Guest blogger and African Library Project marketing intern Divya Prakash shares her experience as an active book drive organizer.

Most of my early memories center around my local library, wandering in there with my brother, marveling at the colors and variety of the stacks, trekking down to the Bookmobile each week and returning with a heavy stack of books and breathing in their crisp library scent. As I grew older, I realized what a gift this was, and I wanted to help others share the same experience. So as a seventh-grader in the winter of 2013, I formed a neighborhood team and we signed up for our first-ever African Library Project book drive. Now, six years later, we’ve sent over 7,500 books to eight libraries in four African countries…and my team pledges to continue the book drives now that I’ve graduated. So what brought us back, year after year? Here are four reasons we love being book drive organizers. 

Because its ripple effects can change lives and communities

I know from experience how much books sharpen reading skills, widen vocabulary, and demonstrate the power of the human imagination. The African students who access ALP libraries get to experience the same thing! It may seem intuitive that literacy is the best path out of poverty, but the ALP community, from a librarian working in a Malawi village to a teacher-librarian in Botswana, has seen firsthand how books can ignite confidence, create a culture of reading, and increase academic performance. Like we blast our favorite music for our friends to hear or share a beloved family recipe with neighbors, I do what I can to share something that I love – reading – with those in our worldwide community. 

Because I learn a lot

At school we learn first and are tested later, but when running book drives, we’re tested first and learn after! On the job, my team and I learned many skills, big and small: how to pitch something and request support, how to properly tape a package, how to not leave beautiful handmade posters out in the rain, how to lift a heavy box (use your legs, not your back), how to canvass door-to-door, how to execute a large plan by splitting it into steps, how to select the best books from a crate of hundreds, and how to speak in front of a crowd. While engaging the community in conversations about literacy and action is critical, it was particularly difficult for me, a self-identified introvert who, six years ago, struggled to raise her hand in class. But running book drives has helped me to become more assertive, action-oriented, and confident about speaking up for my values. 

I learned a lot about myself through ALP, but I also learned a lot about the world around me. Six years ago, I might have blindly accepted the mainstream media’s monolithic portrayal of the African continent. I might have bought into the sensationalist images of suffering children or ignored the amount of prosperity and rich culture that each of these unique countries has. But it’s impossible to try to make a change without learning about the communities your work is changing. Because of ALP, I’ve read about diamond mining towns in Sierra Leone and cultural clothing in Ghana; I’ve dug into African history to learn the basics of some countries’ economics and politics. This is barely scratching the surface and I have so much to learn, but I can at least say now that I know how much I don’t know. 

Because it’s fun

If you saw my team and me on book-packing day, laughing together as we ate pizza and blasted the radio, you might have thought you were watching a birthday party. Like most big efforts, book drives are most efficient – and most fun! – when run by a team. Book drives have brought me and my friends much closer – we’ve gone from running lemonade stands together to filming PSAs for Instagram, braved the occasional door shutting in our face, and spent hours making posters, planning events, and just hanging out. Because we are all uniting for a cause we care about, my team is made of like-minded individuals who share the same values, and that brings us even closer – not that that was much consolation to our friend when we dunked her into a gigantic crate of 5,000 books.

Because I can!

I’ve been blessed in so many ways, not least of which was being born into a community that values literacy and has enough resources that I can spend my time volunteering, learning, and doing other activities for personal growth. I do not walk miles each day to pick up water or come home from school early to help in a family business. Free time, the Internet, friends and family who are able to donate…these are things I try not to take for granted. I have a responsibility to use what I have been given to make a difference, and providing access to books, which unlock both the real world and the imagination, is one concrete way to start. 

Start Your Own Book Drive

Read our Book Drive Guidelines to learn all you need to know to collect, sort, pack and then mail your books to our warehouse, where they will be containerized for shipment to Africa. Your goal is to collect 1,000 appropriate books and approximately $500 for shipping and related costs. Double this and you can start two! Triple it and… you get the idea.

Interested in starting your own book drive? Here are our upcoming countries in need of book drives:

  • Lesotho (September 15, 2019)
  • Sierra Leone (October 15, 2019)
  • Uganda (November 1, 2019)