Founder's Story

Books For Africa was founded in 1988 as a nonprofit (501.c.3) organization by Tom Warth, whose dream was to ship donated books to the children of Africa. Tom’s visit to a Ugandan library, where books were almost nonexistent, inspired him to create a system for collecting discarded books from American schools, libraries, and publishers to send to Africa. Here's how Tom tells the story:

“I’d met a Loy Zabasajja when she was visiting her children in the U.S.,” says Tom, a British immigrant whose accent has faded after a lifetime in the Midwest. “I asked if I could come visit her, and she agreed, though I’m not sure she believed I’d really show up. I like adventure, and the best places to find it are remote spots with no tourists, but where you know someone.” Jinja, the woman’s hometown, fit that bill. Although it’s the second largest city in Uganda, it’s not on many itineraries.

Tom arrived at the airport in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, and headed for Jinja on the bus—as he describes it, “racing hell-bent for leather down the road while my driver took on another bus in a race.” Wandering around Jinja one day with his hostess, they came upon the local library. Stories diverge as to whether the visit was planned or accidental, but Tom took one look at the nearly empty shelves and the few scattered, tattered books that were all at least 25 years old, and decided to continue the adventure.

Back home, he spoke with a group of publishers, booksellers, and librarians who make up the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable. A handful of people from this loose collection of book lovers met and formed what was to become Books For Africa.

The idea was so simple, yet the potential was profound. Reclaim good books destined for landfills and put them into the hands of African children.