by Paul “Paco” Miller
On October 2nd and 3rd I had the opportunity to represent Better World Books (BWB) in Minneapolis/St. Paul at several events put on by our partner Books For Africa (BFA). Those two days were jammed packed with events that made me find my way around the twin cities, but were well worth the trip. My biggest take away is that BFA is a great partner for BWB. Everything about the trip reaffirmed how reputable an organization it is and made abundantly clear the important role it plays in the great task of confronting the obstacles to literacy and education in Africa.
The events ranged from breakfast with Dr. Augustine P. Mahiga, the Tanzanian Permanent Representative to the United Nations; lunch with Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; a conference on Literacy and Education in 21st Century Africa co-hosted by the University of Minnesota and BFA; a recognition ceremony attended by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia; to a South African Braai at the BFA warehouse attended by South African Vice Consul General Gillian Motlhamme. Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Congressman Keith Ellison also participated in the events. At all of these events BFA was recognized for its work as the largest shipper of books to Africa. The presence of such distinguished guests attests to the importance of this endeavor.
But in addition to respect for BFA and the incredible outward facing mentality of the Minneapolis/St. Paul community, I think what brought all of these people together these two days is a deep passion about the issues facing the African continent particularly with respect to literacy and education. In his remarks at the conference, Secretary Carson stressed the important link between education and development stating that Africa’s greatest resource is its people. This theme was echoed throughout the weekend. There are many problems the 53 countries in Africa are facing but also enormous potential. The potential resides in its people and only through literacy and education can this potential be unleashed.
At the recognition event on Saturday I had the honor of accepting an award from BFA on behalf of BWB in recognition of our partnership with them. BFA’s executive director, Pat Plonski, told the story of how he received a phone call 6 years ago from this kid (BWB co-founder, Xavier Helgesen) who said he wanted to run a book drive and support BFA. Pat said sure and a few months later received a check for $1000. The kid called him back and said he wanted to continue to support them and the next check Pat got was for $20,000. And now Pat receives a $20,000 check every month from the organization that this kid started 6 years ago.
At BWB we harness the power of capitalism to provide crucial funding that allows organizations like BFA to do what they do. We have been essential to their growth. But, BFA has also been essential to the growth of BWB. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership, a win-win. So let’s remember why we support organizations like BFA who are directly addressing literacy and education in the world, and let’s continue to push forward in this endeavor.