Mandela Washington fellows help St. Paul’s Books For Africa to combat ‘book famine’ in the continent

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At the Books For Africa warehouse off of Prior Avenue in St. Paul, students and administrators of the Mandela Washington fellowship program sorted thousands of books Thursday into cardboard boxes, which were bursting at the seams with children’s books and novels. Next to those boxes, shrink-wrapped pallets of stacked textbooks in biology and physics are ready to be sent across the Atlantic to the continent of Africa.

“An enlightened child can do whatever needs to be done,” said Mike Essien, president of Books For Africa. He believes the “book famine” on the continent of Africa is a pressing issue especially for children.

This last fiscal year ending on June 30, Books For Africa shipped over 3.2 million books to 27 countries in Africa. On Thursday they were joined by the Mandela Washington fellows.

The fellowship, created in 2014 by the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, sends up to 700 young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States per year. The fellows spend six weeks in the United States, receiving leadership training and getting involved with community work, including nonprofits like Books For Africa.

Karim Y. Darboe, a fellow from The Gambia, said he believes that when children have access to books, “you give them an entitlement to themselves to where they want to develop… It is fundamental that books and learning are the best ways to empower people,” he said.