For several years now we have been collecting books for the African Library Project (ALP). This year, the ALP board invited our family to attend their 2013 Summit in Malawi as book drive organizers, together with Mike and Coy who are also very involved with ALP. We were very honored by the invitation, an offer we simply could not refuse, and luckily our teachers agreed. At the Summit we were fortunate to participate in all activities.

While driving through the countryside and the small villages, mostly on dirt roads, we saw a glimpse of the poor conditions people live in.
We stayed in a teacher school, lead by a wonderful organization DAPP, who prepares teachers for their daunting task of teaching classes of hundred+ students in a language most kids do not speak at home. All this on cement floors, no books, no pens, nothing but a painted blackboard on a bare wall.

We met the country representatives of ALP who organize the selection of the schools and the distribution of the books. Together, they shared their experiences and best practices. It was very interesting to hear the different challenges each country faces, such as getting the books off the boat without too many bribes.

We also got to work closely with the local teacher librarians as they were brainstorming to make their libraries better. Despite the challenges, it was surprising how upbeat and energetic they were. We saw some very creative teaching tools they made from basically nothing but trash.

The highlight of the trip was the visits to the schools that have received libraries — a roller coaster of emotions. On one hand, the poor conditions. Fourth grade sits under a tree. In another school, only 7th and 8th grades have benches. Or the school where small kids can’t come to school in the rainy season as they can’t safely cross the flooded areas around the school. On the other hand, the energy, the optimism, the believe, rightly so, that knowledge is the way to a better life.
We were happy to see that the children in Africa are putting the books to good use. Seeing how these books are cherished definitely motivates us to donate more libraries.

Thank you ALP board for the unique opportunity to join you.
A life-changing trip it was. It made us realize how privileged we are to live on the lucky side of the globe.

Time to collect more books…

Olivia & Alec Vercruysse