Hi, I am Riya! I have completed four book drives with the African Library Project (ALP) between 2020 and 2023. I have loved reading my entire life. I love reading because the impossible is brought to life. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first book I was obsessed with. I couldn’t get enough of this new world of magic where flying on a broom and performing spells were possible. For me, reading introduced the joy of exploring and creating new ideas.

During the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, reading became my form of connection when I couldn’t connect with others in the outside world. Reading is an escape into other people’s experiences. It allowed me to empathize with characters, understand different viewpoints, and helped shape my values. I wanted to share my joy of reading with others, and that is when I began organizing book drives to establish libraries for ALP.

My Dad’s roots in Kenya and his involvement with ALP ignited my desire to contribute more. In fifth grade, during the pandemic, I planned my first book drive and managed to collect over 1,000 books by connecting with neighbors. With my family’s help, we carefully packed the books into boxes and sent them to Azua Basic School in Kapassa, Ghana. It is a farming community with no access to books. My favorite part of this book drive was seeing photos of the boxes of books at the school. I wondered which books would inspire them. It made me feel grateful that I could share my joy of reading with others and inspired me to do book drives in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade to Lesotho, Ghana, and Kenya.

Being young, it often feels like I can’t do much good for the world, and this project made me feel like I was taking charge and making a difference. Through these book drives, I learned the power of leadership and communication. I had to speak in front of my entire school to spread the word, and I overcame my nervousness and became more confident with each presentation.  I convinced teachers to put book donation bins in their rooms; I created videos and wrote in the school’s weekly newsletter. Through these book drives, I pushed myself to do more than I ever thought was possible.

I got other students at my school excited about ALP and to help with the book drives. Working together, we became closer as a community in our common goal to give others access to books. The librarian at my school was renovating the library and donated a couple hundred books so the books could find a new home. Other students wanted to help too. I taught them who we have to email, how to convince people to bring books and more. I graduated this year from middle school. I am happy that my friends will continue doing book drives at my old school now that I am going to high school.

Reading has changed my life profoundly. I started reading as a curious first grader wanting to experience other worlds. Now I have shared my love of books with others so they can fall in love with reading the way I have by giving my old books a new home and helping other children see the impossible come to life.