A balmy Thursday afternoon strolling into the 10,000 Sq. ft. warehouse of Books For Africa, the AJM team joins in to sort, pack and recycle books. Greeted by the enthusiastic and passionate Production Manager, James Hall, we are given a tour of the warehouse. Joining another group of volunteers, we began our tour of the warehouse to understand the operation. Humongous pallets of shrink wrapped gently used or new books line the floors of the warehouse labeled with the countries the books will eventually go to. Beyond that, the warehouse is lined with stacks and shelves of books ready for shipment only accessible with the warehouse cherry picker.
The books donated from all over the country are shipped to all corners to Africa. “When the American education systems change the curriculum, we feel like we’ve won the lottery,” said, Mr. Hall. That is where a large portion of their donations come from but the other comes from well-wishers and friends of the foundation.
The daily running of the warehouse largely depends on volunteers to fulfill their mission. Last year alone, there were over 15,000 volunteers who sorted and packed books to be shipped. James Hall explains how they ship at least 2 – 3 containers sending about 22,000 books per week to Africa with each container holding approximately 20 pallets of books. Once the books reach the ports of Africa, organize for transportation to the schools and libraries in need.
Books For Africa remains the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over 39 million books to 49 different countries since 1988. To cut down the miles covered to transport the books to the port for shipment the operation moved its base to Atlanta from Minneapolis. Not all books make the cut; in the early years, the decision for which books to ship was dependent on the year the book was written. Today, different considerations are made in decisions of which books to keep. They consider, the edition of the books, the condition of the books, the viability of the materials and by large, the sponsoring thought as to why the book was written. The books that don’t make the cut are sent to a recycling center and come back to the warehouse as book covers, hand towels and boxes used for shipping the books.
Not only is the foundation environmentally conscious but as Mr. Hall so eloquently put in Swahili “Hawa ni watoto wetu,” meaning these books are our children; they are very mindful of the care they place on their work. This is the sense we perceived working in the hot, sweaty warehouse. Everyone was here out of love, we all came in to sort and pack books not only for the love of giving back but also for the love of a bright future for kids 8,000 miles away. The AJM staff helped make sure a child somewhere in Africa receives the precious gift of a book.