Phoebe Wood, Penny Lommen and Judy Kurtz are three Socorro Friends of the Library volunteers who helped pack children’s books last week to send to a primary school in Malawi.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain

Gently used children’s books have begun their cross-continental journey from Socorro to stock classroom shelves in Malawi.

Socorro Friends of the Library volunteers mailed 16 boxes of books to New Orleans last week, where they will be placed on board a container ship to cross the Atlantic. The books will find their final home at a primary school in Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa whose official languages include English.

The book transfer is part of the African Library Project. The goal of the project is to help develop small libraries and promote literacy by providing access to more reading materials. Typically volunteers in the U.S. hold book drives to collect children’s books, that are then sent to a specific school or library in one of 13 African countries. Volunteers also raise $650 to pay for shipping the books. Partner organizations in Africa vet and select library recipients, get the books to specific communities, and provide training on setting up and running the library.

San Antonio residents Phoebe Wood and Philip Norton heard of the African Library Project from two retired teachers who were staying at their bed and breakfast in January.

“I think it’s a great thing to do. It just absolutely appealed to me that someone else can use and be grateful for these books,” said Wood, who is a retired children’s librarian.

The Friends of the Library holds regular book sales to fundraise for the Socorro Library. With the pandemic, book sales were canceled for two years creating an excess of donated books. So, instead of holding a book drive, volunteers found 1,200 children’s books to send from the Friends’ existing collection of donated books.

“Books are the most important thing in the world to us. I can’t eat a meal without one,” said Friends volunteer Penny Lommen, who happens to be another retired librarian. “All these children need books and we’ve got all of them sitting here.”

The Friends of the Library funded the effort, paying for the shipping costs to send the books. To find out more about the project, visit