Our student book drive leaders are a great bunch. In between classes, jobs, activities (and probably a few parties) they find the time to organize and promote book drives to benefit literacy groups all over the world. Without the devotion of this esteemed group, we’d be lost. In addition to the great work they do with Better World Books, many of our student leaders are changing the world. A few months ago I learned of a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia who was working on opening a library in Kigali, Rwanda. I soon contacted Logan Gibson and we’ve been working together on a book drive at W & L. Through the Better World Books model Logan is able to raise funds for her library while collecting books for Books For Africa. I have been inspired by her hard work and tenacity. Here’s Logan’s story…in her own words:
A summer teaching English in South Africa my sophomore year ignited my love for the continent. The following year, 2007, I took on the effort to set up a library for the secondary school my cousin is building in Rwanda, and received a $10,000 Projects for Peace Grant to get it started. With the guidance of Washington and Lee University professors and librarians, I spent three months soliciting donations, purchasing books and software, making shipments, and devising a unique library cataloging system.
When I stepped of the plane in Kigali, Rwanda, I found that the books I had shipped three months earlier had not yet arrived. Though temporarily projectless, I was thrilled to immerse myself in Rwandan culture, get to know my Rwandan family, and take over teaching my cousin’s class of forty students, ages 9-46, while she traveled to America. The class was composed of pastors, electricians, mothers, farmers, and children, and though I stood at the front of the room, ours was a symbiotic relationship of learning and understanding. At night, I poured over the journals of the students—thankful for such an intimate window into their lives and inspired by each of their stories of devastating loss, forgiveness, and hope. I spent my free time devouring books on Rwanda’s peace and reconciliation process and found to my surprise that Rwandans were willing to speak about the genocide.
I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to observe the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where the masterminds of the genocide are put to trial. When I returned to Rwanda, I attended the traditional Gacaca courts where more grassroots reconciliation takes place. Sitting cross-legged in a field, I watched murderers confess to the families of their victims and walk free—an indispensable human experiment in restorative, not retributive justice.
The 2,500 pounds of books began to arrive shortly before I returned to America, and I spent sleepless nights cataloging them with the added inspiration that the students who had inspired me daily in the classroom would soon have the chance to experience the creative power of these stories. Through the library project, my hope is to cultivate peace in a small way by creating a safe and stimulating environment where both Hutu and Tutsi children can come together and use literary access as a healing resource.
Back on campus at Washington and Lee University, I step with purposeful energy. As chairwoman of W&L’s speakers committee, I am organizing a “Re-imagining Rwanda” forum this spring, and as campus President for Books for Africa, I am leading the effort to recycle and reuse books for use in Africa. The library project challenged me to be innovative, entrepreneurial, and flexible, but it was the personal relationships I formed with my students and my own observations of Rwanda’s growth and reconciliation that have truly inspired me to study and share the intimate lessons of Rwanda’s healing example.
Check out Logan’s amazing blog for more stories and information.