Atlanta woman sends 45,000 books to children in her native Congo

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Niclette Mundabi poses with some of the French books she helping to send to the Democratic Republic of Congo in March in front of stacks of shipments at the Books for Africa warehouse in Marietta. Photo Credit: Phil Skinner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Niclette Mundabi of Atlanta wanted to do something special for her 35th birthday. Instead of receiving presents, she decided to give books—thousands of books—to children in her native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Working through the nonprofit Books for Africa, which has an international warehouse in Marietta, Mundabi coordinated a shipment of about 45,000 French-language books, valued at $268,000, that will set sail out of Canada this spring. French is the official language of the DRC.

Mundabi and Books for Africa colleagues worked with a French-language publisher near Montreal to procure the materials and raise $20,000 to cover shipping costs.

She plans to travel to the DRC when the books arrive to help partner organizations distribute them to schools and libraries.

“I’d love to see the kids’ faces” when the books arrive, said Mundabi, a lifelong avid reader. “If we can teach children while they’re young how much books can contribute to their lives, then we can get them reading at a young age and keep that relationship with books. Then, I would have done something good for the world.”

Niclette Mundabi looks through some of the French books she helping to send to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Books for Africa warehouse in Marietta. Photo Credit: Phil Skinner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

To ensure a successful transfer of materials, Mundabi worked closely with the Bythiah Project, a nonprofit based in the capital city of Kinshasa that works with local youths and a government education agency. She recently returned from a trip there.

Books For Africa is the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over 59 million books to all 55 countries in Africa since 1988.

Last year, the organization shipped approximately 4,029,000 books, valued at over $32.6 million, to 32 African countries. They also send thousands of digital books on computers and tablets.

Educational needs in the DRC are great, Mundabi said. Children have little access to French-language books. She said more than half of school-age girls dropped out of school during the pandemic and never returned.

“I’m hoping my container will fill in some of those (educational) gaps that are left behind,” she said.

Mundabi also took on the project as a gift to her grandmother, a child bride who dropped out of school to get married at age 12.

“She never got to finish her education, which was her biggest regret,” Mundabi said. She said her grandmother valued education and loved reading.

“I wanted to honor her, and I wanted to provide the same opportunity that books had provided me growing up,” she said.

Mundabi and her family left the DRC when she was six and settled in Johannesburg, South Africa. Books were a companion throughout her childhood and beyond.

“I remember reading books at school and being able to sign up for a library card. I read The Baby-sitters Club [series]. Books activated my imagination and introduced me to the world,” she said.

“I wanted to be able to provide the same thing for the children in Congo, to know that books can be a companion. Books can add to your creativity and help with your imagination. They’re a gateway into different worlds.”

Niclette Mundabi (left) chats with Books for Africa Production Manager, James Hall, at the warehouse in Marietta. She is helping to send French books to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo Credit: Phil Skinner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mundabi’s family immigrated to the United States when she was a teenager. They settled in metro Atlanta, and Mundabi finished her last two years of high school at Dunwoody High. She attended colleges in the United Kingdom for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Mundabi is a board member of Books for Africa and director of development for the nonprofit Eastern Congo Initiative, supporting local initiatives in the DRC.

The spring book shipment won’t be her last, she said. She is already speaking with different partners on how to send another container soon.

“I’m very intentional about helping,” Mundabi said. “I feel like it’s all hands on deck when you come from a country like that. You go back, and you see the need. I had to move away from criticizing what I saw on the ground to meeting the needs and solving the problems.”

“I’m really privileged to help where I can,” she added.