8th-grader hopes to send 5,000 books to Swaziland

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Molly Wicker loves to read, so when the eighth-grader at Quaker Valley Middle School was instructed in a class to set a goal for herself, she knew it had to involve books.

"The library is my second home, so I thought, 'Why not a library project?' " she said.

While goal-setting was expected of all eighth-graders this year, Molly said, they weren't required to undertake a major project. But major is exactly what Molly, 14, signed on for. She took up the cause of the African Library Project, which called for her to collect 1,000 books and raise $500 to ship them to Africa.

The African Library Project is a nonprofit agency that provides books to small libraries, schools and communities in Africa.

"I found them just by searching on the Internet," she said.

According to the organization's website, www.africanlibraryproject.org, most of the books the group receives are donated in drives sponsored by schools, churches or civic organizations.

Molly read the guidelines on the website for what type of books she could collect and registered her project. She was assigned St. Joseph's Primary School in Swaziland to receive her books.

"I can only collect new or gently used books, and they have to fall into certain categories," she said.

The primary interest is in books for preschoolers through eighth-graders. The guidelines say children's board books and picture books are desirable, but the books should not be about American holidays and celebrations because they are not celebrated where the books are going. Paperbacks are good because they are cheaper to ship.

After realizing the scope of the project, Molly knew she would have trouble completing it on her own, so she went to Caroline Johns, assistant principal.

"She came to me to ask permission to do this project in our school. I was incredibly impressed by her level of maturity and commitment to engaging in such a large voluntary project," Mrs. Johns said.

Molly also enlisted the aid of her American history teacher, John Doucette, who agreed to help her raise the $500 needed for postage.

"It actually connected very nicely with our curriculum since we had just finished a unit on Africa. I thought it would tie right in and be a great project for the kids," Mr. Doucette said.

Molly soon had the whole school on board.

"Molly did a PowerPoint presentation in every history classroom in the school. Kids like to help kids, and Molly wanted them to see what the project was all about," Mr. Doucette said.

As the books come in, they are stored in Mr. Doucette's classroom. Although Molly needs 1,000 books, she hopes eventually to collect 5,000 by the April 15 deadline.

The books will be sorted in mid-March and then boxed for shipment, according to Mr. Doucette,.

"Books go to New Orleans and then are shipped to Africa from there," Molly said.

Other students and Molly's family will help with sorting, but Molly has taken the lead with the project according to her mother, Carolyn Wicker.

"I thought, 'Wow, I wonder how we are going to have to be involved in this,' but we haven't really had to do anything to help her."

Mr. Doucette estimated that more than 500 books have been donated since the beginning of the month. Although the recent snowstorms canceled school and slowed the book collection, Molly is determined to reach her goal.

"Everyone has been very supportive. I'm sure we will get enough books."

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com . First Published February 25, 2010 12:45 PM


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