Despite Challenging Year, Books For Africa Program Hits Milestone

As 2020, with all of its challenges, draws to a close, a Minnesota nonprofit is celebrating some good news. A longstanding effort focusing on donating books to communities across the African continent saw its 50 millionth item sent this week.

What began as a book-donation effort out of a church basement has transformed into a large-scale initiative providing essential learning materials to institutions in all of Africa's 55 countries. Books For Africa executive director Patrick Plonski said it goes well beyond distributing outdated items of little value.

"Our goal - our mission - is to fill up the schools and libraries and university libraries across Africa with high-quality books and computer content," Plonski said.

There are small fees for some brand new books, as well as digital content. Plonski said they're not blindly donating books, they're providing items institutions are asking for.

The organization was founded 32 years ago, and Ponski said strong partner support allows them to keep going amid a maze of logistical hurdles. The group said those were even more pronounced this year with many restrictions in place due to the pandemic.

Plonski said when the group was established by world traveler Tom Warth, there were aspirations to end "the book famine" in Africa. He said it's hard to measure their impact, but added the need is still there.

"I think economic development in Africa is probably the ultimate solution, and then folks in Africa will be sourcing their books the way we source them here in the United States - by tax revenues or private funding," he said.

Until the communities they work with are able to buy the books on their own, Plonski said his group will keep sending books to where they're needed. Books For Africa relies on financial support from a variety of corporate and nonprofit groups.