Monday, May 13, 2013

Children collect book donations for Rwanda library by Elizabeth Richards

Children in the church school classes at the Windham Hill United Church of Christ are learning about the wider world through a mission project that has them asking for book donations to send to a library in Rwanda.  The library was started by Windham High School graduate Nathan Petersen, who is teaching English for the Peace Corps in a small village in Rwanda. 

The Christian education committee at the church got the ball rolling on the project, said Nathan’s grandmother, Paula Smithson.  She and her husband, along with Nathan’s mother, are members of the Windham Hill church. 

Petersen graduated from WHS in 2004 and the University of Maine at Farmington in 2008.  Smithson said that after seeing the movie Hotel Rwanda, Nathan become fascinated with Africa, and Rwanda in particular.  He applied for the Peace Corps and left in September of 2011.   The Peace Corps asks their members to reach out to the community they live in with a project of some kind, so he decided on a library.  Initially, he met with some resistance Smithson said.  However, once it was approved there was a big celebration in April, and the project has become very successful.

One challenge that Petersen has encountered, according to Smithson, is that the idea of a library, or even having books, was unfamiliar in the village.  “He had to teach them about borrowing books, and getting interested in reading them,” Smithson said.  Recently, she said, he has noticed people in common places in the village looking at the books, but he has to go and retrieve them because they don’t understand the concept of returning books to the library.  Petersen will return to the US in November of 2013.

“Every year we try to do a project with the church school children that reaches them beyond the immediate church group,” said Carolyn Clark, the church school coordinator.   Having books and learning to read were familiar concepts for the children in the church. “We chose this book project because it’s something the children can relate to,” said Clark. 

The children asked the congregation for donations of new and gently used paperback books, as well as setting up an Amazon wish list to help with the project.  Church member Laurel Parker, who is the children’s librarian at the Windham Public Library, offered her personal expertise to help select appropriate books for the wish list.  That wish list can be found by searching for Parker’s name on Amazon, and selecting her public list WHUCC for Nate in Rwanda.  Clark said they are focusing on books for early readers and readers new to English, up to a third grade reading level.     

Because they knew that shipping would be expensive, Clark said, they asked for paperback books only.  The children held a pancake breakfast on Palm Sunday, and the proceeds of that breakfast, along with some donations from the congregation, will be used to ship the books.

Each age group in the church school program has had a different job to complete, said Clark.  The younger children decorated the box used for collecting the books.  The middle group is designing stickers to put inside the donated books, and the oldest class is responsible for publicity.  Publicity has included a bulletin board, and tallying results to report progress to the congregation. 

Book donations will be accepted until May 19, and then they will be dedicated at a church service.  Following the dedication, the group will work on shipping the books.  While they don’t know exactly what it will cost, they know they will need a substantial amount of money to ship all the books collected.  Clark said they may need to break the shipment into a couple of loads, and may also need to do some more fundraising.  Although the children didn’t have a specific goal ahead of time, the book drive has been well received. As of Sunday, May 5, the children had collected 292 books.

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