November 4, 2002
Campaign to collect textbooks for Afghanistan under way
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Writer
Textbooks stacked in piles inside boxes continue to accumulate in the recycle center at Woodinville High School (WHS). These books, however, won't face their demise at the book cutter machine.
"Instead of cutting them this year, we're going to send them to schools in Afghanistan," says Signe Powell, Department Head of ACT (Activities in Community Training), a program designed for students with developmental disabilities.
Recyclable materials, such as retired textbooks, usually end up at the school's recycle center known as the ACT warehouse.
As part of the program, ACT students sort paper, cans and books collected from the District office and local businesses. Through organization, assembly, and filing, the students learn community-based skills.
Typically the students would cut up outdated textbooks along with the other recycling tasks they undertake, like crushing cans and stacking paper.
This year though, the 30 students in the ACT program have set used textbooks aside. The books now await a new life halfway across the globe, a life that will provide the people of Afghanistan the tools needed to rebuild their educational system. The country's schools have begun a slow recovery process after 20 years of war.
In the next two weeks the WHS students will organize the warehouse so that community work parties will have a smooth process to follow when volunteers gather there Nov. 13 and 16. On those two days, ACT students will join teachers and staff, members of the Woodinville and Northshore Rotary and students from the WHS Honor Society to sort and pack the books bound for Afghanistan.
Powell explains the work party schedule. "We'll start sorting the textbooks, then boxing and putting them on palettes. We'll get them ready for those who will be picking them up." ACT students, she says, have participated in humanitarian textbook drives in past years. "We gave books to Kenya (Africa) and to the homeless in Seattle," she mentions.
The idea to give textbooks to Afghanistan originated with Dr. Suzanne Griffin, dean of instruction at South Seattle Community College. Last summer, she visited the war-torn country while on a mission with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). She was emotionally impacted after witnessing Afghanis of all ages crammed inside a mud-walled, stifling-hot room so they could study English. She saw their passion for knowledge under those cramped conditions.
How could she and the IRC help with their educational pursuit? she asked Afghan teachers and students. Good books in English, they unanimously replied while also voicing a need for ceiling fans, computers and teacher training.
Returning to the U.S., Dr. Griffin began a campaign to collect the good English books Afghanis need. She estimated that she could fit about 10,000 books inside a shipping container and made plans to return to Afghanistan in December 2002.
According to John Hughes, Woodinville Rotary Vice-President, Grifin's project to collect textbooks took flight when the Woodinville Rotary decided to follow up on a contact he made with her through his church. Says Hughes, "The club decided to take the drive on as a 'hands on community project' in cooperation with Suzanne's Emerald City Rotary Club and the Northshore Rotary which covers Bothell and Kenmore."
The Woodinville Rotary began seeking community support, asking individuals to donate textbooks and literary classics at three collection sites—the Church of the Redeemer in Kenmore; the Butterfly Thrift Store in Bothell; and Vintage Auto Parts in Woodinville.
The donated books will be added to the books collected through the library and school systems.
Says Hughes, "We'll need (the books) at the drop off sites no later than Nov. 15, so we can pack them on the 16th and get them to the shipping container the next week. The final loading and sailing will be around the 30th of November."
Supporters of the campaign ask that donated books reflect compatibility and sensitivity to the Muslim religion and Afghan culture.
"We don't have a foolproof plan to deal with issues of culture," says Hughes. "But we'll get some tips from Suzanne when she is here to speak to our Woodinville Club (Nov. 12, 7 a.m. at the Sammamish Valley Grange). She will accompany us to Woodinville High School and point out examples of what is proper and what may be considered offensive or simply unsuitable in the Afghani classroom."
Afghanistan has a critical need for textbooks published since 1992, especially in science, computer applications, computer science, agriculture and English literature and composition.
"While the emphasis is on secondary education, books for elementary level studies are welcome and will be included," Hughes says.
Hughes emphasizes that young Afghanis have a hunger to learn the English language. "They see it as their ticket of opportunity, not only for themselves individually, but for their country as a whole."
For information, contact John Hughes at 486-3743.