Thank you to all of y’all who have commented to me after reading one of my columns. And thank you to those of you who have called El Defensor Chieftain to suggest a column. I am also happy to report some good things happening: The column about Leah Tevis, the “cat lady” of San Antonio intent on eliminating the rampant feral felines there, resulted in a donor calling to find out more information.

Donors. Whether it’s time or money or both, donors and volunteers make such a difference in our world! Speaking of which, have you ever donated books to the Friends of the Library? Perhaps that book was among those sent to Africa as part of the African Library Project. The ALP is a national effort and recently celebrated sending over four million books to several English-speaking countries there.

It’s a project to which Socorro’s Friends of the Library contributes, spearheaded by Phoebe Wood, a former Socorro school librarian. The Friends exists to help the Socorro Public Library, which has the blessing of Chelsea Jones, city library director.

And what a project! I was recently invited to go to see what these folks are doing. So on a Wednesday morning, I met with them at the former Zimmerly School which now houses all the books donated to the Friends. Have you been to one of their sales? The books are all neatly arranged by subject and author in the room that used to be the school’s library. Another separate room is used to sort the donations.

Books for the African Library Project were being packed in the hallway entrance: 1,000 books packed into cardboard boxes about a foot square. Double packed, I should say, with extra cardboard panels inside, for their voyage across the ocean.

That morning, the volunteers were finishing the packing — already 17 boxes lined one wall, numbered sequentially with a note to how many books in each. The boxes will be mailed east and then loaded on in a container box to sail to Africa. This particular shipment is being sent to Kenya.

This is the third project in which Socorro has participated, said Phoebe. The first two donations were for kindergarten through third grade in Malawi and Uganda. This one will support a library for fourth through eighth grade students and includes teaching materials. Some of the books come from those discarded by Socorro schools.

Another former teacher and volunteer, Judy Kurtz, is donating reusable plasticized sheets of world maps which she purchased. Dictionaries also are included, but the volunteers bemoan the fact that no encyclopedias are available. Those no longer are being printed, they said, only available online.

As you can imagine, sending that many books is not cheap. Part of Phoebe’s donation is paying the $250 fee for the container box; the funds to pay to mail the boxes to be shipped comes from a separate fund.

And hefting the books is no small matter either. Each box weighs a minimum of 40 pounds, a job for volunteers Phil Norton and Alan Sauter. Other volunteers who worked that day include Penny Lommen, Pat Mills, and Julie Johnson, president of Friends of the Library.

It takes about three months for the books to travel to Africa by sea. Once at port there, Phoebe said, the project’s local volunteers for the schools come to the ship and help unload them. The people pick them up and carry them to their village.

“We’ve seen pictures of the new building that a community has set up,” she said. “They are usually quite small.” Trained volunteers help each community organize and set up a system for checking out the books. “A lot of these are open to the public so parents can check out books as well.

“In Africa, in most countries, education only goes through eighth grade and that has to be paid for by the parent. They have to buy the uniforms for the kids. Someone has to come up with the teaching materials.

“You know we’re pretty spoiled in the U.S. as far as public education,” Phoebe said.

“The fun part is sorting and choosing,” said Phoebe.

The satisfying part is knowing the unused books from Socorro will be read and enjoyed in another part of the world.

Gwen Roath, Guest Columnist