50 Million and Counting: Ghana Partnership, COVID-19 Mark Books for Africa’s Packed Year

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Books for Africa’s year was filled with milestones, from adapting to COVID-19 to marking the 50 millionth book sent since it began improving literacy and striving to end the continent’s “book famine” 32 years ago.

The Minnesota-based nonprofit, which has its main warehouse in Atlanta, released its annual report March 2. 

One key achievement outlined was a partnership between the organization and Ghana’s ambassador to the United States, who headlined a virtual program in September celebrating the 50 million mark and raising $403,000 that could power subsequent shipments of up to 806,000 more books. 

Ambassador Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah thanked the organization for sending the book “Kofi Loves Music” to his country. But beyond that, he praised the scale of the volunteer operation at the organization’s warehouse in Atlanta and acknowledged its broader role in providing quality materials to Africa, though he noted that books alone will not be sufficient to solve Africa’s educational challenges. 

“We have to recognize again that maybe the books are not going to necessarily educate people,” he said, noting a greater baseline of literacy is still needed. But he added that the organization was “expanding the exposure of people through books, building interconnections through books, and this is where one has to admire the work that Books for Africa has undertaken over the years.” The ambassador also noted that BFA was helping him stock a library at a rural girls’ school.

During a year marked by a pandemic that disrupted the logistics of shipping to partners on the ground, BFA continued running volunteer shifts in Atlanta and ended the year having shipped 3.7 million books.

With a $150,000 grant, the organization increased its partnership with pharmaceutical giant Merck to provide medical texts related in digital formats, and helped school kids in Rwanda go into quarantine with books in hand. It also worked with USAID to deliver hundreds of thousands of new children’s books across Ethiopia, printed and shipped 44,000 Somali-language books under a new in-house publishing label and sent a quarter-million books to Zimbabwe through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense. The UPS Foundation also donated freight to helped the organization ship nine containers of books across Africa. 

Through the fiscal year ended in June 2020, 211 containers were shipped to 20 countries. Paired with nearly 300,000 digital books, they carried a total value of $38 million.