by Tom Warth, Founder of Books for Africa
In 1988, Tom Warth took a life-changing trip. Warth, a British immigrant to the United States with a life-long passion for literacy, met a Ugandan woman while she was visiting her children in the United States. Tom was thrilled to plan a visit to the woman’s home in Jinja, Uganda. Though the second largest city in Uganda, Jinja is off the beaten path and often missed by tourists.
Wandering about one day, Warth and his hostess came across the local library. Warth was astonished to find its shelves so empty. What few books he saw were tattered and at least 25 years old. The site inspired him to return to the United States with a mission: to end the book famine in Africa. Upon his return, Warth and a handful of other book lovers met and formed what was to become Books For Africa.
After 25 years of operation, Books For Africa has become the largest shipper of donated educational materials to the African continent in the world. Warth has inspired people to give the gift of literacy in many ways over the years. One of the most unique ways is to host grand “book walks” that bring in big crowds and cross great distances. Here, Warth gives you some insight on how to organize your own book walk.
As the Founder of Books For Africa, now in its 25th year, I suppose I have an advantage. My emphasis with all my events — which have thus far included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, walking across The Gambia, climbing to the highest point in Minnesota and walking from Lake Michigan to the South Dakota/Minnesota border — is to raise money to ship books to Africa. (Other organizations might raise money to purchase books.) In the case of the overseas projects, I solicit all my friends and Books For Africa supporters for donations for completion of the effort.
If you organize a local book walk, the first aim is to get friends and supporters to join you in the endeavor. They can then, in turn, solicit funds or more walkers. In recent years communication over the internet has made fundraising for such projects much easier to accomplish. I recommend the Razoo website for accepting donations. Razoo charges non-profits a lower donation processing fee than some other fundraising websites.
Book walks are a lot of fun. At present, I am developing an interesting and scenic walking route from Menomonee, Wisconsin, to St. Paul, Minnesota, for a three day, 60+ mile walk that will take place at the end of April (April 26-28). Each day will be divided into two legs of 10+ miles each, and we will consider an individual to have participated if they complete as little as one leg.
The University of Wisconsin – Stout in Menomonee, Wisconsin, has given the children of Africa perhaps half a million dollars worth of college-level books over the years. Those of us participating in the walk will each carry a symbolic book on the first part of its journey to Africa. We will also get good exercise, generate PR for the University of Wisconsin and Books For Africa and raise funds to ship books to children in Africa.
Readers in the Upper Midwest of the United States who are interested in participating can contact Books for Africa.