Children in Sierra Leone have benefited from a 20ft container load of books donated by philanthropists in mainly Lismore and Tweed Heads in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. This gift was received with utter delight as beneficiaries peruse their new treasure.
Access to books in Sierra Leone does not come easy. There are hardly enough books or proper bookshops in the country. Affordable school texts are primarily available in second-hand bookstalls, sometimes sprawled in street corners in the centre of town, most of them photocopied version of the original. The lack of a reading culture in this West African state is responsible for the very high illiteracy rate, which stands at over 50%.
The Sierra Leone Book Project Australia, in partnership with Sanctuary Northern Rivers Inc. collected over 20,000 assorted books, donated by local libraries, charity organisations, learning institutions, businesses and individuals in the Northern Rivers region in Australia.
The project raised a total of AU$11,394.77 from donations and fundraising events. Although the targeted funds of AU$16,500 were not met, the project was able to purchase a 20ft container and pay for its shipment. A no-interest loan of $2,000 assisted with the coordination of the project in Sierra Leone.
Other donated materials include pens, pencils artist paint and brushes, educational games, adults and children's clothes, soft toys, shoes, bags, 3 laptops and 2 Apple desktop computers – all used items. Volunteers in Lismore loaded the container, which was then shipped off to Sierra Leone in March this year. As coordinator for the project, I had the privilege of travelling to Freetown, Sierra Leone, my country of birth, to oversee the clearing of the container and distribution of donated items. The container of books was handed over to PEN Sierra Leone, a local organization promoting reading and writing in schools around the country. The Apple desktop computers were donated to Knowledge Aid Sierra Leone, and the laptops to senior secondary school students.
Profound thanks and appreciation go to all those who in diverse ways supported this project.
While in Sierra Leone, I organized the painting of the container-library with an artwork designed by Glen Vause, an Australian artist. The sample artwork was executed by local artists in Freetown. There was concern that the painting, if done before shipping, would not survive the harsh weather at sea.
A hand-over ceremony was attended by local authorities and members of the Waterloo community. The Vice Principal, teachers and a cross section of students of the Peninsular Secondary School Waterloo witnessed the occasion. PEN officials expressed gratitude in receiving the container of books, and a vote of thanks was given by one of the students. The event was broadcast on national television, an independent radio station and three local newspapers in the country.
I personally, with the help of PEN members, friends and volunteers, distributed some of the books to PEN club members in several secondary schools in Freetown. Non-formal community-run primary and kindergarten schools also received books and other learning materials. Children's books, teddy bears and bookworms (bookmarks) were donated to the children's section of the Freetown central library. The children's hospital in Freetown also received books and teddy bears. The rest of the books remain in the container for further distribution to schools in other parts of the country. The container library will serve the Waterloo community and beyond.
It was great to be back safe and well, especially at the onset of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone and bordering countries. I'm more inspired to continue collecting donations and fundraise for our next consignment. (a 20ft-shipping container, and over 200 computers, plus scores of boxes of books have already been donated to the project. Knowledge Aid Sierra Leone has been identified as beneficiary of the computers. This local charity organization, founded by a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, provide computer and internet training for students (for a minimum fee) in secondary schools and colleges and the university of Sierra Leone.
Please continue to give generously to this worthy cause.