiana Grossman of Palo Alto, CA, did her first book drive for ALP as part of her bat mitzvah four years ago. She is pictured above, in our banner, visiting the library in Botswana that she helped to start. Now she is working on her sixth library!