The gift of Knowledge © Dec. 15, 2006 Norwich University Office of Communications

Books bound for Africa.

Photo by Jay Ericson Books piled up awaiting transport to Africa.

In Africa, forty percent of youth over the age of fifteen are illiterate. And while Northfield may be a long haul from the world's poorest continent, Norwich University students are doing something about it.

Through the Office of Volunteer Programs, the school is holding an on-campus book drive to raise money for the upcoming NU VISIONS Abroad trip to Tanzania while providing much needed textbooks to schools in Africa.

The book drive, a program of Better World Books, earns fifty cents per book to support the sixteen students involved in this summer’s NU VISIONS Abroad trip, scheduled for June 1 through 24. Although the books may not go to the school in Pommern where the group will be working, they will help a school that is in great need. Nicole DiDomenico, Director of the Office of Volunteer Programs, said “the need for all things related to education in Africa is huge . . . there is such a short supply of books”.

Not only does the book drive help fill a great need in Africa, “it’s also a great tie-in to our trip . . . we are able to use it to educate Norwich students about the literacy issue in Africa,” DiDomenico said.

With another drive planned for the end of spring semester, the students going to Africa will be educating the school community about illiteracy in Africa through posters, table toppers in the dining hall, and presentations for the University and the surrounding community.

Through the two book drives, the group hopes to raise between $600 and $1000. The collection bins will be out until mid-January and will make another appearance at the end of April. To earn fifty cents, the book must qualify, meaning that it is a college textbook from the past five years. If the book does not fall into that category, Better World Books will either “put it up for sale online to generate funding (100 percent of profits after all costs go to the non-profit partner of your choice), send it directly to our partners Books for Africa for use in their programs or recycle it if it is unsuitable for sale or partner use. It is never thrown away,” said Sarah Lynne Reul, New England Regional Director of Better World Books.

Founded in 2003, Reul said Better World Books’ mission “is to capitalize on the value of the used book to fund and support literacy initiatives locally, nationally, and around the world.” By partnering with non-profits working to increase worldwide literacy rates, the social venture is able provide funding for literacy work through the sale of books, or provide books in areas where they are needed.

NU VISIONS Abroad has chosen to send the books it collects directly to one of those non-profit groups, Books for Africa (BFA). The organization was created to send books to children in Africa and has been a partner of Better World Books since 2003. The joint effort has raised over $900,000 through book drives for BFA and sent 425,000 books to schools in Africa, Reul said. Since it was founded in 1988, BFA has shipped more than ten million books to Africa.

Although the books collected in the Norwich book drive may not go directly to Tanzania, “we will bring information from Better World Books and Books for Africa and try to get them to be a recipient of books from the program for their newly constructed secondary school library,” DiDomenico said. She highlighted the fact that by secondary school, African students are immersed in English, a national language in eighteen African countries, making it imperative to have English textbooks to study. And with between 800&Mdash;2,400 languages spoken on the continent, fluency in English is required to get into college.

The book drive is just one piece of the fundraising effort, DiDomenico said. “We really want the University to know what we’re doing in Africa, to help us on our way and feel like they are a part of the process even if they aren’t going” she said.

Along with the spring book drive, other fundraisers will be planned by the students who will go to Africa. “There could be everything from an African dance troupe to carwashes, whatever the students plan,” DiDomenico said.

Through the work of the NU VISIONS Abroad students and the Office of Volunteer programs, the University community has an opportunity to help fight illiteracy and give the gift of knowledge. And while Norwich students study for finals in the Kreitzberg Library, African students half-way around the world await books so they too can pursue their dreams.