Education students undertake African Book Project effort

University Park, Pa. -- Students in Penn State's College of Education are taking part in an international cause aimed at improving the literacy of students in the African nation of Swaziland.

African Book Project Inc., a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New Orleans, La., collects used books from schools, universities, libraries and other American institutions for distribution in less-developed countries. Since 2000, the project has been providing much-needed reading materials to children around the world.

Two student groups in the College of Education -- interns in Penn State’s Professional Development School (PDS) initiative and students in a freshman seminar taught by PDS director James F. Nolan -- are volunteering for the project locally.

PDS interns became involved with the African Book Project at the suggestion of a former PDS intern Michael Dissen. Dissen currently is teaching in Lesotho as a member of the Peace Corps and he has gotten a first-hand look at the scarcity of books in that country’s schools.

“Michael e-mailed the PDS and let us know of the opportunity to contribute books to the African Library Project,” said Marion Wheland, instructional support teacher and mentor of PDS interns at Park Forest Elementary School in State College. “Several of our interns have taken up the challenge, and we are now trying to collect 2,000 to 3,000 books.”

Sarah Eshbaugh, an intern currently preteaching at Radio Park Elementary School, is heading the PDS effort.

“We have already committed to 1,000 books,” she said.

Eshbaugh is working with a core of about six other interns who are preteaching in various elementary and middle schools throughout the area. The book drives will be running at different times throughout the school year.

“We sent letters home to the parents of the students and are asking for donations of used paperbacks, children’s books, and dictionaries,” said Eshbaugh. “The response has been overwhelming. At our second meeting we had collected over 300 books over a span of two days. The (State College Area) school district’s Delta Program has become involved and will help sort and pack all books we receive.”

The local volunteers had originally hoped to ship their collection to Lesotho.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to be paired with Michael Dissen's school directly since another organization had already committed to sending books to him,” said Eshbaugh. “We decided that we should still join in Michael's efforts and help anyone that we could. The next shipping deadline was to Swaziland in April, so we thought this was a more suitable time frame for everyone to work together, get other interns involved, and promote our service learning throughout the community.”

The students selected two schools in the village of Manzini as the recipients of the books: Sigombeni Primary School and Siphofaneni Primary School.

A group of College of Education freshman also is taking an active role in the book project.

“Dr. Jim Nolan inspired me and six classmates from our freshman education seminar to step up and take the lead in this project,” said Michael Gottfried.

Gottfried and two classmates got together and spoke to the rest of their class, and virtually everyone offered help in some way. Most said they will donate books, and one student pledged money. Some expressed interest in helping at the Kids Care Fair at Radio Park Elementary School in January and others will assist with the moving, packing and shipping of books. Many said they would reach out to local schools back home.

“We have committed to creating two libraries in Swaziland -- 2,000 books," he said.

The group has placed advertisements in local newspapers and has solicited family and friends.

Gottfried alone has collected more than 1,100 books already.

“I've made it a personal goal to raise at least 2,000 books on my own, because I think it would be awesome to personally make an impact on a poor community in Africa and help deserving children further their limited education,” he said. “In addition, I am trying to raise at least $1,000 to cover the cost of shipping.”

Gottfried has enlisted the help of numerous organizations in his hometown of Roxbury, N.J. Among them is the Key Club at his alma mater, Roxbury High School.

“I’ve also made a Facebook group that currently has 158 members,” he said. “Through Facebook, my friend has extended the drive to his college—James Madison University—and he made a Facebook group of his own.”

Gottried's Facebook group is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=164631296331 online.

The students will finish their work by April 15. After collecting and reconciling the books, they will ship the stock to project headquarters in New Orleans. The shipping cost will be around $500 for every block of 1,000 books. The students will be conducting fundraisers to cover this cost.

A book collection box is located in the Office of Curriculum and Instructions Field Experiences, 173A Chambers Building, on the University Park campus. Other boxes are located in various spots around campus as well as at Park Forest Elementary School, Radio Park Elementary School and Mount Nittany Middle School in State College.

Books on most subjects and on all levels from prekindergarten through graduate school will be accepted.

“We are really focusing on collecting picture books and baby books,” said Eshbaugh. “Short chapter books for first- or second-grade readers also are accepted.”

Resource books such as dictionaries and atlases should be dated 1990 or later. Any books that can't be shipped will be donated to local charities.

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Last Updated December 15, 2009