By Douglas Feiden
The Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher, who has worked for two-plus years to support the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi, talks about the delights of collecting books, and the challenge of shipping them, to stock five new libraries in southeast Africa.
What inspired you to start a book drive on the East End for kids in Malawi?
Marie DaSilva and Luc Deschamps, founders of the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi, invited me to work with their school. While there, Luc spoke about his love of books and the creating of school and public libraries. The schools surrounding Jacaranda have few, if any, resources to teach with. We on the East End of Long Island have more resources than most. I also knew that as libraries get new books, old books have to be weeded out. I didn’t not know where those books went, but I had an idea of where they could go.
How does one collect 20,000 new and used books?
Luc and Marie came to visit in September 2015. We introduced the East End Book Drive at morning program at the Sag Harbor Elementary school. That day, we were able to Skype with the kids at Jacaranda school. The children sang songs to each other and spoke about their passion for books. After that, the elementary school students started bringing in books, favorite books they loved and wanted to share. Cathy Creedon was instrumental in putting out the word to all the local libraries. I wrote letters to each school on the East End explaining the project and asking for support. Montauk school invited me to do a presentation to their students, who then worked with their librarian and did their own book drive. Southampton Schools made generous donations. Schools, public libraries and individuals in Michigan, Hampton Bays, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, Riverhead, East Hampton, Greenport, Southampton, Sag Harbor and Montauk all donated. I actually ended up with 26,000 books. Give or take a few!
To ask the obvious, how do you get them to Malawi?
By shipping container, on a container ship, that will take three months to get there. Donated books came in bags, stacks and boxes, and Twin Forks Moving Company donated hundreds of boxes, rolls and rolls of tape and plastic wrap. Chris Denon taught me how to pallet the boxes of books and wrap them to keep them tight on the ship. Twin Forks also supported me with manpower and tools to move the pallets once inside the container. The square footage of a container works well with the 4-by-4 pallets Chris suggested. Once I had 20 pallets, each packed five-feet-high, I knew we needed a 40-foot container. Our dear friend Joe Federico drove a donated forklift, from Agway in Bridgehampton, loading the pallets onto the container. My very patient husband, Brian Knab, supervised and directed the loading of the remaining boxes, plus bikes, clothing and furniture, by hand.
You’ve raised $8,580 in four months for this project on your GoFundMe page. Who are the donors?
People love their books, and this project has touched the hearts of many a reader. Friends, neighbors and even strangers, have donated generously to fund it. Rotary of East Hampton made a large donation. I also received an enormous grant from Jennifer McSweeney and Creative Link for the Arts. The money has been used to pay for labor and supplies, and for the container and shipping. I decided to buy the container after seeing the large number of pallets.
Will you go back to Malawi to distribute the books?
I am so in love with the children I met while there. I just know I can be much more productive working here for them. Though it may be in my heart to go, I’m not sure when that will happen again.
Once the libraries are up and running, will kids in Sag Harbor and Malawi really Skype each other?!
We Skype all the time! We are actually planning on having a conversation with our friends in January. It’s an amazing connection of hearts when the children talk together. They sing, dance and laugh…it is magical.