To Some Children in Africa... A Whole New World
by Tamela Maxim
As an Army brat, travel and adventure have been a big part of my life. We moved every two to three years, and much of my childhood was spent in Landstuhl, Bad Kreuznach, Stuttgart, and Munich, Germany. I also lived in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, graduated from high school in Hawaii, attended the University of Maryland in Munich, followed by a year at the University of Stuttgart, and came home to Savannah and Bluffton in the 1970s. I’ve traveled to a long list of countries, but until now, I’ve never been to Africa. All that would change when local Roy Austin entered my life.
In September 2018, Roy Austin took a five-week safari to five countries in East Africa which inspired him to form the non-profit Libraries for Kids, International. About one year later, I agreed to serve as a board member. The first e-newsletter arrived in my email box on that October 20 and began: “Hi Tamela, Imagine your life with no internet access and no books. If you want a school, you build it yourself. The government supplies a teacher and some textbooks and little else. But your children are eager to learn.”
Due to a lack of quality educational resources, according to UNESCO, 202 million students attending school in Sub-Saharan Africa will not be able to read or write properly once they have finished school. Approximately 770 million have no access to electricity, and 936 million have no access to the Internet. And, yet, every year in the United States, around 320 million books are sent to landfills or recycling sites.
Think about that for a minute. I don’t know about you, but statistics like these break my heart.
As you are reading this June 2023 article, along with Chair and Founder Roy Austin, Vice Chair Laura Winkel, and a family of five, I am in Tanzania or Kenya. Our group will visit several schools served by Libraries for Kids, and will experience safari game drives, visits to schools and villages, even a nature walk with the Masai Mara, a well-known semi-nomadic tribe in Kenya and northern Tanzania. I plan to speak the little bits of Swahili I’ve learned. Hopefully, I won’t get Jambo and Asante mixed up. When speaking with our tour guide Witress Emanual of Namaste Safaris on WhatsApp, I kept saying “Jambo.” I thought I was saying “Thank You” but what I was saying was “Hello,” “Hello,” “Hello.”
My luggage and all my travel stuff are on the bed in our spare bedroom. I’ve packed my fancy Canon Rebel and two lenses. There’s a brand new Nicama harness to hold the camera on safari drives, so it won’t hurt from hanging around my neck. Both my duffle and backpack have wheels. The duffle weight limit is 33 pounds—not much for a one-month stay, but they tell me I can send clothes to be laundered overnight.
I’ve had lots and lots of shots: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis A&B, Meningitis, even a fifth COVID vax. I’ve ordered malaria pillsand am up-to-date on DPT, flu, and pneumonia. I’ve bought neutral-colored clothing and sent it away to Insect Shield for a permethrin treatment. I have registered with the US State Department (STEP program = Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) listing every address where we will be staying and applied for and got three visas – Tanzania, Kenya, and a transit visa for Qatar, where I’ll have a flight layover for almost 20 hours. TSA Pre-Check seemed like a good idea, so I drove over to Savannah and got one of those, too.
I’ll be in a kind of bubble while on safari—outside all the time, away from crowds of people, disconnected from the Internet and from phones. Going to visit the children who have received books from Libraries for Kids is going to be a thrill—a blessing—sweet beyond words. I’ll think about how hard I personally, along with the other board members and volunteers, worked the past four years to raise money for those books.
In order for their children to get an education, communities in rural Kenya have changed their way of life. To keep children from having to walk miles to school exposed to dangerous predators, parents arrange for them to live at their school from Monday to Friday. The Kenyan government only provides $5.50 per student per year for books, teaching supplies, a cook, and a night watchman. It is common for 20 to 30 students to share one textbook.
As of today, Libraries for Kids, International has created over 5,000 libraries in rural Kenya, impacting more than one-million-two-hundred-fifty-thousand children! But there are many more children in Kenya without books, a lack of which is often described as a book famine. I want to do everything I can to change this terrible dynamic keeping precious children from an education that could enable them to reach their full potential. There is a GoFundMe to help our organization send another shipping container of books. Each container holds 40,000-50,000 books and costs $25,000. Your donations, as small or as large as your pocketbook allows, will make a huge difference.
My expectation on this African adventure is to meet people who have not lost touch with nature, who don’t depend on material goods to be joyful. I hope, hereafter, to be reminded daily to prioritize time with family and friends, and especially treasure the opportunity to see our work across the world in action through the eyes of the children who now can claim a book of their own.
I am looking forward to experiencing what Hemingway described, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”
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Fundraiser by Roy Austin : Libraries For Kids, International