Mountain View High School’s Leo Club is keeping a 13-year tradition alive of sharing books from the Bay Area with African schoolchildren.
It started in 2006 when Chris Bradshaw – founder of the African Library Project – visited the school to share about her nonprofit organization, which donates books to create libraries throughout Africa.
Since then, the donations gathered by the Mountain View High students have launched 15 libraries across Africa, according to Julia Davancaze, Leo Club president.
This year alone, Davancaze said the club collected more than 2,000 books during its two-week drive last month.
“I am so thankful for all of the support we had throughout the fundraiser,” she said. “We ended up with more than enough books. … We could have made more than one library.”
It takes 1,000 books to create a library, according to Bradshaw, along with $500 to ship them.
The Leo Club received most of its books from the libraries at Springer and Oak Avenue schools and the Los Altos Library. The 30 club members then packed the books into 24 boxes to ship to Botswana.
The African Library Project serves eight countries; the others are Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Eswatini. The donated books are for preschool to high school reading levels.
The idea came about when Bradshaw visited a remote village in Lesotho with her family in 2004 and her young son pulled out a book.
“That made me think about libraries,” the Portola Valley resident said.
She proceeded to ask her guide if there were any libraries in the area. He responded, “’I think we do have a library in the capital,’” Bradshaw recalled.
She couldn’t get her mind off the realization that the entire country had just one library.
“I kept thinking about all the books falling off U.S. bookshelves and filling up our landfill,” Bradshaw said.
According to a study by the National Wildlife Federation, approximately 640,000 tons of books are discarded into the landfill annually.
It took a year to refine the process, Bradshaw noted, and her project has now helped establish 2,620 libraries.
“But who’s counting?” she said with a laugh.
Bradshaw added that the average class size in Africa is approximately 150 students, which helps explain why 95 percent of the libraries are in schools.
While some classrooms have textbooks to reference, most only have a chalkboard.
“It’s hard to even to imagine the life-changing possibilities that come with just having resources,” she said.
Bradshaw explained how the project is making an impact here and in Africa. She mentioned a little girl from Botswana who told her how “Cinderella” was her favorite story, one that symbolized hope. She had lost her family to AIDS and was living with her grandmother.
Bradshaw also discussed a senior at Stanford University studying business who was originally from Africa and grew up with the books provided by the nonprofit venture.
Helping those in Africa is just one of the many ways the Leo Club assists others. Members also volunteer at homeless shelters, make crafts with veterans and fundraise for type 1 diabetes.
For more information on the African Library Project, visit africanlibraryproject.org.