In parts of Africa, books can be expensive and difficult to find.
When Atlanta teen sisters Azzarree and Amirrah Uwhubetine were growing up in Nigeria, they either chose their favorite titles on iBooks or depended upon relatives going abroad to bring back suitcases stuffed with books.
There were no big box bookstores, no easy access to libraries or Amazon deliveries.
“When I came here, Barnes & Noble was like a culture shock,” said 17-year-old Azzarree. “I had never seen so many books in one place.”
The sisters and their family moved to Atlanta in 2016, and were soon joined in the states by their friends, Sedinam and Eline Asase. The Asase sisters moved with their family from Ghana to Washington, D.C. The four girls were classmates at a private school in Nigeria and have remained friends.
As avid readers, the four formed a book club and often thought about children in Africa and how difficult it was for them to have books for a well-rounded education. So often, textbooks are outdated, or one classroom will have 30 to 40 children studying from a single book, explained 16-year-old Sedinam.
“We realized if it was hard for us to get these books, it was harder for people in underserved communities to get that access,” said 16-year-old Amirrah. “Even though we were really young, we still wanted to make that change.”
In 2019, the girls formed the Child2Child Book Foundation and started raising money to send books to Africa.
“Originally, our idea was to send suitcases of books back to Nigeria and Ghana with our family members, but we realized that would soon become impractical,” Sedinam said.
A partnership with the nonprofit Books for Africa became the solution.
Books for Africa is a Minnesota-based charity with a book warehouse and shipping operation in Marietta. Publishing houses, bookstores, schools and others donate books, and between 3 to 4 million of books are sent to African countries each year.
Over the past three decades, Books for Africa has sent 56 million books reaching every African country, said Jen Hale, the group’s Atlanta community liaison.
Working through Books for Africa, the sisters have sent more than 60,000 books in shipments to Nigeria and Ghana and are planning another shipment this summer to Ghana and, possibly, French-speaking Togo.
Child2Child has raised more than $64,000 to pay for the shipments, which can cost upward of $10,000 for enough books to fill a tractor-trailer. They have sent a variety of school textbooks, popular children’s books, and novels for all grade levels.
Azzarree said she appreciates the quality of these books – no ripped pages with scribbling or broken binding.
Books for Africa “wants people to feel like they have good books and not second-hand rejects,” she said.
Child2Child also partners with several African nonprofits that work in schools and communities. These groups request the books and then ensure they are used.
The girls have visited schools in Nigeria and Ghana that are using their books. They read with the students and lead art projects. During their Ghana trip last summer, they established a village library, naming it in honor of the great-grandmother of the Asase sisters.
Visiting with the students “gives us a way to connect with them and share our love of reading one-on-one,” said Amirrah.
And the art projects foster a love of reading and learning, added her sister Azzarree.
“We want to have kids excited about learning and excited about their education,” she said. “The art projects give them a different way of thinking about certain things.”
“Everybody is extremely grateful,” Azzarree added. “Parents and students are excited about getting these books and having access to books with a fully-stocked library.”
The girls keep their nonprofit funded through GoFundMe donations and hope to get corporate sponsors and grants. Azzarree and Sedinam will be off to college in the fall, but there are no plans to stop the book shipments.
“As someone who is such a big reader, I’m so passionate about how important books are for our society,” Azzarree said. “The perspective you get from reading books and discussing books is so amazing and important.”
She said book discussions lead to diverse perspectives. “Books are a really great way to diversify our world,” said Azzarree.
Books also bring joy. Eline remembers her trip to Ghana and how happy the kids were when she read to them and helped with the art projects.
“For me, after seeing the kind of joy they had picking out books and seeing something interesting – I want to help spread that joy to more people in more countries,” she said.
HOW TO HELP
Donate books, or volunteer to help sort and pack books at Books for Africa. Financial donations help Child2Child ship books for African schools.
Child2Child Book Foundation: child2childbookfoundation.org
Books for Africa: booksforafrica.org
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz/AJC