When I was in grade seven, I was invited to join my school’s “Character Crew” - a group dedicated to fundraising and raising awareness for local and global issues. I still have that invitation to this day - although only recently have I realized its significance as my introduction to the world of social justice - a world that would soon become a huge part of my life.
That was five years ago, and since then a lot has changed. I've grown confident in my skills as a leader, and I've connected with certain issues more than others, some of which I now identify as things I am passionate about changing. One of these issues is education.
I have always been someone to whom school is enjoyable. I love learning, am an enormous bookworm, and admittedly a bit of a teacher’s pet, so the idea that there were kids in the world who would never get the chance to experience the joys of education really struck a chord with me.
In the summer of 2014, I decided to do something about it, and so I came up with a plan. I wanted to send books to Africa to help combat illiteracy, and set my goal at 1,000 books. The destination: Africa, as I found in my research that the continent is home to a large portion of the world’s one billion illiterate people. The organization I would be working with, Books for Africa, would reach out to specific communities and distribute what I had collected later, based on individual needs.
I spent the majority of my free time from then on planning out every possible detail - shipping sponsors, advertising, media outreach, community and school involvement, and so much more! By the time I launched the drive in April of 2015, I had three different schools hosting book collections, I had sponsors to cover the shipping fees of my 1000 book goal, and space for a coffee house featuring local authors and student musicians! Within the first few weeks, I had already surpassed my goal. I had so many books, in fact, that my original plan to store them in my garage proved to be impossible, and we had to move to a loading dock at my dad’s office building.
By the end of the drive in mid-March I had collected 4,133 books, and raised $1,000 to help combat illiteracy! I had not only surpassed my original goal, but had quadrupled it! 4,133 books, all headed towards a cause that I was passionate about! Those numbers are bigger than any I would ever have predicted, but what I was most impacted by was the enormous amount of support I received throughout the entire process. My entire community rallied behind me and my mission in a way I had never experienced before. People I had never met were calling and emailing to ask how they could help, the kindergarten students at my elementary school walked their books down the corridor to carefully place them in the donation bins, and people from two towns over showed up to the event with trailers full of books they’d collected from their own communities.
This support was definitely welcome when I discovered that the number of books I had collected was so large that what I had originally thought to be sufficient funds for shipping was barely enough to cover a third of the cost. With the help and support of my community, I turned my focus back to fundraising, collecting another $2,000 dollars. Then, with the shipping money in hand, I was so excited to be able to ship the books! But, as I prepared to send them on their way, I encountered yet another obstacle. The day before the books were scheduled to be sent out, the shipping company informed me that they required an itemized list of all the book titles, as well as a list of what countries they were published in. The list took another five months to complete, and more volunteer hours than a person could count. Every single one of the fifty two boxes was unpacked, listed, and then repacked again. It was frustrating having to move so far backwards in the process after I had been so close to the end, but I knew that this was something I wanted to finish, so it got done.
In January 2016, I reached out once again to the shipping company, list in hand, and set a new date for shipping. It seemed like this time it would happen - but again, a new obstacle sprang up. This time, in the form of page numbers. How many books had more than 48 pages? Between 5 and 48? Fewer than five? Why this knowledge was pertinent I honestly don’t know, and why no one had mentioned this requirement before I don’t know either. At this point, it was starting to look like I would never be able to finish the project - many of my friends and family suggested I stop trying, that I find a different purpose for the books. Maybe I could sell them and send a monetary donation instead. In my mind, however, I don’t think there was ever a question as to whether I would go through with it or not, in my mind it was something I had to finish. In the end I did, and I’m so glad that I never gave up. Hearing how grateful the organisation was to receive my donation was spectacular, and the process was just as amazing, even with all of its roadblocks. So often I feel as if I am alone in my social justice pursuits, but with this drive I didn't - and that is a feeling that I will always remember. To my community members who are reading this now, thank you, with all of my heart. I will forever be grateful for the support you’ve shown me on this journey.