3/11/10

Book donations en masse

I'm sorry for not updating you for so long. But presently the internet in Masanga isn't working - this blog is therefore uploaded from an internetcafe in Makeni.

I’ve just returned back from Freetown – with a truckload of books. So far we have been extremely lucky with regards to acquiring new books.

The work started out in Denmark browsing the internet for possibilities of seeking donations and writing requests to Danish libraries. The later resulted in a donation from the main library in Copenhagen. Two bags of English novels for beginners. A great addition to the library.
The former revealed to me, that a number of organizations do exist, that aims at sending books to needing countries. But the problem is the expenses connected to logistics. A container across the Atlantic Ocean is surprisingly not the cheapest thing. Luckily it turned out, that an organization (Sabre) had already been sending such containers to Sierra Leone to be administered by the Sierra Leone Book Trust (SALBOT). That led Hinduja and I to write an application for a donation to the chairman, Sallieu Turay, discovering his email by reading a document on the internet he had written at one point, as they had no homepage themselves.

Along came our date of departure. As described offered one of the first meetings in Sierra Leone more books, as the District Education Officer, Mr Bah, gave us a couple of boxes filled with books used in the national educational system.

And then we received word from Sallieu, who would like to meet up with us in Freetown. It fitted perfect together with last weekends’ plans to go to Samsoes. So Hinduja and I stayed in Freetown to meet with him and some of our other contacts. Previous to the meeting we didn’t know quite what to expect. Would he have prepared a small donation of books, would he just turn us down after hearing more about our project or would he demand a lot of money in return for the “favour”?

When we arrived at SALBOTs humble office at the arranged time in the centre of Freetown, we found a small room filled with books – but no Sallieu. There was a girl, who worked for the organization, who could tell, that she worked voluntarily and that Sallieu was on his way. Not really a surprise – you tend to expect people coming late to every appointment after staying in Sierra Leone for a couple of weeks. And he did turn up after some waiting.

Sallieu works as the leader of the national library in Sierra Leone. Frustrated by the sorry state of the number of books and knowledge available to the Sierra Leoneans after the civil war he set up SALBOT – exclusively staffed by volunteers – to better this. The office contained a copy of every book they had received; the rest was stored away in two warehouses. After explaining more about our project – and how our library and material lending program (for the local schools) was a great way to make sure a lot of people would benefit from the books – he encouraged us to take a look at the books, and come up with a list of books, we would need. All he would need in return was a small donation.

This weekend I returned to collect them. The timing was great as Lærke (which curiously has chosen to use the English name Laura down here) was going to Freetown anyways to collect her boyfriend in the airport. I just needed to spend one night in Freetown, meet with them at 11, after they crossed with the ferry from Lungi (where the airport - strategically idiotic - is located) go to the office and pick up some of the books, then go to the warehouse and collect the rest, and finally head back for Masanga in time for dinner. Of course things turned out to be more complicated.

In Sierra Leone things tend to fall apart (as the title of one of the most famous books from a West African writer, Chenua Achebe, seems to suggest). This weekend the ferry was the victim. So I was left without wheels for most of the day. Back at the office Sallieu made it clear, that it was impossible to get the books as late as the new circumstances suggested. But as Lærke had a meeting the following day we needed the books right away. The solution became to rent a truck to take the books and yours sincerely to the ferry, where I could wait. Hinduja and I had decided to donate 100.000 Le (150 DKK) to SALBOT for their great help. After revealing this to Sallieu, there was suddenly some talk about “fixed donations” (at high rates pr. book), but after a brief discussed we agreed that the amount was fair and that REACT “don’t owe SALBOT anything”.

And so suddenly I found my self driving through Freetown on the back of an open wan loaded with books that any bystander with a quick hand could reach out and take. Nobody did.
I was dropped at the “harbour” with the quantity of more than 400 books, and word that the ferry would probably be there in an hour. Suddenly all the locals were teachers (that would very much like a book to use in classes) and came to talk with me about my interesting pile of books. But as always there were no problems as long as you offered people a smile and explained, that the books were meant to benefit a lot of students in the vicinity of Masanga.

The ferry arrived and all the local boys helped me load it (self-evidently expecting a little “gratitude”) and we could make our way towards Masanga. After dusk we were thus able to arrive in Masanga and unloading the books that doubled our total inventory of library materials.
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